Poem Spark Mar 3-17: the Abecedarian

Greetings fellow poets!

The front page of Poets.org today features a poetic form called the Abecedarian. Since I obviously do not have enough fun in my life, I thought: well why not? It can’t be that difficult, right? Needless to say, I didn’t know what I was getting into.

An Abecedarian is an acrostic poem. In its strictest interpretation, the first letter of the first line of the poem begins with A, and each following line’s first letter is the next letter in the alphabet. No problem! Here are a few examples:

Mike Dockins: Dead Critics Society {scroll down to see the poem}

Laura Polley: Learning Your ABC’s

Robert Pinsky “ABC”

Notice how the first poem is a double-acrostic? And Pinsky’s poem uses each word’s first letter to go through the alphabet, rather than each line.

The poem spark this time is this: write an Abecedarian. Don’t worry about following the form too rigidly; it’s more fun to be creative. Good luck!


Poem Spark Feb 18-Mar 3: February poems

Greetings and Salutations!

This time of year inspiration seems difficult to find. The landscape is often cold and a colorless monotone, the sky forbidding even in sunshine. It seems to me that it is nearly impossible to write about beauty, given the sense of yearning for spring and warmth that permeates my life right now. I looked at the calendar to see how many days were left in February and suddenly inspiration hit: write a February poem!

Of course, I can’t even begin to think about writing a poem if I don’t procrastinate on the web for at least an hour, so I plugged “February poetry” into the Poets.org search bar to see what happened. Imagine my surprise to find two lovely poems, both with “February” in their titles:

Jane Kenyon: February: Thinking of Flowers

Norman Dubie: February: The Boy Breughel

Since these two poems did not take up nearly enough procrastination time, I went to Poetry Foundation next. Here’s what I found there:

Bill Christophersen: February

Margaret Atwood: February

It seems there is beauty to be found in this month.

Your spark: write a February poem, using “February” in the title. Simple enough, yes? Good luck!


Poem Spark Feb 4-18: Persona poems

Greetings fellow poets!

Today I wanted to write a spark based on Black History Month. I quickly realized that in some ways, writing a spark to celebrate this occasion would prove difficult because the idea of celebrating one particular culture necessarily excludes others. So the question I needed to answer was this: how can one write an honest poem about Black History Month if one is not black? The answer came to me once I remembered one of my favorite poems, Skinhead, by Patrica Smith. To my joy, I found an interview in Torch in which Smith talks about writing this poem. In the interview, she speaks of the idea of “persona”:

CFM [Cherryl Floyd-Miller]: Are there ever any scary moments when you’re doing the persona poem and you think that maybe this is you, or that persona has so much in common with you that the distinguishing line is very thin?

PS [Patricia Smith]: Well, one piece was the skinhead poem. The skinhead poem I wrote because when I was living in New England, somebody painted a swastika on Plymouth Rock. And if you’ve ever gone through New England, it’s like, you don’t mess with any of their symbols. They lost their minds. They were looking for this person. They never found the person but the group they thought was responsible was called the White Youth League. It was some Aryan Nation group or something. So I read this interview, and this guy is spewing all this hatred – blacks, Jews, gays, and whatever. I thought, at some point, we started at a common point. He moved in that direction. I moved in another direction. So, I wanted to write a poem that would bring us back to a common area. And so I wrote it, and I thought it was an exercise, and I like it – liked what came out – and I started reading it. Then people would tell me how strange it would be for them to see this skinhead voice come from this black woman, and I thought, oh, I understand that. Then, an accent, some weird accent, started working its way into the poem. I didn’t know where it came from. It’s like … I finally decided the problem with persona is, eventually, if you do it correctly, the poem will begin to tell you how it wants to sound.

So, instead of writing a spark about Black History Month, this time the spark deals with persona. Write a poem using a different persona than your own. It doesn’t have to be a person from another culture; it can be someone of the opposite sex, or even someone much older or younger than yourself. The trick is to let the poem’s character speak through you. Let the poem’s voice out into the world just to see what happens.

To help you with this, I’m including a few poems that are also what I consider great examples of Black History Month as well as poems that speak in a voice different from my own. Enjoy!

