January 2018

Having gone through high school in the late 1960s, several of the younger English teachers brought popular song lyrics into our poetry lessons to entice us beyond Keats, Frost and the rest of the anthology club.

One of my teachers was a big Simon and Garfunkel fan, as was I. I still recall a lesson reading  "Richard Cory" by E.A. Robinson and then listening to their song version.  My first thought in seeing the original poem was that Simon had basically plagiarized the poem. But Mr. Reece, my teacher, talked about how Paul had changed the point of view to one of Cory's workers, and how that changed the poem for a reader.

In the following weeks, I wrote several terrible songs with my guitar based on poems that I liked. (Never ask me to sing my Frostian "Miles to Go" song.)

The other poem/song combination in that class session was Simon's "I Am a Rock" along with Donne's poem "No Man Is an Island." Here the differences were more obvious. It was more that the Donne poem, and really just one image, acted as a writing prompt for Paul Simon.

Our teachers probably hoped that beyond sparking our interest in poetry, we might make the leap to read more of Robinson or Donne beyond what was in the anthology. I did, though most of my classmates did not.

I liked Robinson's poems, many of which were like short stories. Songs based on poems are fairly common. There are a good number of direct interpretations as when Natalie Merchant uses poems, such as Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death." 

This month we tried writing a poem from an existing song. But we are not looking to imitate the song or even use lines from the song. A better model, though in the reverse direction, might be Paul Simon's "I Am a Rock" which takes inspiration, but does not merely imitate John Donne's poem.

For this prompt, select any song as your inspiration. Indicate at the top or bottom of your poem what song/composer/artist you used. You might select some lines to re-purpose. You might use themes from the song in your own poem. The original should serve as a contrasting view or extension to your poem, rather than being just another version of it.

For more on this prompt along with some song links - and many other prompts and posts about poetry, check out the Poets Online blog.

Based on the song "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen

Who is this lady called Suzanne
A mystery to man
A muse or siren she may be
But find her if you can

Your quest will not be easy
For these ladies they are rare
Look deep into your own heart
You will find her waiting there

And when you look upon the face
You will know for sure it’s her
And when you touch her velvet skin
She will close her eyes and purr

So hold her close and guard her
Because others want her too
And if you love her with all your heart
She will be true to you

So don’t give up your quest my friend
The search is worth the find
But look somewhere else for your Suzanne
Because this Suzanne is mine.

William H Schroeder

On hearing Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock."

I find myself nostalgic for the revolution,
For those heady days,
When we sacrificed ourselves by singing nasal songs of fraternity and liberty,
With the same intensity we sang of a Mojo hand,
And with the same level of understanding;
When we sat on the steps of the university's science hall,
Preventing janitors from washing our graffiti off the men's room walls.
We were high on the idea of distributing other people's wealth.
We passed around the water pipe
With the hash that we couldn't keep lit,
I, with my three chords on a cheap guitar,
And you on your tambourine.
Each night believing that the right words in the right order
Could wipe out war and poverty.

Now I know that it wasn't our fault that the revolution succeeded.
Our singing was insipid and flat.
Smoking dope never saved the world.

But still we won.
As proof, see how well-fed we are.
How fat, how lazy.
We're so tired we couldn't wave a flag,
Even if we could find a reason to.
Yes, we're all brothers now, free to twaddle off to Walmart,
Where the aisles are extra wide for our fat asses.
We watch movies that go from scenes of violence to awkward sex,
As if we handle our weapons with more assurance
Than our genitals.

Yes, the Revolution was a grand success.
We protested for the education of children
Who now choose not to read.
We petitioned for a living wage,
So that our grandchildren could buy a t v for each room of their mobile homes.

We planted gardens of flowers to place in the barrels of rifles,
But the manufacturers of those rifles now subsidize our retirements.
So, instead, we tend those beds to attract butterflies,
Reassuring ourselves that we changed the world,
As the tunes from our youth,
Downloaded now on our i-pods,
Promised we would so long ago.

Ron Yazinski


" She had four white stallions coming up around the bend
Four strong angels at her command to send
Four more seasons, for all that's broken to mend
I've got four good reasons why I can't go back there again." - Counting Crows

Ivory flanks slick with sweat, eyes rolling in their sockets
nostrils flared and streaming, hooves heaving up sod,
manes flaring under a sky suffused with angelic light.

