Prompt #21 (for January 4th, 2020) Write a poem containing the words preempt, vivacious, lope, fractal, and warren. Colonel Looseleaf Harper’s bonus word is lambent.
(I am convinced that Gary, here, is trying to kill us with these prompts. I refuse – refuse – to write the thirty-line epic these heavy-hitter words seem to call for, and am doing my best to shove them into the shortest poem, ever.)
Each morning, we preempt the day
And lope across the muddied hills
While lambent clouds sun’s rise displays
Shadows the warrens under hill
Vivacious finches, robins, thrush
Spiral away in fractal skies
We, crunching through the underbrush
Provoke the wildlife’s hue and cry.
Prompt #20 (for January 3rd, 2020) As we know, the ancient Greeks used six different words for the concept of love: eros, or sexual passion; philia, or deep friendship; ludus, or playful, childlike love; agape, or universal love for everyone; pragma, or longstanding love; and philautia, love of the self. Once you’ve looked over the list and have considered which of these loves most applies to you, choose one that relates the least to you. Write a poem that explores this type of love. Consider doing so as a prose poem without concern (at least right now) for line breaks—create your draft as something that looks like a prose paragraph. (Here’s a more detailed description — with examples — of a prose poem, in case the format is new to you.) You can always revise your prose poem and break it into lines and stanzas. For extra credit—or to get a jumpstart on February 14th!—try writing a poem or poem series that includes all six forms of love—or create and write about a seventh.
Ready, (Go) Steady, Flow…
“manunkind,” e.e. cummings called us, and i – agreeing – felt less in charity with caritas than before – the rounded vowels of agape overripe and oozing sticky connection, a web of corrupted sweetness – far too profligate, like the nose-stunning reach of a pollen… And who were these faceless strangers who deserved… what? that i stop for the crosswalk, and honor the Law? that i take in courtesy my turn in line, wipe down a weight machine, or stand on tiptoe in a grocery aisle with a woman bowed by age? is it only women and children first, never mind shy men and surly uncles? toward what world does agape compel me, into what weave am i shuttled whose warp cannot be sustained alone?
Prompt #19 (for January 2, 2020)— The Ballad of Ibrahim Cadwallader — In the tradition of Wendy Toftmyer, Jenny Entwhistle, Sam Tolan, Mr. Zocolillo, and Wendy again (Thank You, Gillian, for their inception), write a poem for/to/about a fictitious person named Ibrahim (or Ibrahima) Cadwallader. Perhaps Ibby has just decided to run for office and has come to you for advice; maybe he/she/they is being teased in your junior high classroom, or Cadwallader was the title of the first Turkish/Welsh album to last 50 weeks on the Billboard Techno/House charts (with Ibrahim as its songwriter and lead singer) and he’s asked you to collaborate on his autobiography. Or you just keep it very simple and write a day-in-the-life narrative poem about this character…or somebody else entirely. Have fun—and remember you are the only one who can write this poem!
fish out of water
Ibrahim swam that summer
the year he turned ten
abruptly tall – hunched with it –
shoved in with six pale strangers
“Abraham!” that name –
three broad syllables, all wrong –
his for three long days
a summer camp sobriquet
his shy correction unheard
but one boy listened –
amplified his objection
turning “Abe” to “Ib”
Ibrahim – Cadwallader –
caught mid-squint – photo finished
grins, pipe-stem arms linked,
best friends, fair-freckled and dark
brothers, no matter color
Prompt #18 (for January 1st, 2020)— Otherku – Okay, I know this is too simplistic: “Right, so a haiku, huh? Like we did in fifth grade—three lines, 17 syllables, 5/7/5, somethin’ about nature, right?” For this first day of 2020, try to see the form with new eyes, and create an alternate haiku. Perhaps you’d like to try your hand — and fingertips for counting — at a lune, also known as the American Haiku (brief description here). Maybe your poem will have 7 lines, or 20, with syllable counts of 5/2/5/3/5/7/5/11/5/13… (in case you’re wondering, that’s 5 alternating with the first 6 prime numbers.) Maybe your theme ain’t nature, but pasta or particle physics. The important thing is to create your form; design the architecture, then let your wordplay find its way out.
Enjoy–and Happy New Year! Ready—Steady—Go.
6 am, 2020
smoke alarms, beeping
resolve to sleep in.
Prompt #17 (for December 31st)— What Are You Doin’ New Year’s, New Year’s Eve? — Write a nocturne — a poem set at night. Maybe this will be a journal of a night vigil, or a prayer at nighttime. Perhaps it will be a lyrical exploration of the transitions and emotions that occur between twilight and first-light. Possibly it will be an account of an Eve (New Year’s, Graduation, All Hallows’, etc.) that went so very wrong—or so very right. It may be a list of all the best ways to spend (or survive) a whole night—or the quest for those ways. Ready>Steady>Bonne nuit!
