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Poetry Alternatives

January 2005

What did you do today as an alternative to writing a poem?

I worked at reading other people's poems and making these web pages. No guilt there. There's a lot less rejection in dealing with other poets' words than with my own. I'm much more easily satisfied that their poems are "finished" when I read them too. Not that I wouldn't like to rework a few lines. And I find it much less stressful to drag and drop those poems than I do my own.

Begin a poem about what your alternative was to writing a poem today - maybe your "today" has extended over many days - but you must address in your poem why that alternative was a better one.

We looked at  " The Poet's Occasional Alternative", (from Begin Again: Collected Poems) by Grace Paley.  In that poem, everyone likes Grace's pie and asks for more - something that doesn't always happen with poems. Cooking becomes her alternative to writing - though she ultimately writes a poem about it. Did your alternative lead to a poem?

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


It’s been a bad old year,
just listen
to the news, you can’t even trust
a painkiller anymore.
Just look at this binder full
of drafts that might become
a poem.

But the dog is whining at the door
so I turned the knob
and felt the whoosh of wind
in my face, my dog full-sail
out of the doldrums,
the straits of blank paper,
the dead-horse latitudes.

Head up, nose to the news
of a brisk breeze rising, my dog
leads me out into
the beautiful whole
speechless world.
We’ll walk it
without a word.

Taylor Graham


There I was
Searching for appreciation
By all those material,
All those mechanic devises
Like a silver bracelet
Or was it Belgium chocolate instead of Swiss
Or free trade cherries from Chile
When the cherry trees grew ice drops,
While all you could say was, "ah."

A cynic suggested
" If you want appreciation,
Go to the dictionary,
The American Heritage,
With many synonyms
And by the way antonyms."

They had no antonyms
So I thought devalue
Which is what my lady said,
" You ought to work harder
For poems are not with value.
And maybe then
I will appreciate
What is difficult to understand."

Such love makes a poem sheepish
With baa baa words
Or bow wow or meow sounds;
This gives me, thoughts
Of an unwritten poem;
What is not on paper.
Is yet to be sought.

Edward N. Halperin


What a welcomed change to write a poem
away from my work to dissuade poets against war.
Pleadings for common sense over ideals
seem to fall on closed ears and minds of
those adopting beliefs of
anyone but their duly elected leaders.

Poets against war want to write away
this war's reality in eliminating new oppressors
doing their thing through religion and faith.
The pen may be mightier, but can it dislodge
ambitious savages killing their own
to gain calculated advantages.

Are these writers worthy when
our young suffer and die that others might live free?
Countering the mission of our leaders gives support to
modern tin-horn Hitlers like Saddam Hussein,
who before being ousted,
was, himself, a recognized Weapon Of Mass Destruction.
Why would a disagreeing poet choose to appease
until a bigger war takes millions of lives?

Since 1945 the United States of America has been
a world policeman with a good record;
no world war has engulfed us.
Inconsiderate action against our country's chosen path
appears to flaunt in true Don Quixote style,
bringing confusing results from impotent blows
against solid and lawful windmills.

F. William Broome


What comes first
is the need
to get things

in the right
order. First

breakfast, shave,
walk the dog,
or chores and

repairs, or
errands and
mail - bills

if it's time.
Shopping too.

comes later
if at all.
Dinner and

TV take
after all.

Marvin Lurie


I wake to snow's slow melt,
flakes fret the pane, like desultory moths
my thoughts dry up,
a full stop run amok in pure black.

Three nights in the wild,
your howl a perfect assonance,
brittle as bracken, crushable as berries,
carried on the bitter resonance of mistrust.

Today, I follow the thread of our shared plot,
erase the non-sequiturs of your hurt,
complete the line in your elliptic heart,
produce the final draft and bring you home.

Jill Teague


Today I woke at 6:00.
Prepared and went to work
No time to write a poem
Between the conversations
And writings of a full day.
No time to write a poem
On the subway going to the opera.
(I’m carefully limbering up my neck.)
Then dinner with a friend
The opera and home to bed
To wake at 6:00.

My alternative is living life.
This leaves less time for writing poems,
But more topics.

Ellen Kaplan


Today I sat down to write a poem
And I sat
And I shifted
I focused intently on the small black line throbbing to the left of my vision
Pulsing there like child's tantrum
And noticed that if I stared at it long enough
It seemed to pick up the beating of my heart
And together create a little symphony.

How ridiculous I must look
Sitting here conjuring coincidences
Instead of writing poetry.
But even more ridiculous
Is losing the battle of creation and emptiness
Of struggling to find something to say mingling with the fear
That I have nothing.

So here I am writing an opus in my head
Assigning time sequences and choreography to the silent rhythm
And not writing anything
Paranoid that I've enraged my muse by sitting idle for so long
Making to-do lists, doing laundry, eating, anything but writing!
And she's taken my creativity away for good this time.

Maybe if I beg.
Or dedicate this magnum two- instrument opus to her.
Maybe then she'll come back and fill my vaporous mind with ideas
Inspire me to sit and writewritewrite all the time-
On CVS receipts I find on the floor of my car while sitting at a traffic light,
on bright yellow Post-It's at work,
hell in the steam on the mirror after a shower for all I care!
Anything to stop me from staring at this maddening little line
Bobbing and tapping like a River-dancer
And focusing on things that aren't really there.

Cecly Placenti


i could have written a poem this day
i could have let my mind take flight
with a stroke of my pen
and perhaps,just perhaps
i could have avoided
the reality of my existence for awhile
and the sadness that follows me around
like a lap dog
i could have but i chose instead
to let my mind squander another day
to sit cross legged by the highway of life
watching the banker, the baker,
doctor and undertaker the crook,
the saint, those who are those who ain`t
the fat, the thin,those going,
those who've been
perhaps i,ll write a poem tomorrow
when i'm feeling a little less sorrow

Ray Cutshaw


I will do anything but
Write that poem or story down
Because it requires much more
Focus than other things
Which flow in and flow out
And I flow with them.
And dusk dawns
And dawn follows and
Another day begins
And beds are made
And cigarettes lit
And coffees consumed.
The words chase each other
In my head
But a take a book to bed instead.
Life is so much easier like this.

Abha Iyengar