Then the blast of chill air and thunder crackling, the earth
splitting open, darkness swallowing me whole, holding me
in thrall through winter and spring, summer and fall,

until at last I am released into the fading October light and left
to wander these barren orchards, muttering to myself.
The next time the earth trembles beneath those pounding bodies,

I will avert my eyes, absent myself from that exaltation,
and walk content among the broken branches of this grove,
more refuge now than prison, more safety now than sorrow.

Bruce Schauble

"... playing on a guitar string... playing - like a devil wearing wings" - "That Song About the Midway" - Joni Mitchell

I live at my own mercies, my own one-more-chances
if only I forswear self-defeat once again.

These troubles brought on only I could think up.
I think up convoluted snares-on-snares
Then drift with them
un-alert in this life.

My needs my failings
are like a ballast I can't balance.
Like trying to sail with a draft
too deep below the waterline
then I sink her anyway by mistake
and I forget too what brought me out here.
Such shallow waters.

But sometimes I find a mercy
like a treasure right in my own world
like its always been there but I never knew
yet it wasn't before
and I should have known
doncha think? Amazing.

Like a hidden-away-for-the-hard-times cache
only I never dealt this to me
I never thought to really call forth other life
like that swimming to me across the lake
and tossed bread gone bad brings back
three of the six goslings next spring.
This place is theirs now like mine.

Like finding the right phrase
the heart the intent behind words
so thoughts can change into out-loud music
and transport anyone who dares the same realm.
Like bringing friends with me
to show them the sea.

Like gems, these mercies.
Like carboned humus left deep for so long it
surfaces hard and strange and true
just when there seems so much nothing
just when I've lost most of myself
I want my piano my flute silver hand-wrought back again
Where is my music where is my music from every day
and I draw anguished with a six-ought draft pen
an undersea creature I never knew I knew
fine stipple and hyper-focused for
two weeks until he spreads up the sheet
what is in me that he came forth?
Where did he come from that he did so out of me
that he needed to that he wanted to through me?

Sometimes treasures find me. Grab-bag mercies
given out like something left behind in a cottage
blue - no - indigo sea glass salty on my tongue
and left with thoughts of me, I'll say, or someone
and I might leave red if I can get it

Like after all these years I ride the trains now
at the station the big diesels pull in a big diesel
they brought out from the old New Haven line
last seen by me in Woods Hole oh
and my Grandmother waving
and I was ten by the sea my lover the sea.

Sometimes these treasures were mine from long-ago
layered away for some future use I've forgotten now
like finding an old guitar in the barn loft with only one old string
with all the notes I can find on it my life is like that
I find my own mercies
like playing on a guitar-string
sometimes playing like a devil wearing wings.

Cheryl L. Higgins

Inspired by "Landslide," Stevie Nicks

You never packed up a bag of stuff
And marched out the door
Like a runaway train.
Your little self was happy at home
Just like my mommy self was happy to have you there.

Your best lady.

You told me so once,
Long ago,
When it was still true.

They say that often
You miss the "lasts"
Because you don't realize them at the time.

("Who is 'they' anyway?" you always asked.
"They," I always said.
"You know.
The people who know more about something than we do.")

Turns out they did know more about it than I did.
And I did miss them, those lasts.
Precious. Unrecognized.
They slipped by,
and were gone.

The last time you crawled up into my lap and stroked my hair.
The last time you climbed into my bed to snuggle in,
You held my hand as we walked down the street,
You extended pudgy arms and mumbled, "Hold you,"
Or carried around that night night
with the regular corner
and a thumb in your mouth.
The last time you looked up to me.

("Literally or figuratively?" the pirate had asked.
And we've asked it, too,
A thousand times since then.
And that is the question, isn't it?)

I thought I would want to know
When the next last came around.
But I don't.
It's better when I miss them, and look back wistfully,
Than when they announce themselves
And I have to live them.

Your last Wednesday at home introduced himself this morning
And rudely made me cry.
I told him to go away
But he didn't.

And so I live with him
And the tears he brought with him
(Which I hide from you like a shy schoolgirl
because you'd never understand
and you'd be embarrassed
and so would I.)

