Poem Spark Apr. 30-May 14 – the Sevenling

Greetings and Salutations fellow poets!

After spending the month of April writing a poem each day in celebration of National Poetry Month, I discovered how difficult it was to create something original with such demanding time constraints. Across the internet, various poets used different strategies for sparking the poetic muse. One such spark is a form of poem called the Sevenling.

Here’s a small explanation of the sevenling by the form’s creator, Roddy Lumsden, courtesy of The American Poetry Journal:

Lumsden wrote:
The rules of the sevenling are thus:

The first three lines should contain an element of three – three connected or contrasting statements, or a list of three details, names or possibilities. This can take up all of the three lines or be contained anywhere within them. Then, lines four to six should similarly contain an element of three, connected directly or indirectly or not at all. The seventh line should act as a narrative summary or punchline or as an unusual juxtaposition. There are no set metrical rules, but being such as short form, some rhythm, metre or rhyme is desirable. To give the form a recognisable shape, it should be set out in two stanzas of three lines, with a solitary seventh, last line. Titles are not required. A sevenling should be titled Sevenling followed by the first few words in parentheses The tone of the sevenling should be mysterious, offbeat or disturbing, giving a feeling that only part of the story is being told. The poem should have a certain ambience which invites guesswork from the reader.

The form is based on a much-translated poem by Anna Akhmatova:

American Poetry Journal excerpt of “He loved. . .”, translated by D.M. Thomas

The Harvard Advocate excerpt of “He loved. . .”, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer

Here are some other excellent sevenlings:

Yolanda Calderon-Horn 4 Sevenlings

Diane Thiel Sevenlings for Akhmatova

Your poetry spark for the next two weeks is: write a sevenling. Be creative and have fun!

Poem Spark Apr. 2-16 – National Poetry Month Poetfan

My apologies. I forgot to post this last Monday.

Salutations fellow poets!

In honor of National Poetry Month, this week’s spark will be based on the Poetfan project that was sponsored by the Academy of American Poets:

This winter, the Academy of American Poets launched a search for America’s biggest poetry fans: people who demonstrate a passion for poetry that goes beyond the usual. After receiving hundreds of provocative entries from fans across the country, these entries surpassed our wildest expectations.

The entries that I read were startling. Fans from all over sent in their stories. Some were booksellers, some were scientists. All were ordinary people who appreciate poetry and found a way to make the poems that moved them meaningful in their everyday lives.

I’m a poetfan, but I don’t focus on any one poem or poet; instead, I save pieces of poems, lines and words, and use them to form my own conclusions about the world around me. Sometimes these pieces of poems inspire me to write my own. Sometimes the poems I love influence the nature of what I write. Sometimes I learn new things about the language that I can use. Everyday is an new beginning, as long as I make room for one new poem in my life; either one that I read, or one that I write.

Here are a few of my favorite poems, ones that inspired me in some way:

Jack Gilbert Tear It Down

Carolyn Forché For the Stranger (audio only)

Elizabeth Bishop Sestina

Robert Hass Privilege of Being (audio only)

Richard Wilbur The Writer

This week’s spark: write a poem inspired by a much-loved poem. You can use anything: either fragments of words, phrases, the style of the poem, or anything else about it that helps you get started. Please include the title and author of the poem which inspires your own. Good luck! Have fun and be creative.

Poem Spark Mar. 19-Apr. 2 – Alliteration & Assonance

Greetings fellow poets!

When my muse has gone on vacation, I’ve often found it helpful to focus on a single poetic technique as a way to jump start inspiration. Usually, I open an old and much-loved poetry guide to a random page and choose the first topic I see. Today, I picked up “The Heath Guide to Poetry,” (the book my 10th grade English teacher used). Much to my delight, alliteration and assonance were the topics that featured on page 208.

