Last Poem-A-Day Prompt #43

It’s been a good year, and a long haul, and I’m tired. I didn’t think I could be tired of poetry, but I’m tired of this project. So long, it’s been good to know you….

I began on October 10, 2013. First on Facebook, then here. The Tumblr part of the project was much harder to keep up with. But, for all the trials, it’s been a very interesting experiment and I’ve written some poems I’m proud of. I hope now, that I’m not focusing so much on new work, I’ll be able to get some of the raw poems tuned up into poems that might get published.

If you’re interested, I wrote about the PAD (and about my writing process in general) on a post on my other blog, “A Twirly Life” last week, as part of a Virtual Blog Tour.

For the final prompt in the project, I offer you some resources. These are books and websites that I’ve used over the years to get me writing and help keep me writing. I hope that they might serve you.

Books I Like

National Society Websites

  • The American Academy of Poets (
  • The Poetry Foundation (
  • The Poetry Society of America (


  • The Poetry Society (UK) (

For High School Students

  • Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest (
  • The National English Honor Society for High Schools (
  • Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools (

For Younger Kids

Don’t worry, I’ll still post on Facebook and keep up with current events and the upcoming 2015 Cupertino International Poetry Festival here, but no more prompts weekly (or not even weekly!).

(I’m not sure what to make of 43 prompts — in a whole year there should be 52, if they were really weekly. Once I get to the number crunching, it will be clear what happened. 43 is not such a bad number.)

Prompt #42 Poets, Food, Limes, Love and Death

Food makes regular appearances in poetry: appetites, hunger, desire, love, family, togetherness, physical senses, the body, color, flavor and scent. It’s not surprising that poets, who famously attend to the textures of the world, would use food metaphors and write whole poems in honor of the senses that we savor.

Some of the most famous poems to food include the following:

  • Pablo Neruda’s odes — including these two, among my favorites — “Ode to A Large Tuna in the Market” and “Ode to the Orange.” (If you want a real treat, check out this amazing food and poetry blog, Eat This Poem, for recipes and poetry. What did I tell you about this relationships between eating and poets?) (Neruda is so beloved, his poetry is everywhere. Check out this blog where “Ode to the Onion” is translated into many languages!)
  • Gary Soto’s “Oranges” which from this link can be printed onto handouts to use in a classroom!
  • Giggle Poetry has a whole page of silly food poems, ready to tickle kids.
  • Food poetry is often nostalgic, as in Amy Gerstler’s “Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup.
  • The Academy of American Poets has a great list of books with food and poems.
  • Even the important and creepy Emily Dickinson uses food imagery. “Fame is a Fickle Food” is a scary poem and should be a lesson to us all!
  • And what about Kay Ryan’s “Lime Light” which is a modern (and slightly less creepy, more compassionate version of ED’s poem)??

I think you get the idea.

Perhaps my favorite use of food in poetry is, however, not silly, or even in a poem about food. When Donald Hall‘s wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, died, he wrote an astonishing book called Without. The poem at the center of this bleak, grim, grief-struck book — which marks the turn towards poems that begin to think about the possibility of healing — is a poem called, “Without.” Fortunately, you can click through and read it for yourself. The reason I thought of it for this post, is because the last word in the poem is “garlic” — a word that hangs at the end of the last stanza — a potent, flavorful, sharp universal food at the end of a poem that can’t possibly end. How can a husband ever finish a poem that describes all the things he is forever without, now that his wife has died? There are other food words in the poem, many sensual and intellectual images, but to end with garlic seems so wrong, so painful, so impossible. It’s a remarkable poem and I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I have never forgotten it, or how strange and perfect that one food image resonates with the universal experiences of love and great loss.

So, your challenge, today, this week, is to write a food poem! I had the delightful experience today of reading at Erica Goss‘s Poetry Kitchen, a new series she is hosting at the Los Gatos Library. I read several food poems that I’ve written. I’ll write a new one, too, if you will.

(Onion illustration source here.)

Prompt #41 : Photo Prompts & Sea Turtles

For your 41st prompt, I’m going the lazy (but it works I swear it does) route. Many times I get the poem urge after seeing a great image. Like this one. This is a turtle from the Sea Turtle Conservancy‘s Facebook page. They posted it on Friday 9/12/14 as part of a caption contest. This was my caption:

Don’t look at me like that. I’ve been places. I’ve seen things. I like yellow flowers, what’s not to like? I’ve been places. Don’t judge me.

I don’t think I’m going to win. (They have some great photos.)

