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June 2017

I read Marilyn Hacker’s clever poem “Canzone”  and, not knowing much about that form other than it being a kind of song, did some research for this prompt.

Her poem is a song to a part of the body - the tongue. The tongue is certainly an organ with many uses, and to a poet certainly one of interest since it form our words. She writes that it is “sinewy and singular, the tongue / accomplishes what, perhaps, no other organ / can.”

If you read Hacker's "Canzone" online or in her Selected Poems 1965-1990, you can see how she examines the multi-uses of the tongue and also how she plays with the words (particularly "organ") as can be seen in this illustrative excerpt from the poem.

...we give
the private contemplations of each organ
to the others, and to others, organ-

ize sensations into thought. Sentient organ-
isms, we symbolize feeling, give
the spectrum (that’s a symbol) each sense organ
perceives, by analogy, to others. Disorgan-
ization of the senses is an acquired taste
we all acquire: as speaking beasts, it’s organ-
ic to our discourse. The first organ
of acknowledged communion is the tongue
(tripartite diplomat, which after tongu-
ing a less voluble expressive organ
to wordless efflorescences of pleasure
offers up words to reaffirm the pleasure.)

​​Marilyn Hacker likes forms. Another interesting poem of hers is the “Villanelle For D.G.B." The poem we are looking at this month for a prompt is labeled a canzone. In ​Edward Hirsch's useful reference The Essential Poet's Glossary (which is the shorter and more focused version of his big encyclopedic A Poet's Glossary ), he notes that this form gets its name from the Italian word for "song."  This lyric poem originates in medieval Italy and France with troubadours and wandering musicians. ​Petrarch established this form of lyric love poem with stanzas of five or six lines, ending with an envoi, and Dante Alighieri was an admirer of the canzone.

Dante created his own version which Hirsch calls "maddeningly difficult... using the same five end-words in each of the five 12-line stanzas, intricately varying the pattern.”​

I don't like to use forms as prompts that are so difficult that they stop poets from attempting to write. Since Hacker, Dante and others have taken liberties with the canzone, we will too. Certainly, you can try to adhere to the form if you like the challenge of a form.

The canzone generally has 5 to 7 stanzas probably meant to be set to music. A end rhyme scheme, as one would suspect of a song, is usually followed.

Your canzone can be as short as two stanzas, because it must conclude with an envoi. The envoi (or envoy) is a short stanza at the end of a poem used either to address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the preceding body of the poem. In general, an envoi have fewer lines than the main stanzas of the poem

True canzones (and many songs) have a strict number of syllables. For our purposes, you should keep the length of lines equal, even if not strict about syllables. Swinburne worked with the canzone meter in “Hendecasyllabics

In the month of the long decline of roses
I, beholding the summer dead before me,
Set my face to the sea and journeyed silent...

For our June prompt, write a song/canzone to a part of the body

For more on the canzone form:
Daryl Hines - “Canzone”
John Hollander​ - “About the Canzone"

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


Imagine lovemaking without a stop at this anatomical rung
Between lips and chest, and clavicle and tongue
A lovely rest area seconds from the earlobes
Right below the cliffs of both chin and nose
Head and jewel supporter- the neck (front, sides and rear)
By nature is victim to the harshest cruelties we fear
Gallows, guillotine, stocks, hands, irons and blade
Within - the trachea - transports a commodity without trade
To stick it out, to submit, to offer up trust
To not sing its praises would be unjust

Graceful, aging, long, firm, wrinkled and loose
Flamingo, swan, turkey, giraffe or goose
A little nip tuck and you'll be reality-star fine
That chain or choker will look selfie divine
The neck like no other knows how to entice
From the pages of Stoker, to the volumes by Rice
Beneath satin and cotton, lace and cloth
Cloaked or revealed, Victorian or Goth
Protector of the carotids, feel their rhythm, breathe its scent
A perfumed on-ramp to desire - no need to repent

To come undone is to loosen one's collar
The seducer below- whispers not hollers
Upon it - soft, teasing pecks - fevered or chilled
Or a hard barrage of unreined frenzy spilled
The neck invites you to sup like no other
Recline like a Roman, come sisters, come brothers
British for swallowing - as in necking down some ale
The living and undead know its powers dark or pale
To swallow, to take in, like a magnet I am drawn
Pulled in, maddeningly attracted, be it dusk or dawn

Back from the hunt, briefcase on floor, you tug on your tie
I welcome you with kisses - you're all breath and sigh
I detect the morning's cologne; my lips, the prick of stubble
My tongue, the salt in the hollow of your neck; silk upon rubble
Our bodies hold memories and histories all our own
Like first encounters, beginnings about to unfold
A chilly March night, the front seat of your dad's old car
The fine and not so fine art of necking - how much, how far
Slow, and urgent, and oh so intimately lustful
Hot under the collar; I wagered you trustful

Now, you're prepping at the counter or cooking at the stove
I kiss your neck from behind, you smell deliciously like clove
Your skillful, busy hands leave you little defense
But I don't play fair; and I will not relent
I continue on and you do the same
Until a smile escapes you and I know you're game
You cease your stirring and surrender your spoon
I close the lights and lead you from the room
Our dance is seasoned, my moves aren't new
Invitation accepted, your apron I undo

You say "dinner will be late and the chicken may be dry"
"But victory tastes better," comes my whispered reply
You throw back your head and laugh every time
As I reach for your neck to seize what is mine

Terri J. Guttilla


I am given an anatomy lesson -
the areola is a small circular area on the body
with a different histology from the surrounding tissue -
because these pigmented areas on the breasts
will be gone.