The friends he brought along--
The ones I'll greet every morning this week
Over the lump in my throat--
Are waiting in the wings
To introduce themselves, too.

If you look for me
(which I'm sure you won't)
I'll be careening toward
the end of a season
I have loved very much
And wagging my finger at Wednesday.

Laurie Sitterding

for Elihu Burritt the Learned Blacksmith
Inspired by "The Hammer Song" by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays

Sledge and anvil, he hammered
to the beat of Latin in his head, Greek
conjugations, 50 languages
for a journeyman blacksmith. His study
was stars in the heavens and geography
of lands across oceans. Imagination
forges a world at peace. At last
he set the hammer down
but kept its beat in his heart.
He set the cast bells ringing
for congresses of peace. His song
was psalms to the skylark ascending,
and hedgerows giving shade
to the traveler and shelter for nesting
birds; and children playing in the green,
far from drums and cannonades of war.

Taylor Graham

In opposition to "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" by Haley Reinhart

I have been guided in the right direction all my life,
But somehow I made the wrong turn towards you.
Since then all there has been is a drawn out strife,
And you still don't have the slightest clue.

I loved you, I hated you, through all this, I came through.
Yet you still stand there with a smile on your face
Making sure to give me plenty of space
While everything around us is askew.

Each time I fall
Harder, and harder, and harder
You broke through my
Armor, my armor, my armor
And there is no
Ardor, no ardor, no ardor

What's a second chance for if all you do
Is use it as a get out of jail free card?
Why can't I just tell you we're through?
I am both physically and mentally scarred.

I loved you, I hated you, through all this, I came through.
Yet you still stand there with a smile on your face
Making sure to give me plenty of space
While everything around us is askew.

Each time I fall
Harder, and harder, and harder
You broke through my
Armor, my armor, my armor
And there is no
Ardor, no ardor, no ardor

You painted the skies with a candy green
And I filled the clouds with silver streaks.
I wish your actions had been foreseen
Your mouth is where your havoc leaks.

I loved you, I hated you, through all this, I came through
Yet you still stand there with a smile on your face
Making sure to give me plenty of space
While everything around us is askew.

Each time I fall
Harder, and harder, and harder
You broke through my
Armor, my armor, my armor
And there is no
Ardor, no ardor, no ardor

I'm walking the wire without you
And all of my fears have shriveled away
Now I bid you a meaningless adieu
As I laugh about your inevitable doomsday.

Alexa Diamant

Inspired by "1965" by Zella Day

We would talk of forever
Love on our lips
Past our fingertips
Until our toes tripped.

We would talk of always
Like it was meant to be
So easy to see
Too perfect to believe

We would talk of someday
Sitting in our garden of roses
While we were drunk on love's potion
Deciding that forever
      Would be until us and our roses are swallowed by the ocean.

But what we forgot is, flowers need water too.

Stormy tsunamis broadcasted in your mind
Showing "forever" was in a place with no divine.
Currents pulled you in and made you wonder
Why you were lighting, competing with my thunder.

And so the story is,
      You either sink or you swim
Sink with me
Or go and swim.

And so you let me drown
With three words on my lips

Simran Modhera

Inspired by "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)": Lyrics by Jörgen Elofsson, Ali Tamposi, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin; Recorded by Kelly Clarkson

Sometime visible
Or not
Sometimes it's our body
Other times it's our mind
It leaves us nowhere to go
It's the monster
In your closet
And it has keys
To every room in your life
It is the seeker to your hider
And it wins all the time
It's there day and night
But especially at night
Until exhaustion gives way
To thankful sleep
Void of thought
Empty of fear
It beats down faith
It pushes away love
And laughs at the future
Battle weary we go on
And those who remain
Are hardened not heartened
Are weakened but not weak
Are strong but not stronger
No one gets a badge of courage
For enduring life as life sees fit
Life that dishes out the menu of maladies
No one wants
Stronger my ass
Monsters torture
They lie in wait and wait and lie
Then they eat you
Sometime in big bites
Sometimes in tiny savoring pecks
Until there's nothing left
Nothing left of you
Or who you were once
Sometimes all that's left is the fear
The desperation, the aloneness
Stronger my ass
Everyone loves a winner
Those who fight, who endure, who overcome
But all battles aren't equal
Some of us are better armored
Some of us are armies of one
Rejoice with the champions
But what of those who walk in the shoes
No one else wants to wear?
Sometimes monsters leave
But sometimes they remain with us
And sometimes they do both
When your night light is on
And your covers are pulled up
And your dog is at your feet
And you've said your prayers
And talked yourself up or down one more time
And made your promises and counted sheep
And still peace does not come
And your magic pills are no longer working
When there is little or no respite from the monsters
Tell me, then what?