I know people who, every year, read back over journals and emails and such, and actually make sense of the past. Himself has an app that breaks down all of his business emails so he can kind of keep track of communications and business conducted throughout the year. For myself, I find all of this… kind of gobsmacking. I’ll never be that good at keeping track of what I/he/she said and what happened, and I find it a tiny bit tedious to go back over things… of course, this from someone who didn’t learn to revise papers, really, until grad school. I am of the school of Get It Right The First Time, but life has no such guarantees. I hate looking back, because I see all of the mistakes and things… if there is to be a reckoning, I want it to be when there’s still a chance to fix things. But, again: life. You can only fix what you can. As you look back over 2019… good luck. May your only concerns be what’s left in your bag that needs to be thrown out, so you can start over again.
the night the year turns
extracting the detritus
of an auld lang syne —
made up of bullet journals
and unknown, worn business cards.
like women cleaning purses —
we plumb our own depths
shocked by the mess erupting
of pasts – packed and forgotten –
here, our promises
there, resolutions, amidst
stale crumbs and wrappers –
a trail, marking good intent
a map, unfolding hindsight.
Prompt #16 (for December 30th): Believe it or not, yesterday’s Prompt #15 marked the halfway point of NYPC 11! Okay, here’s today’s challenge: Listen to this live performance (after you’ve finished reading the prompt, of course) or to this one recorded in a studio, or to both. If you can do so, try not to watch, but to listen — at least the first time. The write a poem inspired by either performance/musical composition — or both, or one you compose in your head as you write. Ready…Steady…Go!
the size of a fist
this heart, half-formed and shadowed
clings to one small thing –
faith – clutched firm in two hands, leaps.
and now the clock strikes the hour
Prompt #15 (for December 29th): Another adapted Two Sylvias Press Advent Calendar prompt: Choose an event at which you were not present. This could be fictitious, historical, or actual. Write a poem that plays with the implications of not being present for an event. You weren’t there when Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty met. You were absent when Grandmaster Flash pioneered hip hop DJing or the Berlin Wall came down. You forgot and missed your anthropology final exam in junior college. Whether your poem is fanciful or serious, make it real. For extra credit, choose a line from a piece of fiction, a quotation from an historical time period, or something someone might have said that time you, you know, weren’t there…
i wasn’t there when
“no blondes allowed”
became a school-wide slogan.
(can you imagine
the chaos as fair-haired privilege
ran face-first into
a locked door?)
wish i could’ve been
a fly on the wall, but —
i wasn’t there
the week four blondes went non
opting out of anguish
while one bleached brighter —
wish i could’ve seen it:
grief in seven stages
bitter fear and panic seethed
some, in monstrous rage —
could even a fly on the wall
have caught it all?
i wasn’t there
as flashbulbs popped
recording how a change was wrought
in days to come, indelible
an institution altered.
wish i could’ve seen it, but
wrong how, wrong where, & years too late
did even the watchers
see how it went down?
wish i could’ve been
a fly on the wall.
Prompt #13 (for December 27th): Think back to a time in your childhood—or in the years since—when you collected something. (I pretty much went from putting together AMT brand car models to stockpiling record albums.) Maybe you were a philatelist, a numismatist, or cartophile (stamps, coins, baseball cards, respectively.) Whether it was these, or dolls, beer cans, license plates, or something less tangible (like regrets), write a poem in which the speaker is obsessed with her/his/their collection. Allow these objects to appear and reappear as often as possible.
lost & found
everything I lose, I find eventually —
the pot-bellied baby rounds childhood’s base
lugging a pound or two, snatched
from too-strict parents, and then
freedom begets the horror of
the Fresher Fifteen. no worries, of course — Rx,
a piece of See’s and Nik’s aerobics course, twice of day
the cure was more fun than the cause, but
everything I lose, I find eventually.
those first shaky years of marriage — rabid-in-laws,
and hostile natives, a speck of pepper
in a sea of salt
comfort food became
the only one telling me The Truth
but its croon was subjective
and everything I gained
I lost, eventually —
fasting, circuit training, ICU —
too much time in high, white beds
had I done this
learning the names of my maladies
and stunned, I am
finding my balance and
everything I lose, I find eventually
maybe this time, I’ll find my feet.
Prompt #12 (for December 26th): I’ve been carrying the words and melody of the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter,” (based on Christina Rosetti’s poem, and usually set to a melody by Gustav Holst) in my skull for a few days now, and still find myself gripped by by these lines:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Here are a couple of versions to listen to/watch (after the annoying YouTube commercials).
Whether there’s winter snow where you live, consider this painting by Vincent Van Gogh, entitled “Winter (The Vicarage Garden Under Snow)” as you prepare to write today’s poem. Once you go to the Norton Simon site, you’ll probably want to enlarge, zoom, and/or pan the painting to notice the details. To the right of the picture are some bits of biographical information and some questions worth considering—to which I’ll add some other possibilities:
What is it like to work outside in cold weather? What things are under the snow? What secrets are revealed—intentionally or accidentally—when we uncover what’s been hidden? Use any of the above stuff (the painting, the carol, seasonal sensations)— or anything that occurred to you while reading this—to write a poem set in winter, bleak or joyful, arduous or easeful.
R e a d y…Steady…Go~~~
dusk comes so early —
not yet a moonlit blanket
water turns to stone