Poets Online Archive
November 2008

"Never a day without a line."     Catullus

This month's writing prompt is borrowed. I read a post on Blogalicious about Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog hosting a prompt-a-day (PAD) for November as a way for readers to build a chapbook.

"I'm thinking it might be a neat idea to try writing a poem a day in November with the view of trying to have the makings of a chapbook heading into December. I'll provide a prompt-a-day to try and help get the poetic juices flowing each day, but you can decide to follow or ignore the prompt as you see fit. After all, our main goal would be to have 30ish poems at the end of the month that you can then try turning into a chapbook submission."

He didn't give model poems as we do here, but it seems that he will post his own attempts at the prompts at times.

The poem-a-day idea isn't new. William Stafford generally awakened and would write before dawn, and often wrote a poem every day. On the last day of his life, he wrote “Are You Mr. William Stafford?” It must have worked - he more than 60 books during his lifetime.

I also think of David Lehman's collection, The Daily Mirror. Like Stafford, Emily Dickinson, and Frank O'Hara, he began writing a poem a day. It started in 1996 and he continued for the next two years. He selected the best of these "daily poems" and compressed two years into one.

For our November prompt, we asked readers to choose any ONE of the prompts that Brewer offered during the month and when submitting include in the email an indication of what prompt was used.

More about this prompt and others plus the chance for you to interact with your fellow poets is available on the Poets Online Blog.


prompt = nightmare


Living with you is like walking through quicksand
Scary-- somehow boring, even with the mortar shells blazing
Gott in Himmel! Will we ever get out?

It's a weight to be with you, I feel
your eyes on me in the dark when I'm sleeping
when I wake, the nightmare's worse.

You and your expectations, wrath and ire
a slow, sullen pout in the corner chair
I want to whip a tire iron at your head

You! I keep thinking I must hate myself an awful lot
to keep the interminable trek alive
sweating, blasting sighs at your head.

We go to bed, my side next to you prickles atavistic, shrinks
I lift my head from the pillow and wish I'd snap my own neck
the fairytale fuckwads never said it could be like this.

This! This siege, this jungle militia of a marriage
our guerilla undergrowth shakes in rage. The rain
never stops but the trees have already been turned to ash.

Patty Tomsky

prompt = setting the scene


early december
i walk this sandy shore
crisp with the scent of winter
camera in hand my feet
make a crackling sound

a sleek red fox
dances toward his prey
with great agility and
cunning - wised by the
nature of the seasons

water lily pads flap up
against the thin layer of ice
coating the perimeter of
wright lake - only the
sound of geese

marie a. mennuto-rovello

prompt = write a resolution (or lack of resolution) poem


The indeterminate ending, forever budding
with possibility, is what I like best
about The Graduate. The exchange of vows

narrowly averted, the ceremony crashed,
the wedding guests bottled up
in a church, the glass doors barred shut,

temporarily, by a wooden cross the hero’s
slipped like a bolt
between the handles, and his escape

with the girl, the abducted bride,
wrapped like a gift
in her white taffeta gown,

him in his sneakers, huffing and puffing,
running hand in hand with her,
practically dragging her off her feet,

down the street, frantically trying
to flag down a bus, so they can jump on
and make their getaway.

Stumbling together down the aisle,
to the backseat, they glance out the window
at the angry crowd

receding in the distance as the bus
pulls away. The final frame:
the two of them sitting side by side, staring

straight ahead as the music swells.
What happens next
is anyone’s guess, once the fantasy’s over,

and we return to reality, altered
by the experience.
Standing outside the theatre,

I imagine them alone in a room somewhere,
having finally eluded the mob,
plotting their future in bed, the curtains

drawn, the lights turned low, her dress
flung in a heap on the floor,
him walking into the room in a towel,

fresh from the shower, grinning at her,
brushing his teeth vigorously.
The Romantic in me prefers the happy ending,

but the Realist knows that life’s uncertain,
one false step and the dream
becomes a nightmare, An American Tragedy,

a novel by Dreiser I never finished reading.
I closed the cover with fifty pages left
to go, knowing how it would all turn out

in the end, willing to skip the sordid details,
and to entertain the possibility
of a clean escape, when escape’s impossible.

Steve Smith

prompt = a hook


Close the door on sunlight. Truth
in lending. Termite inspection, perc test, mold
advisory. Natural hazard disclosure:
wildland fire area, naturally occurring asbestos.
How much per month? How many times
to sign your name. Dizzy with numbers
you walk out into daylight, drive past the house
that’s almost yours. Screened by oak and buckeye
from the road. You can’t see the secret
creekbed, the fox den under rocks; a swale
where deer and turkeys pass like shadow;
hawk nest with its hungry eye.

Taylor Graham

prompt = a warning


Be careful how you use this intuition.
I had the feeling that someone was watching
so I looked up and saw him there.
While reading, I was thinking about Liz
and she rang my phone.
Amusing and strange.
Until they show up unexpectedly
while you're in the shower.
Spirits making contact
manifesting and sharing their worries
concerns, or questions about events
that are about to take place,
in our lives.
This is not what I wanted when I looked
into the book of changes.
This trigram tells me a minute before
the gentle entrance of this first daughter.
I saw her naked thigh in the moonlight.
I heard a wolf call from a mountain to the north.
Sometimes the answer is not
what we had hoped for,
but it is the truth.

Pamela Milne

prompt = title poem using If it __, It __


The ant walking across the newspaper
that I crush
on a story about the war in Iraq.
I sweep him away to the ground.

My daily walk to the library
where I don't read
any books or magazines.
I gaze out the wall of windows.

The spring wind through cherry blossoms
that fall like snow on her shoulders
and melt into her pink blouse.
I can't even tell her my name.

Cutting firewood from the old apple tree.
No apples in the split center
or in the flame or smoke.
I cut a fresh peach

that drips on the newspaper.
Through the window I see her stand
and brush her shoulders of petals.
I can make a fire even though it is spring.

Charles Michaels

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