Poets.org has entries on both of these terms in the Poetry Glossary, under part 3, Poetic Devices:

alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds, particularly at the beginning of words — “. . . like a wanderer white”

assonance: the repetition of similar vowel sounds — “I rose and told him of my woe”

By now I’m sure you realize that these two devices have a great deal to do with the music of poetry; they’re part of what makes a poem sound like something worth reading. However, a poet can get carried away: if you overuse either alliteration or assonance, your poem will sound quite strange. “Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” is a good example of the tongue-twister that can ensue from an unrestrained use of alliteration. Keep this danger in mind! Use alliteration and assonance with care!

Here are some examples of poems that use alliteration and assonance:

Robert Pinsky: Shirt

Howard Nemerov: Writing

Edgar Allan Poe The Bells

An interesting historical tidbit: the accentual verse popular in the middle ages used alliteration as one of the defining features of the line. Each line of verse contained at least three alliterations. For example, this is from the University of Virginia e-text of Piers the Plowman, written by William Langland in the 12th century:

Thus I awaked and wroot what I hadde ydremed,
And dighte me derely, and dide me to chirche,
To here holly the masse and to be housled after.

Your poem spark: write a poem that utilizes alliteration, assonance, or both. Have fun and be creative!

Poem Spark Feb. 5-19 – the Ghazal

Greetings fellow poets!

This week’s poem spark is dedicated to Esther. Without her help, the Poem Spark section on Poets.org’s discussion forum would not have such a fabulous index, Poem Spark List, nor would it still be going strong, twice a month. She is also responsible for a plethora of new poem spark ideas in the thread, Poem Spark Ideas take two! Thank you Esther!


The ghazal is a lovely poetic form that focuses on love, longing, melancholy, spirituality, philosophical questions, and other similar topics. The use of repetition and rhyme make it suitable for song, both traditionally and today. To learn a bit more of the history of this type of poem, Poets.org’s page Poetic Form: Ghazal has an excellent essay about the form. Here’s an excerpt that explains how ghazals are written:

Poets.org wrote:
The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets–and typically no more than fifteen–that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

Upon further research, I discovered an interview of Robert Bly in which he talks about the ghazal: An Interview with Robert Bly

He has some interesting things to say about the syllabic structure of the form and how it translates from Persian and Arabic to English. Bly’s ghazal, embedded in the transcript of the interview is worth reading. His discussion about the ghazal, beyond structure and into the meaning of this type of poem, is illuminating.

In the interview, Bly says: I’ve mentioned that the ghazal often makes a leap to a new subject matter with each new stanza; that is itself a form of wildness. This intrigues me: the idea that the constraints of this form allow a poet to explore topics that may be too difficult, too wild to grapple with in another way. The ghazal seems to provide the ability to leap from one idea to another, from stanza to stanza.

Here are some examples of ghazals, beginning with an essay that contains several in the text:

from Triplopia: The Ghazal: An Inevitable Unity by Jenny Burdge — look for John Hollander‘s “Ghazal on Ghazals” and Denise Duhamel‘s “Bra Ghazal.”

Agha Shahid Ali Even the Rain

Heather McHugh Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun

This week’s spark: write a ghazal. Be creative. Have fun!

Poem Spark Jan. 22-Feb. 5 – the Sonnenizio


I encountered my first Sonnenizio accidentally (reading a submission from a contributor), and fell in love with the idea of this form. It was only after I did some investigation did I learn that the form was invented by Kim Addonizio. A Sonnenizio appears in her book, What Is This Thing Called Love. I sent her an email about her poem, asking if she invented the form and she replied: “yes, it’s true I invented it.” In the email, she included a footnote on the poem:

Addonizio wrote:
Note: the sonnenizio was originated in Florence in the thirteenth century by Vanni Fucci as an irreverent form whose subject was usually the impossibility of everlasting love. Dante retaliated by putting Fucci into the seventh chasm of the Inferno as a thief. Originally composed in hendecasyllabics, the sonnenizio gradually moved away from metrical constraints and began to tackle a wider variety of subject matter. The sonnenizio is 14 lines long. It opens with a line from someone else’s sonnet, repeats a word from that line in each succeeding line of the poem, and closes with a rhymed couplet.

