Poets Online Archive
Poems Personified

Using Larry Levis's poem, "The Poem You Asked For" (from The Selected Levis) as a model, write a poem in which you personify a poem. Levis personifies his poem in the third person describing what it does and says, but you might also give the poem the direct first person voice.
What makes Levis' poem work beyond the form is the way he develops the poem's relationship with its author. It works as a relationship poem, but also as a commentary on a poet and his work, and, in his ending of betrayal, perhaps even a comment on the reader's role.

Larry Levis's biographical note & additional poems available at: http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=415


I was working late one night, so I sent
my poem to dinner with my husband.
I wasn’t sure how they would get along,
since my husband doesn’t have too much
interest in my poems, and my poems don’t,
well, let’s just say they don’t exactly wax
poetic about him. But my husband
was hungry that night and hates to eat alone,
and the poem was feeling generous,
willing to give him a chance.
It surprised me when the poem agreed
to a steak restaurant, my husband’s favorite,
though she later reminded me she likes
something she can sink her teeth into.
After a couple of drinks – bourbon
for my husband, martinis with extra olives
for the poem – they both loosened up.
The conversation, as you might expect,
turned to me, and while I don’t have all
the details, the poem did say they discussed
how hard I am to please, how I expect
too much, am always trying to change them.
But here’s where the poem got to me most.
She said that after dinner, she suggested
they go dancing, and he said yes.
I was shocked, since he can’t dance,
but then she smiled, told me how he held her
close and let her rhythm carry them both.
At about that point, I noticed her red nails
and the low-cut dress that revealed
more cleavage than I’d ever had.
I couldn’t help but read between the lines.
When she admitted she’d tried to seduce
him, I felt betrayed, until she added
that it hadn’t worked. It’s only you he wants,
she said, and I forgave us all.

Susan Rothbard


The language is more sophisticated now
but the message is the same: Leave me alone.
I keep telling myself she's going through
a phase, not unlike the terrible two's
when all she did was shout No.
She twists my words, talks back,
argues with me at every turn,
tells me I don't understand.
You're beautiful, I reassure her.
You have to say that, she counters
and slips out at night into the sweaty arms
of someone more convincing.
I warn her of the danger of giving away
too much, too soon - selling herself short.
I say I only want what all parents want
their poems to be - happy.
But she retorts that I want her to reflect
who I wish to be, then slams the door,
leaving me at a loss for words.

Barbara Whitehill


After you left
words and sound held no mystery.
Like a shop I may enter
and suddenly
there’s nothing there I want.
Sunsets, moonscapes,
sycamores and anthills -
images still flash on the horizon
of the bane I exist in -
but nothing speaks your lines.
I turn back pages, clocks,
open books, doors.
I keep going.
The streets are dead
the heavens deaf.
Once, somewhere,
I lost the chance we had.
Oh the wakeful hours
spent in your thrall,
lusting for your words,
fondling each phrase,
mouthing your metaphors,
your meter trippingly on my tongue.

Recalling doesn’t help.
I down pills and drain bottles.
Sometimes late night films,
country roads, and trips to Soho.
The other day
I bought a sleep machine.
Plug in and see what happens,
the card said.

I got nightmares.
A voice bearing messages:
The time will come
the time will come
for another poem
with new and fresher visions
and compelling revisions,
before the night is done.
I started shredding old poems into compost.
Piles of them.
Wish you were here.

Gaetana Cannavo


Poem played dead.
Can I join her in bed?
She stuck her head
under the cover.

"We're better together," I said.
No reply.
"OK" I said,
and walked.

Left alone, Poem
wiggled her toes,
read some prose,
made a tent, dozed.

Poem stretched her arms,
piled up the pillows, sang ballads.
When she felt erotic longings,
listened to Elvis songs.

When I return,
Poem consents.
I slip into her bed.
She slips into my mind.

Perfect, I think,
as I settle in,
caressing my possession
of her beauty.

Of course she does not stay.
Only whiffs of words
hover beside me as I lie.
Nothing is mine this day.

Broeck Wahl


she lives in my dreams
an insidious bitch of a woman

i sprinkle rosewater at her feet
rub her neck with jasmine oil

play my sitar in an earnest
attempt to make her sing aloud

she ignores my efforts
turns her back to the moon

i threaten with fire, throw dirt
skim stones at her smug facade

i wake to her hideous laughter
she escapes into the morning

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


Oh, that I could wrap time like a turban,
around and around, kissing my forehead
with all that's gone before and wonders
of bell-chiming things yet to come,
and like osmosis, memories,
thoughts, visions,
mysteries, beatitudes,
attitudes of prophets (greater than I)
would fast deluge
and permeate my mind,
my pores,
my tempestuous core,
rendering me wise
with eyes
of eternal knowledge,
and omnipotent
with knowledge of this.
Then my poem

would speak in tongues,
its voice would sing Gethsemane,
its message would be taken seriously, (to hell with posthumously)
its soul, winged and fruitful, would soar and roar into ears of the deaf
and the hands-over-mouth dumb, and its wings would become


and its word would become . . .



O, Poem! Offspring of the winds,
I entrust my name to the bounty
of your parents.
Let me ride on their feathery billows.
Incite them to blow up
my name so large, bigger
than a hundred blimps and then
spell me out in glorious armadas of golden zeppelins
spanning whole continents with the name of me.