Jim Zola Voudoun Tale

Natasha Trethewey Flounder

Gwendolyn Brooks We Real Cool

Good luck!

Poem Spark Jan. 7 – 21 – Dream Poems

Salutations fellow poets!

This morning I woke before the sun rose; asleep one moment, completely awake the next. Usually it takes several violent smacks on the alarm clock before I can wake up, and usually I go through my first hour of the morning half-dreaming. I often feel a strong need to complete the narrative in which my dreams have placed me: I must swim to shore, or stand back up after sliding down a hill. Today, however, I couldn’t remember anything about my dreams but standing and watching the light slowly paint the horizon a brilliant orange and red created that same dreamlike sense of awakening for me.

So, in honor of sleep and dreaming and the ultimate result, waking again each morning, today’s spark is: write a dream poem. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated, or short and vivid. It can be coherent or surreal, a narrative or a snapshot. Don’t limit yourself. Let the muse speak much as your dreams do: imaginative and surprising both.

To get you started, here are some of my favorite dream poems:

Saskia Hamilton The Song in the Dream

John Berryman Dream Song 1

Michael Collier Birds Appearing In A Dream

Langston Hughes Dream Variations

Good luck!

Poem Spark Dec. 24 – Jan. 7 – Winter Poems

Greetings fellow poets!

As you may have guessed, the passing of winter and the start of a new year are on my mind. And it seems that I’m not the only one thinking of this; the front page of Poets.org has the following banner:

Poems for Christmas

Poems for Winter

Poems for New Years

If you click on any of those links, it brings you to a plethora of choices. I can’t pick all my favorites; there are so many holiday poems from which to choose. Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens? Tennyson or Hardy? The possibilities are endless.

For this spark, you have a choice: pick your favorite winter/holiday/new years poem and post the title and a link, or write your own poem in celebration (or dismay) of the season.

Have fun and Happy Holidays!

PS-I’ve decided: my favorite is Wallace Stevens’ The Snow Man. Brilliant poem!


Poem Spark Nov. 26-Dec. 10 – Music-inspired poetry

Greetings fellow poets!

Today I sauntered over to Poets.org‘s front page in search of an interesting poem spark. Given that I’ve been writing these things for a few years now, the well of inspiration is remarkably still flowing; I easily found this week’s spark: write a poem based on music.

The front page showed me this as soon as I clicked in: The Music Lover’s Poetry Anthology. Ah-ha! What a great idea! I’m always listening to something or other: classical, jazz, rock, hip-hop; it should be easy to find some piece of music that gives me a spark for a poem. I can use the song title as a start, or steal some of the lyrics (one of my favorite things to do). I could base the poem’s rhythm on the beat of the song or choose a more syllabic approach based on some arbitrary snippet (perhaps the song track number). The possibilities are endless.

Poetry and music have a long romance going on, as you must surely know. It began way back before the written word was ever put down on stone and continues to this day. There are countless examples of jazz poetry, as detailed in this essay by Sean Singer: Scrapple from the Apple: Jazz & Poetry. How about this famous Langston Hughes poem: The Weary Blues?

Then there are the poems written about music, like this one from Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Musical Instrument. And lest you think this romance only flows in one direction, here is an example of how music can flow from the study of poetry: David Berman: Poems, Songs, and Psychedelic Soap Operas and David Broza: Making the Music the Poem Wants.

We must also not forget about those brilliant poets/songwriters: Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, not to mention the many modern rockers who continue the tradition.

It seems that music and poetry are everywhere. So, go forth and write a poem, keeping in mind this one warning from Yusef Komunyakaa (from the article Yusef Komunyakaa: An Argument Against Simplicity):

Music provides Komunyakaa with a means to explore complex issues of race and human relationships, while never reducing it through an attempt to reproduce the sounds themselves. “I gave myself a line of instruction a few years ago: ‘I am not a horn,'” he explained. “It troubles me when poetry tries to equal music through outlandish mimicry of musical instruments. It is not music or poetry.”

Good luck!
PS-don’t forget to include the music that inspired your poem.

Poem Spark Oct. 29-Nov. 12 – Autumn (possibly spooky) Poems

Greetings and Salutations, my fellow poets!

