Poem Spark Apr 1, 2013: limericks

Happy April!

It is the first day of National Poetry Month 2013. You know what that means… It’s time when all of us crazy poets try to write a poem each day for the entire month. It involves sweat, tears, sometimes blood, despair, and a sort of euphoric glee that only those who make a habit of jumping out of airplanes also possess. In spite of what looks like insanity, we continue, forging into the forest of failed poems, in search of that perfect turn of line that makes us weep in joy.

Or we write limericks.

Well, because they’re absurd. And naughty.

A limerick is a ridiculous poem that is often wretchedly punnish, sometimes lewd, but always a delight to read and an agony to write. It has a strict metrical form:

There WAS an old LAdy named ROSE
who LOVED to stuff MEN in her CLOTHES
but THEN she slipped—WHOA,
and KNOCKED her boobs LOW.
The MEN ran aWAY with her HOSE.

Here is what it looks like metrically. A dash – means an unstressed syllable, and a forward slash / means a stressed syllable:

– / – – / – – /
– / – – / – – /
– / – – /
– / – – /
– / – – / – – /

Your spark for today: write a limerick! Have fun and be creative. Good luck!

Poem Spark Mar 18, 2013: modeled poems

Greetings and salutations!

One of the best ways to learn as a writer is through reading. All of us have probably picked up a book of poems at one time or another and read through them in a frenzy, thinking all along: how did she do that? I want to write like her.

I’ve had this happen to me numerous times. Carolyn Forché, Jack Gilbert, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost—these are all people whose work I learned from, especially when I first began writing. I didn’t know how to rhyme properly, didn’t know how to use meter, or imagery, or narrative. Each of these poets taught me something about all of that, and it wasn’t until I’d been writing and reading for a few years that I truly began to break away from modeling my work on theirs and developed my own voice.

Even so, sometimes I find it invaluable to go back and read a poem or two by someone else, then try to model a poem after a piece of imagery or sound that I particularly liked.

Your spark for today: write a poem in the style of your favorite poem. Have fun and be creative. Good luck!

Poem Spark Jan 14, 2013: website of the day poems

Greetings and salutations!

The internet is a fantastic resource for those of us surfing around in the arts. It hold vast amounts of information, makes research easier, and connects us with readers and other artists. One of my favorite ways of building a poem comes from perusing the Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive, or APOD for short. Every day NASA posts a new picture of our cosmos (and sometimes our planet) with a brief explanation from a professional photographer and additional links. I wrote an entire collection of poems using this resource.

Another great one to visit is National Geographic’s Photo of the Day site. Every day they post something fascinating: a picture of tadpoles, or snow, or people in Siberia. I can’t believe the beauty of some of the pictures, but there are others whose story transcends art and tells me something I didn’t know about life.

Another fantastic site is PostSecret. Every Sunday, the people behind this blog post a number of homemade postcards they’ve received in the mail from strangers—each one contains a secret. Some of them are funny, and some of them are sad, and a few are incredibly painful. Each time I visit this site, I come away with a deeper understanding of why I wanted to become a writer in the first place. There is something about the raw emotion in each of the exposed secrets that helps me to keep in mind that poetry should say something useful or difficult, or amusing and witty. It should never be just an exercise.

Last but not least, I’d like to recommend Poetry Daily. Sometimes the best poems are written based on an inspiration from another poem. Poets use lines, words, images and more from each other’s work. I’ve seen entire poems created with the lines of other poets’ poems.

Your spark for today: write a poem based on an image, idea, or poem from a website. Have fun and be creative. Good luck!

Poem Spark Dec 31, 2012: Poems for the New Year

Greetings and salutations!

It’s been four years and six months since I wrote my last poem spark. It seemed fitting to begin again with poems for the new year, since this is New Year’s Eve. Like many of you, I will be staying up late to celebrate the rise of January 1, 2013. This time of year is about resolutions, memories, and drinking something fizzy. Sometimes there is confetti and weird glasses in the shape of numbers. What kind of poetry is suitable for such a time? That old standby by Robert Burns immediately comes to mind: Auld Lang Syne. Here’s a little bit of it:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Of course, these aren’t all the New Year’s poems out there. The Poetry Foundation has a lovely page of marvelous poems for the New Year. I’m fond of Kim Addonizio’s New Year’s Day.