I get to choose what will take their place.
A chart with colors from pink to red,
to dark brown and nearly black.
Suggested paler shades for my lighter skin.
The color may have been to make it more visible to an infant.
Not a concern for me, and so I choose

an imperfect quarter dollar size
in a shade just deep enough to not be my skin,
not dark enough to show through sheer fabric,
not attention seeking,
with a small swelling of darker ink at the center
to pretend to that non-existent infant or lover
that milk might be there.

I forget that it does not redden or tan from the sun
and now areolae and nipples are lighter than the breasts -
more an aureole - a circle of light -
like around the head or body of a person.
Holy, holy. Every day is a blessing.

Lianna Wright


The eyes, they say, are windows to the soul
and so communicate the heart to each
and every one who think life is but soul:
as though the darting of the swift were soul,
the lazy cloud adrift across the dome
of azure sky a nothingness of soul,
and all the slapping waves fragments of soul
that pound against the shingles of the world
(washing sand and drift past the sudden world),
all the benefit of a wisp of soul.
The eyes take in the cosmos of a dream,
and turn it to a dream within a dream.

The eyes, they say, evolved to see the light,
to help the blind amoeba find its prey,
a spot to disentangle dark from light
that grew, in time, added features of light
of certain waves to aid it to survive,
rods and cones and retinas of light
to let the sun reveal its spectral light,
to see its reflected rays, dance and swirl
(off objects hard and soft, in bend and swirl)
to build the ever changing world of light.
And so it fills the darkness of a dream
To color all our days with moving dreams.

The eyes, they say, reveal an inner dance,
the tangled motes of constant push and pull
of images caught and released; a dance
within a dance, endless rondos of dance
that cascade inside our sad, mortal dome,
swirls of electrons in intricate dance
with turns and jumps in quantum bits of dance
(vibrations that twist the strings and unfurl)
that create time and space and so unfurl
all we see, solid motions of a dance.
The eyes give substance to a world of dream,
and set the flow of time within a dream.

The eyes, they say, bespeak a woman’s love,
evanescent as the sparkle of spray
above the fall of water, drams of love
sent out in adoration to rouse love
in the eyes of one she yearns to enfold
and trap in the silken webs of her love,
to embrace in the knotty coils of love
and keep forever in the crook and burl
(of hand and hair, breast and thigh, lip and curl)
she longs to carry forward with her love.
Such is the substance of a woman’s dream,
to hold one ever in her dreamer’s dream.

The eyes, they say, unveil the hidden self,
the I we know, the center of the world,
the actor in the spotlight, the star, self-
appointed judge of all we meet, the self
that grasps and games, longs and aches, hates and loves
in endless rounds of passion that the self
bathes the percepts the eyes reveal the self,
images out of streams of bits that twirl
(and fire synapses in the brain, seethe, and twirl)
and dance in endless shards reflecting self.
The self is less substantial than a dream,
for who can tell the dreamer from the dream?

And last, the final closing of the eyes,
the fading of the light to endless night.
And does the dream continue when the eyes
close forever on this world of light,
a dream within a dream beyond the dream?

Robert Miller


Pain shaped like a heart
beats within me.
Loudly when I try to sleep,
burning when I walk alone
these paths and stairs.

Time heals no wounds.

Some may appear
to be gone,
but scar tissue is always there,
on the surface or beneath.
I feel it there beneath my breast.
I touch the warm skin
and feel the cold below
pumping against the blood,
trying to stop the living.
I would offer myself up for sacrifice,
have it torn from inside me,
if I thought I could live without it.

Pamela Milne


My wrist is the lonely pip card of sleep
Commuters race along hairs of the cul de sac
My wrist floats Shushing the cistern balls stomach
Dressing gown cuffs weigh down the laundry basket
There is hourly news on the length of radio waves
My wrist has tendonitis like a paused disc
I have three day stubble , throw a razors wrist
I speak to you from the microphone wrist band.

Robert Kohlhammer


for the Hwy 50 Wagon Train re-enactment

That body-part’s become the butt of jokes.
But pull up a camp-stool, have a seat
beside the road, here in the shade of oaks.
The wagon train – wooden wheels, booted feet –
a-comin’ slow and steady, daring folks

like us, who used to ride – many a feat
adventurous behind us! years ago….
Now we’re a bit more broad of beam, not neat
and trim; I’ve lost so much of my git-go,
although my trail-wise step quite deftly cloaks

a wish to sit, and read a book aglow
with Pegasus – winged words on sky, that vast
well of inspiration. The undertow
of chores goes on; no time for horses fast
or slow, nor to perfect my saddle-seat.

We’ll watch procession of the past –
this land’s, our own, some memories that last.

Taylor Graham