Upon further investigation on the internet, some sources claim she was inspired to invent the form because Billy Collins invented the Paradelle, a parody of the Villanelle. Apparently, as did Billy Collins for his Paradelle, Addonizio also invented the history for the Sonnenizio form (although she made no mention of this in her email).

Here is a lovely essay by Theresa Edwards about Addonizio’s poem, “Sonnenizio on a Line From Drayton”: Kim Addonizio’s Playful Repetition to Michael Drayton’s Sonnet. Here is a link to Drayton’s Sonnet: LXI of his sonnet series Idea.

By now, I’m sure you know what this week’s spark is: write a Sonnenizio! Every Sonnenizio opens with a line from someone else’s sonnet. A word from this first line is repeated in each succeeding line, then the poem closes with a rhymed couplet.

Here are some examples of other Sonnenizios:

Anna Evans Sonnenizio On A Line from Millay

Arlene Ang Sonnenizio on a Line from Wendy Cope

Here are some sonnets to use as a starting point:

Robert Lowell History

Rainer Maria Rilke Sonnet 6

E.E. Cummings Sonnets/Unrealities III.

Have fun! Be creative.

Poem Spark Jan. 8-15 – Inspired by . . .

Greetings fellow poets. My apologies for posting this a day late, but Real Life caught me in its selfish grasp. I only just escaped this morning when I read a new essay about Jack Gilbert on Poets.org: Coming to the End of His Triumph: A Retrospective on Jack Gilbert by Dan Albergotti.

The intriguing thing about the essay is not so much the story of Gilbert’s life, some of which I already knew, but the introduction of poems I hadn’t read. Titles such as, “The Abnormal Is Not Courage,” and “All the Way from There to Here,” interest me. Often when I am mired in writer’s block, I find it easier to begin writing again by borrowing titles of poems and using them as the starting point, the spark, if you will.

For this week’s spark, “borrow” the title of a poem you particularly like, and write a new poem. The title may become the title of your poem, or it can be part of the text of your poem.

Here are some examples of titles (and poems) that I find fascinating:

Jack Gilbert The Abnormal Is Not Courage

Dan Albergotti In the Era of the Sentence Fragment

Paula Bohince Brutally, the Robin

Good luck. Have fun. Be creative!

Poem Spark Jan. 1-8 – Poems of beginning

Happy New Year fellow poets!

Each year, on January 1st, some of us make resolutions. For this week’s spark, instead of a resolution, write a poem that documents the beginning of something. It can be the beginning of the year, the beginning of a relationship, the beginning of a piece of cheesecake. The start of something new is intriguing and sometimes hopeful. Other times, it’s the beginning of a long and slow process of healing after sorrow or tragedy. Whatever it is, it’s new.

The front page of Poets.org leads to an essay about Poems for the New Year. This is where I found my examples for this week:

Thomas Hardy’s poem of farewell to the 19th century: The Darkling Thrush

Charles Reznikoff’s celebration of the common: Te Deum

Kobayashi Issa’s merry greeting to the New Year: New Year’s morning

Have fun and be creative. I wish you a very joyful and peaceful New Year!

Poem Spark Dec. 11-18 – the Ode

Greetings fellow poets!

Today’s sunrise swept over the land quietly, highlighting the yard and bare trees with delicate shades of rose and grey. A few stray cirrus clouds broke up the light behind the horizon. Perhaps the only way to describe how beautiful it felt to see the sun come over the windowsill would be to compose an ode. Poets.org has a lovely little explanation of the history of the ode and the most well-known forms of this particular form of poetry: Poetic Form: Ode.