The key thing for me when it comes to writing a New Year’s poem is trying capture a sense of optimism. For me, the new year feels like a new beginning, although I’m sure for others it feels like the end of something. Whatever your flavor of New Year—optimism, sadness, drunken revelry—the important thing is to write. Maybe choose a few key words or phrases and use them as a spark. Here are some to get you started:

new year



across the calendar

confetti streetlights



10 … 9 … 8 …


where am I?

frost like wildflowers

wind and rain

Your spark for today: write a New Year’s poem. Have fun and be creative. Good luck!

Poem Sparks — Master List

Poem Sparks — Master List

Poem Sparks — Master List

I thought I’d try and gather all the poem sparks I could salvage from the Poets.org’s now defunct discussion forum. I wrote these from 2006-2008.

If I’m feeling inspired, I may revive this feature, possibly doing some random poem sparks on this website from time to time. Is anyone interested in that? If so, please comment. And please feel free to post your poems under any of the sparks in the comment section.

Poems Sparks — Master List (2008-2006):

Poem Spark Jun 23-Jul 7: Carpe Diem Poems Jun 23, 2008
Poem Spark Jun 9-23: Poems about flowers Jun 9, 2008
Poem Spark May 26-Jun 9: Narrative Poems May 26, 2008
Extended-Poem Spark Apr 14-May 12: Anaphora Apr 14, 2008
Poem Spark Mar 17-31: Astronomical Poems Mar 17, 2008
Poem Spark Mar 3-17: the Abecedarian Mar 3, 2008
Poem Spark Feb 18-Mar 3: February poems Feb 20, 2008
Poem Spark Feb 4-18: Persona poems Feb 4, 2008
Poem Spark Jan. 7 – 21 – Dream Poems Jan 8, 2008
Poem Spark Dec. 24 – Jan. 7 – Winter Poems Dec 27, 2007
Poem Spark Nov. 26-Dec. 10 – Music-inspired poetry Nov 26, 2007
Poem Spark Oct. 29-Nov. 12 – Autumn (possibly spooky) Poems Oct 29, 2007
Poem Spark Oct. 15-29 – Water Poems Oct 15, 2007
Poem Spark Sept. 17-24: an oldie but goodie Sep 17, 2007
Poem Spark Aug. 20-Sept. 3: Sci-Fi Poems (and Fantasy, too) Aug 22, 2007
Poem Spark Apr. 30-May 14 – the Sevenling Apr 30, 2007
Poem Spark Apr. 2-16 – National Poetry Month Poetfan Apr 10, 2007
Poem Spark Mar. 19-Apr. 2 – Alliteration & Assonance Mar 22, 2007
Poem Spark Feb. 5-19 – the Ghazal Feb 5, 2007
Poem Spark Jan. 22-Feb. 5 – the Sonnenizio Jan 23, 2007
Poem Spark Jan. 8-15 – Inspired by . . . Jan 9, 2007
Poem Spark Jan. 1-8 – Poems of beginning Jan 1, 2007
Poem Spark Dec. 11-18 – the Ode Dec 11, 2006
Poem Spark Nov. 27 – Dec. 4 – Synesthesia Nov 27, 2006
Poem Spark Nov. 13-20 – the Cento Nov 13, 2006
Poem Spark Oct. 30-Nov. 6 – Spooky Poems Oct 31, 2006
Poem Spark Oct. 16-23 – the Poet’s Poem Oct 16, 2006
Poem Spark Sept. 25-Oct. 2 – Syllabic Verse Sep 25, 2006
Poem Spark Sept. 18-25 – E. E. Cummings Sep 18, 2006
Poem Spark Sept. 11-18 – Poem titles Sep 11, 2006

Poem Spark Jun 23-Jul 7: Carpe Diem Poems

Greetings and salutations!

As anyone who has ever suffered a medical emergency, or the death of a loved one, or any other sort of life-altering event that casts the ordinary business of living aside, sometimes one needs to live day by day, seizing each moment and savoring every precious second. Indeed, sometimes the only way to live is to get through each minute, but at the same time, one should never ignore the gift that is each minute.

There are many poems that celebrate this juxtaposition: the human poised between death and life. On Poets.org’s home page this week is an essay speaking of just this philosophy: Carpe Diem: Poems for Making the Most of Time:

Carpe diem remains an enduring rhetorical device in poetry because it is a sentiment that possesses an elasticity of meaning, suggesting both possibility and futility. Many poets have responded to the sentiment, engaging in poetic dialogues and arguments over its meaning and usefulness.