Terri J. Guttilla


What matter of creature struggles here before us?
A rose plucked by men of Aries and Taurus,
as Virgo and Pisces uniting in chorus.
A face so divine and a neck that is porous.
Her gills open and close in swift
panicky breaths as the captain says "lift.
Take her below deck and then set us adrift."
He turns his back and puts his hands on his hips,
stood with arms wide, figurehead of this ship,
like a rose bud blossoming on its wooden tip.
God-like and crucified by the winds lips
on the mouth of some goddess and, on us, she spits.
Without the want to question it the crew complies.
Their primal hunger obvious and under no guise.
I bury my confliction behind closed eyes.
My consciences coup de grâce left for the flies.

That night, I felt so sick I drank myself thin.
I wondered what unholy line we'd crossed and what sin?
Hell is for the demons, the devils and the djinns,
and hell is for the silent cowards who cannot swim,
but what sickens me the most is how much I liked the taste.
Will my wife and children even recognise my face?
This creature, ethereal, not even human below the waist.
There's no coming back from a place like this place.
There's no coming back from a place like this place.

Now the stars all the look the same as each other,
and the days all die young like the love of our mothers.
In eternity's limbo, all the time we've uncovered.
The persistence of guilt like the winter of lovers.
It stalks like this vessel stalks the horizon.
An uncharted course through the endless diamond-
covered back of humanity's leviathan
reflecting our souls when we can't find them,
but ours are as black as this liquid pall,
which is why we can't see anything at all.
Just the moonlight in the distance under its shawl
of ephemeral light just waiting to fall.

The captain no longer speaks, he just stares.
His dark mind leaks into the wild of his hairs.
The lies have worn off "we're still heading somewhere.
There's a time to turn back and a time to dare."
I had held onto that hope for nearly a year.
It feels just like yesterday that she brought us here.
I still lie to myself in the hope it disappears
like a child putting his fingers in his ears.
but the truth is the endless ripple in the sea.
The captain stands up suddenly and speaks:
"I put her in a cage and then she did the same to me.
Can we be forgiven if we set her free?"
As if talking to himself or some deity.
The men all stare on their hands and knees
as he lifts up the creature and throws her in the sea
and I wonder who here he's really setting free.

David Pearman


Every Thanksgiving
For reasons I don't understand
You could hear
"when you walk through a storm,"
Which was my mantra
When walking on, in high school.
So the mantra was
As Beethoven's Fifth,
Dot, dot dash, a V for victory
In the Morse code
A marching hymn of faith
Through the second war.
Repeated and repeated,
There was hope
And you were not alone
And at the end of a storm
There was no dark.
Each time one heard the song
One was on a Carousel
Seated on a rising painted pony
To stretch ones arms out
Knowing that there were many
Gold rings for one to catch
Even if the first time was a fumble.

Edward Halperin

Inspired by "Me and Bobby McGee" and "I Got Plenty O'Nuttin'"*

Sure, life plays tricks
but there are some
that add to the problem
[and are thick as thieves
if you get my drift]
Envy? More like self-defense
since even if you say <em>please</em>
those rich guys don't leave much.
They'd rather hoard - while me
I like to hop on board!

See, I'm a body likes to ride a bus -
no gas, no insurance or depreciation.
No fuss. Practical like

And I like to look out the window
and sometimes I can't help hummin'
to see folks goin' about their business
[Sure lotta goin' and comin']

And I'm a body likes to hop a train
Makes a purr that'll put you to sleep
safer than a bus in the rain
[Although hitchin' a ride ain't bad.]