I did, however, write a little haiku to go with the photo, last night, after brushing my teeth and curling up in bed and remembering I hadn’t written my poem-a-day (see my Tumblr September 2014 PAD challenge for more information about that!!).

So, in addition to the photo, and the prompt (which is to pick an awesome photo from your life today — a random photo works best — and write to it), you’re getting my little poem.

old turtle among the dunes
black eyes ringed with sand
two beach sunflowers

(The Sea Turtle Conservancy credits the photo to  Ursula Dubrick.)

The Fortieth Prompt : Why Bother?

A lot of people wonder why we bother with poetry. Nobody wonders why we bother with groceries, or gasoline, or silverware. But poetry? They wonder. Maybe I should tell you a little bit about why I bother: and the prompt this week will be to write a poem about why poetry matters to you. Or why it doesn’t….

Regularly in the late 20th and now into the 21st century, critics, thinkers, people in the know ask if poetry matters, is poetry dead, what is poetry? Doesn’t that sound a little bit like does God matter, is God dead, what is God? For me, poetry — and I believe this applies to all arts, but poetry is my art — is like God. An idea, a force, an organizing principle, a beloved, a set of rules and expectations, a community — something I can’t live without, something unexplainable, something I think about and try to understand every single day of my life. Something I believe in. Like gravity. I look at the world always, over and over, as a place where I might find poetry. I don’t mean this comparison to be sacrilegious, but rather to elevate poetry in your understanding. Poetry is not my religion; I don’t worship poetry.  But there are/were gods and goddesses of poetry, and you could worship one of them… (smiley face).

DanuBrigid 024

And yet, the comparison still works: many would say their religion is their context for living, and for me, that’s what poetry is: the context in which I live my life. (Wow, this is getting pretty serious…)


But, of course, poetry is useless, pointless, worth nothing at all. Poets don’t get any respect, they can’t sell their work, they’re awkward, congregate in dark places, spend way too much time staring out the window and day dreaming. Good for nothings. You can’t get the news from poetry. (William Carlos Williams and Adrienne Rich have talked about this a lot).

Poetry is something I put my faith in. When I don’t know what to do next, I take a deep breath, look around, and see where the poem will appear. I listen and wait and a poem comes both up from inside my heart and in from outside my body. (Yeah, this might be getting rather maudlin, but I want you to understand how seriously I take this stuff.)

When I realized I was writing my fortieth prompt today, I went to and typed “forty” in the search box. This very funny sarcastic sweet terrible (as in, strikes terror in your heart) prose poem appeared, called “Forty-Seven Minutes” by Nick Flynn — it made me both laugh and shudder. (Nick Flynn is exactly as old as I am, but his poems are better – or at least he’s more famous. Read more of his work.)

What is he trying to do by starting the poem with “Years later,” — where was he before this poem began?  I love how he leans in close at the end, both threatening and laughing, full of the power of poetry and the complete ridiculous futility of it.

I hope you’ll see how Flynn’s poem is simultaneously a statement of faith, a swagger, and an acknowledgement of longing. Poets are really rather pathetic silly egomaniacal loners. People who make art with nothing but words. Whoever heard of making art with nothing? Those people be poets. I am proud and resigned to call them my tribe.


Leave me a comment, a note, a curse, something, anything, to let me know you’re listening.

Prompt # 39 Monday, Monday

Today’s prompt is based on the poem I wrote this morning — which I realized is backwards. Usually I put up a prompt, then I write to it, and ask you to write to it, too. Today, I got up, drank my tea in the backyard and thought about the morning — and then I found myself writing a poem. A poem about being squeamish, a poem about bunnies and cats and lizards, a poem about Monday morning.

So, I’m challenging you to write a poem about Monday! And since this prompt is going up so late in the day, if you’d rather, write a poem about Tuesday, or Wednesday, or — you get the picture. Pick a day of the week and contemplate it.

To get you in the mood, listen to this recording of The Mamas & the Papas, from 1966, singing one of their great hits, “Monday, Monday.”

Looking for a Monday poem to share, I found this delightful poem, “Moonlight Monologue for the New Kitten,” by Péter Kántor, translated from the Hungarian by Michael Blumenthal. It’s even about kittens (like my poem was this morning). The poem is about the non-replaceable nature of things, as in this stanza, which links the old kitten with the day gone by.

But for me they aren’t replaceable,
not the kitten, not the Monday, not anything else;
for me they never die.

You might also like this poem, “Blue Monday,” by Diane Wakoski, a contemporary American poet. It’s a strangely moving, fluid, free verse poem, contemplating the passing of many things.