Here are some poems that embody the spirit of living, living despite the pain and uncertainty that follows us everywhere, living with joy alongside the quiet specter of mortality:

Ellen Bass Dead Butterfly

Li-Young Lee One Heart

Rick Campbell Heart

This spark: write a carpe diem poem.

Good luck!

Poem Spark Jun 9-23: Poems about flowers

Greetings and Salutations!

Now that summer has blanketed the east coast with the first heat wave of the season, I’ve been thinking about how much my garden is appreciating the warmth and rains. The roses are in full bloom and my lavender is just about ready to crack open those beautiful buds. Everywhere I look, something is blooming. What better poem spark to do than write about the flowers?

On Poets.org’s front page I followed a link to Poems about Flowers. Here are a few of the ones I liked best:

Deborah Digges Telling the Bees

H. D. At Baia

William Shakespeare My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun

Your poem spark: write a flower poem.

Here are some photos to help you along: Flowers on Flickr. Good luck!

Poem Spark May 26-Jun 9: Narrative Poems

Greetings and Salutations!

Narrative poems are among the oldest of forms of poetry, if not the oldest. Long before the written word was invented, people told stories to each other, often using rhyme and rhythm to help remember the story so it could be told over and over, and through the centuries, poets have been using narrative to tell a story in verse. Granted, the modern version of narrative poems can take many forms: prose poems, blank verse, free form, and many other devices can be used to convey a sense of plot and tension. Some of my favorites:

Chaucer The Canterbury Tales

Homer The Illiad

Carolyn Forché For the Stranger

Dorianne Laux Tooth Fairy (Since Dorianne is the Guest Poet at Poets.org discussion forum for the next two months, we have the rare opportunity to ask her questions about this poem.)

Your mission for this poem spark: Write a narrative poem. It doesn’t need to be long or complicated; it just needs to tell a story. Good luck!


Extended-Poem Spark Apr 14-May 12: Anaphora

Greetings and salutations!

We are right smack in the middle of National Poetry Month, and many of us are busy writing a poem a day for NaPoWriMo. If any of you are like me, you are probably scraping the bottom of the barrel right about now, searching for inspiration. Of course, sometimes when both the mind and computer screen are blank, I find myself repeating words over and over in the hopes of stirring something useful out of the muck. (What’s that you say? What about paper? Yes, of course, blank paper is equally frustrating, but at least doodles are possible.)

Poets.org’s useful page on anaphora offers this definition:

The term “anaphora” comes from the Greek for “a carrying up or back,” and refers to a type of parallelism created when successive phrases or lines begin with the same words, often resembling a litany. The repetition can be as simple as a single word or as long as an entire phrase. As one of the world’s oldest poetic techniques, anaphora is used in much of the world’s religious and devotional poetry, including numerous Biblical Psalms.

Repetition, hmm. This could be useful, I think. Here are some delightful examples of anaphora in poetry:

Walt Whitman Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

Gregory Orr A Litany

So, in honor of the deep frustration that leads one to repeat words over and over in the hope of inspiration, for this spark, write a poem that uses anaphora. Good luck!

Poem Spark Mar 17-31: Astronomical Poems

Salutations fellow poets!

My husband and I own a basic telescope and a lovely pair of astronomical binoculars. I’ve discovered that the beauty of the night sky has not even come close to diminishing, even though I’ve lived in Pennsylvania for six years now, after spending eleven years living beneath the orange glow that is the night sky in northern New Jersey. I think it will take decades before I tire of seeking out constellations, comets, meteor showers, and the occasional lunar eclipse. On a clear night, I can even see the Orion Nebula with my naked eye, well, if I squint, that is, which brings me to this poem spark: how many poems have been writing about heavenly bodies?

Unsurprisingly, there have been many. Poets.org has an entire page devoted to Poems about the Heavenly Bodies. Obviously, the sky has always been a source of fascination for us writers. Here are a few good ones:

Ann K. Schwader Dead Light

Chris Forhan The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars

Eleanor Wilner Moon Gathering

Mark Jarman Unholy Sonnet

Your mission: write an astronomical poem. Write it about a star, or the moon, or a constellation, perhaps even the sun. Any of the stuff up there in the cosmos is a good subject, so don’t be wary. Let us go together where many poets have gone before. Good luck!