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My first encounter with a poet who held my attention was with Stephen Crane. I was 13. I had been assigned The Red Badge of Courage for a book report where everyone read a local (New Jersey or nearby) author. I thought the book was okay - not great, kind of odd language. But in researching the author for the assignment I got caught up in his life. Jersey boy, poor student, college drop out who'd rather play baseball. Wrote about war but never went to war. Dies an early tragic death in England. Buried in the town next to my own hometown. I visited the grave. Took a picture of myself next to it. Read his other books, finally coming to his poetry. I wasn't a fan of poetry but I read these. All pretty short. Simple but with something else going on in them that interested me. Hooked.

Crane doesn't get much recognition for his verse (Joyce Carol Oates used a line from one of his poems for a novel title) - usually he's slotted in for the unit on Realism in the American Literature survey course. But I came back to his poetry again recently and the same poems worked for me again. Major poet? No. Great poetry? Probably not. * Red Badge seems better today than it did at 13, as do the other books & stories. Maybe I'm reaching for something in this prompt that only I can grasp but...

Try writing a poem like Crane's in The Black Riders - that is, short (10 lines or less), first person narrative, focusing on an encounter and including dialogue. If you can sense something else in his poems and can use that, all the better. You may want to read a few of the poems we examined at this site.

* read a review from an 1896 Atlantic Monthly which makes comparisons to Dickinson and calls his poetry "modern... rebellious... satiric... parable[s]"

For more on our prompts and poetry, visit the Poets Online blog.


Shortly after two A.M.
I give up trying to write
this poem and head for bed.
My two year old opens his bedroom door.
"Mama", he says,
his eyes half closed,
"I had a dream about hands."
"Are you OK?" I ask, and
before he falls asleep
he says, "I was afraid."

Svea Barrett-Tarleton

in memory of David Brower

As I sailed the blood-dark Sea under a smoky Sky,
I saw in the distance a lone Figure seated on a Beach; One
Who held his Head in his Hands above a deepening Pool
Awash at his Feet.  I beached my Craft, approached and bowed,
Saying, "Sir, why, on this glorious Day, do you weep?"

Even in retort, his Face remained poised above its overflowing Cup,
"A glorious Day to you my Child, for you praise only Now.
Though my Youth knew delight and goodness all its seven Days,
In the minutes of my Maturity I warned of coming Night

Steven Bizel


The bat cracked in my hands
and sent the ball flying foul
I spat in my hands for better grip

"I told you to bunt" yelled the coach
"I told your mother she was good" I yelled back

He came at me from behind
I swung the bat
and sent him flying into the fence

Robert Stribley


Hello she said
in a too-sweet voice
I'm sorry
if I woke you up

Considering their recent history
It's okay he replied
I'm glad you called
and hung up the phone

Ron Lavalette


to myself
(not to a child)
I am a child.
I hear him say,
"Prometheus, in making man,
did not use water
to mix the clay.
He used tears."

My hands are wet
and my grip
is loosening
its hold.
The pages
are bursting
into flames.

Lianna Wright


In a dream, if I should walk
into that old, familiar classroom -
of which I used to say,
"This is my home,"
could the children -
faces turned my way -
know me; or would they ask,
"Who are you?"
Speaking from my dream I'd say,
"Years ago I taught your parents here."

Catherine M. LeGault


Across the diamond I saw Stephen Crane
walk over the line-
"Got a spot for another player?"

"Always need a catcher - unless you think
you can handle the hot stuff at short," I said.
He walked between bases backlit by sun.

"Death is nothing but hard hit grounders
that jump at your face. And I been scooping them
and coming up throwing for a while now. So,

why don't you show me what you've got."

Ken Ronkowitz


My blind friend spoke,
"Time has a bent ear,
lending compassion
with no condition placed"
I fed from her heart
my mouth stayed slightly open
I cherished, alongside her, fond memories
kept quiet ... not intruding
lest time be put to shame.
C. E. Goulden