I do not fear the winds for I am
but a small wind myself
and I need amplification.

I thank you in advance, dear Poem
and I sing you confidently in the streets
and at blustery downtown intersections


Richard Lubbock


The poet's muse, by southern ease enthralled,
her loom of woven pain and longing shuns.
In warmer clime and playground ambiance,
has she to beach and sunny surf retired?
Where frothing sea and searing sun cavort,
does she disrobe and joyful revelers embrace
in short-lived, playful abandonment?

As clouds obscure roiling sea and strand,
and gale with undertow submerges revelry,
like kindred menace in the northern sea,
will loss, longing, and unraveled grief
transport her back to weaving poetry?

Benjamin Copito


profound poetry
leapt from the pen,
licking its lips but
leaving its tongue
to languish
a little longer,
leaving lengthy
liquid lakes

Susan Stewart


I could not go home,
I moseyed through drunken alleys.

My stanzas oblique,
My verse Pathetique,
My rhymes barely more than a stutter.

At twenty past two
I come to see you:
But you don 't know who I am.

I cannot lie,
'Tis only I,
The poem that you really did ask for.

Kathy Powers


Like the sperm that wait,
churning and elbowing
one another aside
in your husband's testicles,
so too, do we poems
wait for
the creative spurt,
the mad race
for your attention.

It's dark here,
buried beneath
in the labyrinth,
the sconces
shed fitful light
on this idea
this line
these words

we tap our feet
on the tiles

some stillborn
like unplucked
tomatoes on a vine
growing green
and hard

others drowning
in the dark,
small abortions,
unfit for form.

And you -
you should know -
in many ways
we're tired of you, too,

your complaints:
three hours
spent pushing -

or, wait,
that was
for the birth
of an actual child -

we've forgotten
we're the illegitimate ones,
the illusionary bastards,
waiting for our dawn.

Michelle Cameron



it would say.
put down your pen you silly fool
who told you that it was
mightier than the sword,
were you even listening?
you the biggest of cowards
trying now with scraps of paper
and ego,
to somehow make sense of it all
i should laugh in your face if only
i could,
yes i'd laugh out loud
at your meaningless scribbling
you dear pitiful child,
hiding there now behind that old man's face.
why does your hand tremble so,
is it fear?
fear that you may write the truth this time
instead of that "poor boy from the hills" shit,
that bores me to tears
oh, if only i could cry
let me hold the damn pen,
give me tissue and bone,that is all i ask
you may keep your poets heart, it would only burden me.
give me that,
and i would write the truth that you are so afraid of
perhaps like this,
they question not the task
who toil beneath the sun
building monuments to vanity
their work is never done
until they lie in ornate tomb
or beneath the grassy sod
will those that did not question
now dare to question god ?

ray cutshaw


I worked day and night
endless hours, just to make you perfect.

Now your lying there, stiff and uptight
unfinished, unrefined, unable to reveal your assets.
You were the one, the one that would make me proud-
Now I've given up, on you, on me, on everything.

Knowingly I tried to make you into something I didn't believe,
thinking it would look greater, sound greater- to everyone.
But you wouldn't have it, you chose to be yourself,
you let me, let us,

You are nothing to me, I disown you.
I throw you to the wind like highway litter-
only to rot amongst pitiful others,
like you.

Amy Evans


I am the poem
you keep
meaning to write,
the sexy one
about the guy
who liked
your ankle bracelet,
admired your
shapely legs,
on your breasts
and like me
no metaphors,
direct and to the point
he asked
why you hid them
under oversized shirts?

No flowery language
or poetic form
in my stanzas
I'm risky like him
giving you
that book
of erotic photographs,
on your first date.

He likes
the way I like
the soft nub
of the pen
my smooth
white pages
filling me up
with words.

And aroused
like him
I could
push hard
smash the
the pen
the words
from my mouth
soak the page
like the wet stains
on your bed.

But I prefer
moving slow,
gently shaping
that soothes
and yields
like you
to the touch
of his hands
on your toes.

Norma Ketzis Bernstock


I want my poems soft and heavy, like the upside-down-heart-shaped
Catalpa leaves I don't like to rake up when they fall in my yard--
rich yellow, brown spotted words that rot in a sweet-smelling way,
their curled-up softness partially covering the peeling parts of my porch.

I want my poems heavy as day-old carved pumpkins, their hollow
eyes now slightly soft at the edges. I want my words to lift like fruit-
flies in fine, dark clouds when you walk by.

I want my poems soft like Big Daddy says soft in Cat on a Hot, Tin Roof-
"It's my soft birthday", he says, when his beautiful daughter-in-law gives
him a cashmere robe, and he doesn't know how right he is, his insides are
heavy and soft with cancer and have been for months.

I want my poems soft like what men say about other men when they cry--
"he's gone soft," or soft like a peach when it's perfectly ripe-strong, soft

words like firm sweet flesh, delicious and heavy beneath all that soft, soft


Svea Barrett-Tarleton


profound poetry
leapt from the pen,
licking its lips but
leaving its tongue
to languish
a little longer,
leaving lengthy
liquid lakes




Susan Stewart



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