Blue Monday. Monday at 3:00 and
Monday at 5. Monday at 7:30 and
Monday at 10:00. Monday passed under the rippling   
California fountain. Monday alone
a shark in the cold blue waters.

So, a couple of poems, some music, and the week ahead of you. (I hope your Labor Day was a happy one.)


Prompt #38 : Trees & Apologies

My last prompt was August 3. Today is August 19. I’ve been struggling this summer with an old friend, the demon depression, and just not feeling like writing (or doing much of anything). When you’re feeling low, getting out of bed is often the only goal in a day (fortunately, I’m not doing that poorly this time) and for me there have been days when just getting to work is an achievement. So be it.

Additionally, with all the news in the world being so difficult these days, I know many sensitive people, many of them poets (like any other kind of artist) who’ve been feeling the pain a little more in the heart than at other, less news-anguish-y times. I’ll be posting (to my other blog A Twirly Life) a collection of links I’ve appreciated in the past month, in case you’re interested in how some other people are weathering.

This poetry prompt is about trees! Today, my commute coincided with The Writer’s Almanac and the poem was “The Country of Trees” by Mary Oliver. Unfortunately, the text of the poem is not available, probably because her book Blue Horses is not even published yet!  But it was such a beautiful poem, and it contains a section in which she’s talking about the trees and listing the things into which they have been made: houses, fences, bridges. I thought, “Ah ha! That’s a great idea for a poem prompt” — write about all the things that might have started out life as a tree. What do trees mean to you? Just look around you — on my desk right now I can see a pencil, a book, the desk itself, the poster on my wall, the photo of a tree in a wooden frame. Then there are the wooden soles of my shoes and the wooden buttons on my jacket. I am surrounded by the spirit of trees.

Because I will not leave you without a poem to read, I offer you a couple of other poems about trees, one “rather slight” and one serious.


“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer is perhaps the most famous tree poem ever. The opening couplet, “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree,” has been much lampooned, but it’s actually a great poem. Read all about it here. There’s even a very cute picture of Mr. Kilmer as a college kid — did anyone else always assume Joyce was a woman? Bad on me!

“Tree” by Jane Hirshfield is one of the poems I have closest to my heart. You can read it here, and hear her reading it too. I love the small details, the sounds (oh! the branch tips brushing!) and the questions it poses so gently: who will last, what is important to you, what are you going to choose? This poem has special meaning for those of us in California. Cupertino has many redwood trees, and they’re not getting any smaller!

It is foolish
to let a young redwood   
grow next to a house.
Even in this   
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.
That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.   
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
(The photo at the top of the post is from a great site that describes all the places in the SF Bay Area where you can hike and seek old-growth redwood trees.)

Prompt #37: Love and the Older Body

Love poetry! Of course — the romance, the longing for connection, the passion — the heartbreak! So much love poetry is written by the young and for the young. And it should be that way. Do any browsing at all, in books or online, and love poetry is everywhere. At the Academy of American Poets, their collection of Love Poems is legion, beginning with the most famous perhaps of all, Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s famous “How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways.”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

But, love is not only for the young, and love poetry is not only written by young poets. I stumbled upon a poem this week, on The Writer’s Almanac, called “Surfer Girl” by Barbara Crooker. The speaker in the poem is “on the far side of sixty,” “athletic as a sofa.” The poem opens with her walking on the beach, spotting a surfer, “sleek as a seal.” The poem goes on as the speaker imagines herself in a younger body, “lithe and long-limbed,” with her “short tousled hair full of sunshine.” The poem describes the health and power of a younger body, a young person’s ambitions and dreams, “Nothing more important now than this balance between / water and air, the rhythm of in and out.” This poem is about longing and love, for the surfer boy and for the younger self remembered.

Another poem I found this week, titled “You Make Love Like the Last Snow Leopard” by Paige Taggart, came through my Poem-A-Day email subscription from I don’t always have time to read them when they come, but this title really caught my eye. What would that be like, to be the last snow leopard on earth, and to make love — would it be fiercely, with fear and the knowledge of certain death, impending loss, would it be tenderly, aware of an aching body, the absence of youthful power? I find Taggart’s poem strange, with ambiguous language, some disquieting sexual allusions and unusual images of time passing. In the first stanza, “Time hunts your shadows.” In the second stanza, the speaker addresses her lover, “Your white hair flocked. It’s old age that makes / you kill for food,” pairing an image of old age with an image of violent survival. The last two lines are the most disturbing and beautiful in the poem, I think: “A cliff of umbrellas and memory / shaping your every move.”