Every year I usually dedicate the spark that falls around Halloween to spooky poems. However, just as I was googling my usual favorite creepy poems for this spark, I happened to glance outside: the brilliant autumn wind whipped a few dry leaves past my window just as one of the many crows that live around my house launched itself skyward. It wasn’t spooky at all. It was exhilarating. The wind, the sky, and the smell of mold and dry chaff that rattles around the yard at this time of year are all spooky, but those things can also be so much more.

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite spooky poems:

Shakespeare — Three Witches from Macbeth

Poe — The Raven

Jonson — Third Charm from Masque of Queens

But also, here are some excellent poems that capture the spirit of autumn, beyond spookiness:

Glück — October (section I)

Hoch — Late Autumn Wasp

Wright — Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

Faiz — When Autumn Came

For this poem spark, write an autumn poem. It can be spooky or it can be majestic and haunting. It’s up to you to choose what part of this season speaks most strongly when you glance outside. Good luck!


Poem Spark Oct. 15-29 – Water Poems

Greetings fellow poets!

Last Monday my husband and I took the kids to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a delightful trip. The primary aquarium building sits on Pier 3 of the harbor. As we made our way through the building using a series of escalators, water surrounded us. The harbor outside surrounded the building. The enormous tanks within surrounded the people filtering through the exhibits. At every level, we were able to peer over a balcony edge down into the lowest tank filled with stingrays flying gracefully through the water.

Of course, I don’t really visit anywhere without thinking of the implications for poetry. As I walked with my family through the exhibits, different poems about water flickered through my thoughts: Elizabeth Bishop’s At the Fishouses, and William Carlos Williams’ Landscape With The Fall of Icarus were the first two that came to mind.

When I finally came home that evening, I searched the web to find other water poems:

Meng Hao-jan’s Night on the Great River

Walt Whitman’s As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life

Pablo Neruda’s Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market

Your spark: write a poem about water—the ocean, a sea, a river, a lake, or even the rain. The form of the water is up to you. The important thing to remember is the water itself, in all its lovely and mysterious forms. Good luck!

Poem Spark Sept. 17-24: an oldie but goodie

Hello fellow poetry entrepreneurs,

I’ve been going through a bit of a dry spell lately with poetry. Sometimes, when faced with a blinking cursor and white page, the only thing that works is to fall back onto my favorite method for sparking a poem: pick ten words at random from your favorite poetry book.

I’ve been reading a lot of Jack Gilbert this year; his poetry seems to be sticking with me as I go through each day. So, without further ado, here are ten words from his book, “Refusing Heaven“:


Jack Gilbert has a tendency towards abstract concepts that remain grounded in reality, or at least, his version of reality. Most of the verbs in his book are simple ones: break, said, wakes, etc. The action and setting revolve around these small verbs, letting the reader create movement in his/her own way from the message of each poem.

You task for this poem spark: borrow ten random words from your favorite poetry book, chapbook, essay, online journal, or use the ten words I found and write a poem. Don’t overthink and don’t try to hunt for the “best” or most complicated word. Instead, let the words come to you. They’re waiting for you to give them a home: a poem in which to get comfortable enough to speak clearly.

Good luck!

Poem Spark Aug. 20-Sept. 3: Sci-Fi Poems (and Fantasy, too)

Greetings fellow poets!

Sorry for the delay folks, but since I broke my ankle, I’ve been a tad bit behind on my duties. However, I’ve had the idea for this poem spark brewing ever since Poets.org featured Poems about Aliens on their front page.

I quite liked Kunitz’s poem, The Abduction. It has a sort of haunting grace about it. The narrative easily bears you along as you read the story, reveling in what is not said as much as what is.

Then there’s Hayden’s [American Journal], which is as much an experiment in language as the idea of extraterrestrial life is an experiment of the mind. The poem combines both in a way that is familiar to the American culture.

I’m sure there are many more poems that involve pieces of the unfamiliar cosmos, as well as the dark recesses of fantasy that lurk in the mind. Here’s your chance to share your own experiments.

Your task this spark is to write a Sci-Fi or Fantasy poem. Keep it as unreal as possible. The sky’s the limit!