However, what struck me most after reading through the page was the intent of this particular type of poem, “the ode can be generalized as a formal address to an event, a person, or a thing not present” This is too dry a recitation of definition. When I think of an ode, I think of my last bike ride, or my grandmother’s funeral, or the strange feeling that swept over me when my son’s first smile crept across his face. It is the lyric joy or sorrow of the moment or thing that inspires one to write an ode.

This week’s spark: write an ode. Don’t worry about fitting the poem into a formal robe, instead, write an irregular ode. Write an ode that is completely free, or that rhymes, or that feels like a sonnet, but isn’t quite. Let the poem choose its own way, and focus instead on the thing, the reason, the person for which the ode exists.

Here are some examples for you to use as a guide:

Robert Creeley America

Mary Oliver The Black Snake

Dorianne Laux Girl in the Doorway

John Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn

Poem Spark Nov. 27 – Dec. 4 – Synesthesia

Greetings fellow poets. Several days ago I read an article in LiveScience about synesthesia: in poetry, the use of language that fuses imagery from one sense to another, from the Greek words for “joined feelings.” Some examples are: loud hands, bitter colors, a cold voice.

This technique has been used in poetry to great effect because it opens up a world of connotation that cannot otherwise be stated so simply. From academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu comes this explanation of how Keats used synesthesia in his poetry:

Keats’s imagery ranges among all our physical sensations: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, temperature, weight, pressure, hunger, thirst, sexuality, and movement. Keats repeatedly combines different senses in one image, that is, he attributes the trait(s) of one sense to another, a practice called synaesthesia. His synaesthetic imagery performs two major functions in his poems: it is part of their sensual effect, and the combining of senses normally experienced as separate suggests an underlying unity of dissimilar happenings, the oneness of all forms of life. Richard H. Fogle calls these images the product of his “unrivaled ability to absorb, sympathize with, and humanize natural objects.”

Keats’ poem, Ode to a Nightingale, uses synesthesia—for example:

“In some melodious plot / Of beechen green” (stanza I), combines sound (“melodious”) and sight (“beechen green”).

Here are some other examples of poems that use synesthesia:

Arthur Rimbaud The Seekers of Lice and Vowels, one of the more famous synesthesia poems. According to answers.com:

In addition to drawing concerted scientific interest, the phenomenon of synesthesia started arousing interest in the salons of fin de siecle Europe. The French Romantic poets Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire wrote poems which focused on synesthetic experience. Baudelaire’s Correspondances (1857) (full text available here) introduced the Romantic notion that the senses can and should intermingle.

More poetic synesthesia examples:

Ann Stafford Listening to Color

Jim Harrison Birds Again

This week’s spark: write a poem that uses synesthesia. Good luck, be creative!

Poem Spark Nov. 13-20 – the Cento

Greetings fellow poets!

Some days when you wake up, it’s raining and you’re out of coffee (or tea, in my case). Sometimes the alarm doesn’t go off and you dash into your car a half-hour late. By the time you return home, you’re wet, hungry, and you have a wicked headache from caffeine deprivation. This is the kind of day when writing anything seems impossible. This is a cento day.

According to Poets.org, the definition of a cento is:

From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets. Though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources. Early examples can be found in the work of Homer and Virgil.

For the complete page on centos, go here: Poetic Form: Cento.

So, since the forecast here is calling for rain at least through Thursday, it looks like tomorrow and the day after will be a cento day, too. Your poem spark mission for this week: write a cento. Don’t stress-out. Feel free to mix up the lines with some of your own. Feel free to use just the end-of-line words from another poem for yours. Feel free to use just a title. It’s difficult to light a candle in the rain, but with the right spark, anything is possible.

If you’re looking for poems to steal (uh, I mean borrow) from, here are a few favorites:

Eleanor Wilner Moon Gathering

Anzhelina Polonskaya Sky

Stanley Kunitz The Portrait

Jane Hirshfield A Hand