Well, you can tell I ain't sad, right?
Even if my account is a line of eggs
and if I should choose to get away
all I can count on's my legs.

No, poverty is a far cry from freedom
but sometimes folks are wrong
'Cause even the highway can seem like a mansion
when your belly is filled with song.

They'll tell ya poverty ain't freedom
and that's sure true most times
but no one I've known was ever richer
than a guy with a harp and some rhymes.

Timea Deinhardt

Homage to "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen

The sun's red claws its way into the skyline
Burning up the darkness of the atmosphere
The red iron stains my fingertips
Tarnishing the white cotton shirt with its rust

The morning moisture bathes blades of vegetation
Coating the day in fresh glistening dew
The salty beads trickle down my skin
Increasing perspiration as the night's monsters linger

The introduction of the dawn is marked by the roosters call
Screeching crows cram their way into my skull
The pleas and screams envelope my subconscious
Refusing to accept the cause of his silenced prayers

The sun's red claws its way into the skyline
Burning up the darkness, revealing midnights evils
The lifeless figure's limbs are sprawled unnaturally on the tile
Soaking in the thick crimson that drips from my clenched fists

Faith Cantamessa

"Oh yeah, Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." - John Mellencamp. "Jack and Diane."

We begin in worlds imagined
   beyond the world of sense,
stalking bears and tigers
   behind the backyard fence.
Building mighty castles out of
      boards and straw
we live our lives intensely,
   without thought or pause.
         Lest the magic go away
         In the light of common day.

Drawn to friends and family,
      games and evening play,
we tie ourselves to others
      but dream of far away.
Breathing each day's bounty,
      grasping transient ties,
we take all for granted,
      believing all the lies.

           Lest the magic go away
           In the light of common day.

Beguiled by bookish passions,
      we dream beyond our home,
live our race's history,
      travel world's unknown.
We gaze beyond our planet,
      probe the inner void
of atoms' complex structures
      to grasp at Nature's straws.

           Lest the magic go away
           In the light of common day.

Then the world surrounds us,
      Love and work enthrall,
into the whirl of everyday
      we think we have it all.
Children come and bind us
      With their insistent need,
so on we live compelling lives,
      without care or heed.

           Lest the magic go away
           In the light of common day.

But then, one day, we're shattered
      by a sudden shaft of light,
seeing long forgotten faces
      as the evening turns to night.
Old lovers crowd before us,
      friends now long unseen,
family's ghostly faces
pass by, as in a dream.

              Then the magic ebbs away
          In the night of such a day.

And so we're left adrift
      in the evening of our lives,
with little time before us,
      bereft of former drives.
We stare into the darkness
      of all we do not know,
regret all we've never done
      and watch the fading show.
                 As the magic goes away
                 In the night of all our days.

Robert Miller

Cover of song by Zhavia

As he began to sing
His words dug deep into my soul
And his voice acted as a knife
Cutting my love wounds open even more
While he sat there watching me bleed out
As dangerous as his words were
I couldn't help but find myself wanting to hear more
Wanting to have him claw at my heart
He kept strumming my pain with his fingers
He used his beautiful words to hurt me
But he was telling my dire story
Through his gentle and honest words
Why did his words hurt me
He was only trying to kill me softly

Emily Resal

"Keep Ya Head Up" by 2pac

You call yourself a man, don't you?
You clench your fist and boom on her face;
That now imprints red scars
as if they were blush.
At the sight of you she trembles
like a soul that has come face to face with death.
Her tear bags have even run dry
for too much of its content it has given.
Never enough was she for you.
To meet your insatiable needs was all she wanted to.
On her tender flesh you mastered your punching skills.
Your bed has thus become the boxing ring.
After which you thrust in her.
Have you forgotten?
Life was immersed in you by her kind.
Through immeasurable pain
she bore you an heir.
Her love for you was deep and pure.
And closely she held on
hoping the monster you had become
will one day be silenced.
But really how sad
cos in her fantasies
this long lived and hence buried.
You left her blue
to solely man your abode and feed your own.
Unending answers she gives
to the unknown she even questions herself,
to fill in the void of her ever asking offspring
about the sudden no sight of Papa.
Cry your own cry!!!
For you is an excuse of a man.

Busari Amidat