These two poems spoke to me of the ways we think of physical love as we get older: full of the aches and memories of the body, and the longing of the heart for something powerful in today’s experience. Love isn’t only for the young.

You can see some of Paige Taggart’s jewelry “Bling that Sings” here on Tumblr and here at her website. She seems to have a mission to decorate poets wherever she finds them.

If you want to write a poem, write a love poem, modeled after one of the ones on the website. If you are inspired to try something else, imagine what it would be like to be a passionate young soul trapped in an older and no-longer powerful body. Describe the way the body moves and the way the spirit of love moves and how those types of motion agree or disagree, work in harmony or collide.

The photo of the female swimmer is by Etta Clark, from her book of the same name, “Growing Old is Not for Sissies.”

Prompt #36 : On Time (and Poems on Time)

While thinking about how to get this prompt posted on time, it occurred to me that time is one of the central organizing themes of poetry (and of art) — time probably has more poems written about it than just about anything else except love and death. Time, Love and Death. The big three. Wouldn’t you say that poems of place (longing for a time past or a future perfect?), poems of heroic deeds and odes (remember the time that so-and-so did whatever-that-was), elegies (lost times with ones loved), and even the lowly limerick (there once was a —) are all about time?

The Academy of American Poets has a whole section of their newly redesigned website (I am NOT a fan, btw) on the subject: Carpe Diem: Poems for Making the Most of Time. Directing you there today, to read poems by poets as various as Robert Herrick, Horace and Tony Hoagland (to only name the poets whose names start with H), saves me a lot of time to write my own poetry. What a deal. There are dozens of poems that this link, go for it!

And then, write your own poem about time. Does its passing frighten you or please you? Remember a time when you laughed, when you cried, when you were with friends. Are you young and wishing you were old enough for — ? Are you old and wishing time would unwind, reboot, just stop for once??

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a tiny poem that many of you may not know, but you’ll recognize the image she uses. She could have just said, “Why isn’t there enough time for all the things I want to do with my life?” but she didn’t. She did this. Enjoy.

First Fig

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-
It gives a lovely light!

(I think there is a reason she named this poem “First Fig” but I can’t remember it now. Someone look it up and report back. Please! )

(Photo of Miss Millay from Wikipedia, by Arnold Genthe.)

Prompt #35 (Only a teeny bit late) : Kenneth Koch on Beauty

Inspired by a great article (by Heather Altfeld at the North American Review) on the challenges of teaching poetry and teaching beauty, I came here to re-post said article and realized I’d forgotten to post poetry prompt #35 this past Sunday (July 20). Sigh.

To atone for the errors of my ways, I’m giving you a chance to read a really great (and quite long) poem by Kenneth Koch, a giant of American poetry during the 1950s, and a devoted and important teacher who taught teachers of poetry how to teach poetry. I was introduced to Koch’s best-known book on the subject, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red, during my training to be a poet/teacher with California Poets in the Schools. It’s a great little book. You can read mine anytime you want. (Altfeld’s article talks about Koch and his methods.)


The method Koch taught is about imitation: pick a great poem and get kids to imitate its essential qualities. “Rose, Where Did You Get That Red” is the name of a poem written by a child who was imitating William Blake’s “The Tyger” — a poem which essentially asks a creature of God how and where it acquired its power and beauty. (The image featured with this blog is Blake’s poem and illustration.) You can read an excerpt of Koch’s book here.

Your task today is to read Kenneth Koch’s poem “On Beauty by Kenneth Koch” and then imitate it. Just write for a while about what beauty means to you. Be as free-wheeling and long-winded as you like. Be colorful and descriptive and don’t hold back. Call it a poem and call it a day. Or, if you’re inspired, share your efforts with us!

Here’s the last stanza of Koch’s poem, and I think the sentiment is fine.


Prompt (Late) #34 : Dragons!

I wrote this prompt late, and I’m posting it even later. But I didn’t want to waste the work I’d done, so here you go.

My daughter is in love with dragons. She’s working up a fellowship proposal about them, so in the spirit of solidarity, I looked up some dragon poems.

Many people are in love with dragons, and not surprisingly, there is a lot of great dragon poetry — some ancient, some Chinese, some Nordic, much American. Lots of dragon poems are for kids, but not all.

Here is a sampling. Read about dragons and then think about why you might be scared, fascinated, ignorant, or in awe. Then write a dragon poem yourself. What’s in the dark with a flaming breath? Who will bring you good luck or death?


From The Poetry Foundation: