NaPoWriMo Day 30: Final Words

All good things must come to an end. Thank you so much to those of you who participated in NaPoWriMo with me, for a single day or for all 30. I started this website as a way to hold myself accountable to my goal of writing every day. And it worked! Your final daily (optional) poetry prompt is all about endings.

Golden Shovel poem. Write a golden shovel poem. Find a short poem or take a line or two from a longer poem that you admire and place the words, in order, as the last words of each of the lines of your poem. Your poem can be an homage or go in a totally different direction, but you need to hit those familiar notes at the ends of your lines.

The Golden Shovel” is the title of a poem by Terrance Hayes. The last words of the lines in Hayes’s poem are, in order, the words of the poem “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Many poets tried this exercise after Hayes and a new poetic form was born. Want to try it?

Here’s my Golden Shovel poem, playing on the words of “This Is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams.

The Icebox

Some memories I
do not tend to or have
forgotten quite intentionally. I’ve eaten
them, chewed them like the
frosted purple skins of just-picked plums.
Better that than add them to that
which I carry. Some things were
just not meant to ripen in
that way. Others lie stacked, foil-wrapped, in the
far corners of the icebox


though I know that that which
does not kill you makes you
stronger, these things that were
not close to killing me, probably
not worth saving
myself from recalling, for
some reason surge up, as I sit with my breakfast.
And I must invent ways to forgive
such a young and authentic version of me.

Other memories, they
exist in perpetual re-write, were
once something so delicious
that they beg to be replayed, and so,
through overuse, the sweet
in them is worn thin and,
having hinged them in and out of the icebox so
often, they’ve grown rancid and cold.

NaPoWriMo Day 29: Giving Thanks

The end is nigh, poets! As we close out this month of writing, I thought it would be nice to reflect on what it is that we get out of poetry and to give thanks for what inspires us. Here’s your daily (optional) poetry prompt.

Poem of gratitude . Think of a poem you love and write a poem in response to it that says “thank you.” See Dorothea Grossman’s poem “For Allen Ginsberg.” Speak directly (though perhaps not expressly) to the poet or to the poem itself. Explain what the words of the poem mean to you, how they make you feel, and why the poem is important—to you and to the world. You may want to peruse some of the poems in the Poetry Foundation’s collection of poems expressing gratitude.

[Please check back for my poem! I was up late last night finishing my entry to the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. Wow, you guys! It was fun to write something completely different, in a format I had to learn from scratch. I was assigned to write a 12-page screenplay in the suspense genre, about a government employee and something nocturnal. Now I definitely want to make writing screenplays a future monthly challenge!]

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Cross Talk

We are at the home stretch poets! Let’s make these last three days count. Your daily (optional) poetry prompt invites you to bring two seemingly unrelated things together and let your description of each play off the other.

Juxtaposition. Choose two objects or activities that are, on their surfaces, very different, but which you suspect might have something in common. Write for 5-10 minutes about the first object or activity in an instructional way, naming the various parts, explaining how they are put together, how something is prepared, what the step-by-step process is for doing the activity. Then do the same thing for the other object or activity. At least one of the two things you choose should be something pretty ordinary. The other might be more abstract. Then work to intersperse the lines you’ve written on these two subjects into a single poem. Do the two things say something about each other? Is one a metaphor for the other? Or are their differences only highlighted by their proximity? See if there are any lines you can make a little ambiguous, so it is not completely clear which of the topics the line refers to.

I was inspired to write this prompt by Henry Reed’s poem “Naming of Parts,” which, as Robert Pinsky at Slate noted, “contrasts the language of rifle instruction with vegetation.” We feel like we are the army recruits, sitting in the garden listening to their commanding officer. The syntax of weapons and the syntax of nature overlap, invoking ideas beyond their literal meanings.

Here is my poem written from this prompt. Can you guess what it’s about?

It Helps if Your Blade Is Sharp

Have a little reverence, these are
among the oldest cultivated things.
Fable and parable, myth and legend.
Peculiar nourishment of humans;
the animal gut fails to comprehend.
Wild ones may still have their leaves,
flat reeds woven down into the bulb.
They make a natural handle to pull
the thing up from the dark ground.
But you must snap them
off and discard them.

Beginnings are simple.
The rustling outer skin peels back easily,
it is the living layers, dense, cellulose,
that cling to one another. They must be
breached, forced apart, partitioned
by a practiced hand.

The edible round center
comes in three varieties:
the novel, lengthy prose, with a
narrative arc, is yellow and full-flavored,
will caramelize wonderfully
if exposed to slow heat;
short stories or flashes,
devoured in a single sitting,
have a livening bite, purple
or red, they are excellent raw;
and the little pearly white memoirs,
true stories dredged from murky soil,
can be bitter or quite sweet.

An old defense mechanism will be triggered:
the release of a volatile gas.
your eyes will water, making it difficult to continue.
The more often one chops, the less
one experiences this irritation.

You should have some techniques
at your disposal: slice lengthwise,
chapters and paragraphs,
in rounds or half circles;
chop roughly, point of view;
small dice, dialogue
(for precision, brunoise);
or mince—the one telling detail.

However you go about it,
it helps if your blade is sharp.

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Pinning Down Butterflies

Happy Friday poets! We humans are visual creatures, there’s no doubt about that. But describing what something looks like can only take us so far. We have four other senses that must not be neglected. Today we’ll employ some of our neglected senses to make the abstract concrete. Here’s your daily (optional) poetry prompt.

Making abstractions concrete. Abstract ideas often find their way into poetry. Emotions like love, anger, and fear. Concepts like memory, the passing of time, regret, elation, doubt. But if we speak of these things in only a general way, we invite platitudes, clichés, and banalities into our poetry. Abstractions are like butterflies; they flit about and are difficult to grasp. But we are the lepidopterists of our minds! If those concepts fly into the world of our poems, we must net them and pin them to boards. The tools at our disposal are our five senses. Today I want to challenge you to describe an abstract concept using at least three of your senses. What does anger taste like? What does ambition smell like? What color is fear? Pin those butterflies down, poets! Be absolutely ruthless.

Here is my take on the color, sound, and smell of loneliness.

They Say Loneliness is Blue

They say loneliness is blue
but they are wrong.
It is eu de nil, pale green of
lychen, clinging to rocks,
far above the tree line.

It is the stack music of
superheated steam
bursting from the engine
as the train pulls into
the very last stop.

It is the smell of relics
drawn down from the attic,
slow-blooming molder
of treated wood, scent
revenant of long-dead mice.

StoryADay May: Warm-Up Story

Hello writers! A little teaser here for our next monthly writing challenge, StoryADay May. Check out my thoughts on this challenge and get yourself over to the official StoryADay website to sign up and receive prompts and motivation throughout the month of May.

Yesterday StoryADay participants were challenged to write a 30-minute warm-up story. So, here goes:

Prompt: Write a story in 30 minutes. At least 100 words. No more than 1000 words. Brainstorm a character, a desire, and a problem.

Clean Break

Carol needed to get her husband fired from his job. The man was seriously depressed. Okay, maybe that was overstating things. He was on a trajectory of unhappiness. He’d put in a good fifteen years as a claims adjuster at a respectable insurance company. He could actually retire in five years if he stuck with it. He’d be forty years old. Who retires at forty!? What are you supposed to do, buy a condo in Florida and take up watercolor painting? Start a brand new career? Carol knew her husband. He would be just as miserable as a 40-year-old retiree as he was now. The man needed a change. Or he needed to accept the fact that a job can simply put food on the table. It doesn’t have to define you.

She’d tried to get him to take up a hobby. If he was dead set on slogging out the next five years at this miserable job, at least he could try to take his mind off of it on the weekends. They’d started running. Carol now ran three times a week, had steadily increased her mileage, and even ran a few 5Ks. The expensive running shoes she’d bought her husband now gathered dust in the back of his closet.

They’d started a book club. Her husband cheated and read the Wikipedia page for the first book. She knew because she’d edited the page earlier that day to introduce an error. Something small, but that she was sure would get his attention. The book club eventually disbanded. Carol’s husband didn’t complain.

She’d taken him to some cooking classes and wine-tasting events. They’d started a cheese-of-the-month subscription service and bought expensive cast iron pans. She’d presented him with his and hers aprons for their anniversary. Here, she thought she had made some progress. When she was laid up at home with bronchitis he made her chicken noodle soup—from scratch. She could remember how happy it had made her. The shredded chicken, the golden broth, the little slices of celery and carrots. Only later, when the garbage bag ripped on the way to the dumpster, did she see the empty boxes of chicken stock, the greasy plastic shell that once held a supermarket rotisserie chicken.

None of this would have bothered Carol five years ago. But she was 39. And she wanted a baby. Her husband wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea. He would just prefer that everything else in their life be completely worked out before they took that final and irrevocable step. There were some things he could compromise on, sure. Maybe they could get pregnant first and then find a bigger place, and then pay off the last of their student loans. But his job. His horrible, slogging, khaki-pants-and-polo-shirt, black hole of time job! That’s what he meant when he said he didn’t feel ready, that he just didn’t feel like the kind of person who would be a good dad. The man had defined himself by his job. And he hated that f*cking job.

Their plan had always been “let’s just see how we feel in a couple of years, and if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” Screw that! That was six years ago. Carol should have frozen her eggs. It was probably too late for that now.

And then Carol’s husband said something. Just an offhand comment. He would probably deny saying it if asked. “Sometimes I think it would be better for us if I just got fired.” She’d paused at the breakfast table, a spoonful of cereal half raised to her mouth. Was he serious? No. He’d already changed the subject. But Carol couldn’t get the idea out of her head. What if he was fired? There would be no time for him to recover from that before her biological clock ground to a halt. They would have to just pull the trigger. But he would never be fired. Mr. Reliable? Mr. Adjuster of the Year four years running, with a collection of stupid plaques and no raises, no promotions? Yeah right, he was the company’s workhorse. But still, she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind.

* * *

Carol watched the little circle spin in the center of her husband’s laptop. The one he’d received as a company perk a year-and-a-half ago, to make it easier for him to bring his awful, soul-deadening work home with him on the weekends. The last download was complete. She looked with pride on her handiwork. File after file scrolled across the screen: Cindy.mpg, Jacquie.jpg, Amber.mpeg, Chrissie.avi. Inside, enough porn to get even the Adjuster of the Year unceremoniously handed his hat. She turned off the laptop and placed it carefully back in her husband’s briefcase.

It was 8:45 a.m. The human resources staff would not be in yet. She dialed, waited for voicemail, and coughed, lowering her voice just a bit. “Um hi, oh god, this is really awkward. I’m a part of the cleaning crew in your building and I just wanted to let you know that someone who works for you is always leaving really inappropriate pictures on his laptop when he leaves for the night. I think he must have disabled the screen saver or put it on a timer or something. I don’t know. It’s really disturbing. And me and the other girls, you know, we just don’t want to be looking at that stuff! We’re just trying to do our jobs. So, please look into this. Thank you.”

Carol had just ended the call when her husband burst through the door, breathless. “Hey, I think I forgot my laptop.” He scooped up the bag and gave her a peck on the cheek. Exasperated, sighing heavily, he added “And, now I’m late. And I have a meeting. Just perfect. Bye.”

“Bye.” Carol stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, watching her husband run-walk to the train station in his rumpled suit.

She’d make him a special dinner, she thought. Meat loaf, maybe. Or roasted chicken. Real comfort food, with mashed potatoes. And good wine. They’d need a few bottles of good wine.

NaPoWriMo Day 26: #pocketpoem

Hi poets! Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. I promise I did not make this up. Here is what the Academy of American Poets has to say about this event:

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2018 is on April 26 and is part of National Poetry Month. On this day, select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #pocketpoem. 

Poem in Your Pocket Day was initiated in April 2002 by the Office of the Mayor in New York City, in partnership with the city’s Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education. In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to all fifty United States, encouraging individuals around the country to participate. In 2016, the League of Canadian Poets extended Poem in Your Pocket Day to Canada.”

Today I challenge you to read some new poems, revisit some old friends, and share them, in whatever way feels right: Facebook, Instagram, the cork board at your local coffee shop. You can search for poems by author, keyword, and theme at the Poetry Foundation and Academy of American Poets websites. In my own twist on the pocket idea, I’m slipping poems into the pockets of my friends and loved ones today, for them to find later. Have fun!

And, if you would like some suggestions, here are some poets I have really enjoyed so far this year that you might want to check out. Your neighborhood independent bookseller (you still have one, right!?) would also be happy to show you where the good stuff is.

Published in the Last Year or Two

  • House of McQueen, by Valerie Wallace
  • Open Your Mouth Like a Bell, by Mindy Nettifee
  • Electric Arches, by Eve L. Ewing
  • A People’s History of Chicago, by Kevin Coval


  • Circles on the Water, Selected Poems of Marge Piercy
  • Selected Odes of Pablo Neruda
  • Ariel, The Restored Edition, by Sylvia Plath
  • Come, Thief, by Jane Hirschfield

NaPoWriMo Day 25: Worth a Thousand Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why start by staring at a blank piece of paper? Let’s find a good photo and WRITE WORDS NOW.

Writing from an image. We live in an age of digital cameras in our pockets, Pinterest, and Instagram. There is an extraordinary wealth of high-quality photographic images available to spark our imagination. Just take a look at what pops up when you search the Internet for “black and white photos,” “National Geographic photos,” or “historic photos.” Find an image that grabs you and write about it. Or use an old family photograph. Sit with the photo for a minute and just list a bunch of words and phrases that come to mind. Do this with a few photos before deciding which one you will use for your poem. The most evocative one may not have been your first choice. Describe the photo, tell us what is going on in it, or use it as a jumping off point for something completely different. Maybe your poem is about everything that is not in the picture. You decide.

Here’s my photo-inspired poem:

We Cater to White Trade Only

commissioned the sign,
placed it in the window
of the smart little
ground-floor office,
just beyond the stripes
of Venetian blinds
so that, at closing time,
lights out, blinds closed
with a twist, door locked
with the tinkle
of a tiny bell, there
would be no

placed the order,
considered “Whites Only,”
decided to spring
for the extra letters.
Someone handled
the samples,
chose the one
with the graceful bracket,
disappointed perhaps,
that a sign like this
was needed,
but determined
that if it was,
it would be
dispatched with style.

claimed the sign,
when notified
that it was ready,
unwrapped it
from the stiff
brown paper.
Someone assented,
produced bills,
gave thanks.
Someone tucked the sign
under one arm
and walked, dignified,
down Main Street,
past the courthouse,
the green grocer,
the hardware,
the florist.

opened the little
tinkling door,
twisted up the blinds.
Someone placed
the sign in the window,
smiled at passersby,
stood back to check
that it was straight.
Someone nodded once,
with approval,
pursed her lips,
brushed dust
from the palms
of her hands.

sat down at her
cold metal desk,
in a squeaking swivel chair,
and began the work
of the law,
of insuring risk,
of assessing values,
of placing orders,
of making deliveries,
of writing copy,
of catering to trade.

Someone thought,
well then, that’s done.

NaPoWriMo Day 24: The Bard’s Birthday (Belated)

As close as anyone can tell poets, yesterday was William Shakespeare’s birthday. Shakespeare was of course a master playwright. But he was also a poet, writing several long narrative poems and a series of 154 famously cryptic sonnets. Want to read some? You can find them at Or you can listen to readers of all ages and abilities read the sonnets as part of an annual celebration called Sonnet Slam. I’m sure you’ve guessed already what your daily (optional) poetry prompt is.

Shakespearean sonnet. So what exactly is a Shakespearean sonnet? Well, there are some rules:

  • 14 lines (if broken into stanzas, 3 quatrains of 4 lines each, followed by a 2-line couplet)
  • The lines should be in iambic pentameter. This is a fancy term for ten syllables with alternating stresses (sounding like da-DUM / da-DUM / da-DUM / da-DUM / da-DUM). An example from Sonnet 12: When I / do COUNT / the CLOCK / that TELLS / the TIME.
  • Line-ending words should rhyme, in the following pattern: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

You might want to try free writing for 10 minutes and then go fishing in your word soup for the elements you need to get you started. Circle rhyming words and words or phrases that have the right number of syllables and stresses.

And check out Rhyme Zone, a fantastic online rhyming dictionary and thesaurus that will give you a ton of rhyming and almost-rhyming words and phrases, grouped by syllable length. Or, if you know what you want to say but the words don’t rhyme, look up synonyms. You can restrict the results to iambic metrical feet by selecting the [ x / ] button.

I know. It’s kind of daunting. But let’s give it a go. Let’s write some crappy sonnets. This is like making our writer brains do Spenga! [If your sonnet is not crappy, please accept my sincere apology. And congratulations on your lovely sonnet.]

Here’s my sonnet:

Sunday Paper Sonnet

Steam, puff, and drip of coffee in the pot.
Fat bulk unfurled from its blue plastic glove.
Familiar parts arrayed without a thought.
First, Sunday Styles, a tale of modern love.
Then sweet surprise of fiction on its own,
Now taste the front-page stories and page through
Op-eds, spot on or—often—overblown.
Dowd, Bruni, Douthat, Kristoff—their world view.
A poem, a recipe for savory tart,
Medieval Tuscan town I stayed one night.
A washed-up actor, his hopeful new start.
An article that says, “Now go and write!”
I fold in halves and quarters each broad page,
And feel that, in this hour, I’ve lived an age.

NaPoWriMo Day 23: One Week Only

Just over one week left of NaPoWriMo! Don’t stop now guys. Your daily (optional) poetry prompt is a fun one.

Personification. Write a poem in which each day of the week is a person. This is an in-class exercise I recently did in a poetry class taught by the talented and wonderful Beatriz Gartler (check out some new poems on her website, she’s doing NaPoWriMo too). The point of the exercise is to get you to experiment with personification, which the dictionary defines as “the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.”

Here’s how mine turned out:

Familiar Friends

Monday: self-assured, wearing
tall boots with clacking heels,
holds the door open for no one.

Tuesday: puddle-hopping
misses the first train,
but catches the next.

Wednesday: pulls on her sweater
with the extra-long arms,
folds herself into the last seat,
in the back of the room.

Thursday: falls down, searches
drawers for a bandage, blows
on the cool sting of disinfectant.

Friday: sweeps everything
from the table, places
a cold glass of water in the center
with a single ice cube.

Saturday: replaces the water
with wine, drinks it down, refills it.

Sunday: makes a list.

NaPoWriMo Day 22: The Long and the Short of It

Hi poets! We’re going to keep this one short and sweet. I have a doozie for you tomorrow. Here’s your daily (optional) poetry prompt.

Brevity. Write a very short poem and give it a very long title. That’s it!

Here’s mine:

Cradle Song (or, The Moment in Which My Daughter Learns That
Sweet Things Can Have Dark Sides and Likes Them the Better for It)

Rock a bye baby, after a bath.
Pruned fingers.
Damp curls.
Muffled drain sounds.

Sing rock a baby, Momma,
Whispers my girl.
Sung once, sung twice,
A thousand times.

But her eyes widen as
Our lips mouth the rhymes.
She knows now,
What it means to fall.
She knows now,
It’s not a nice song.
Not at all.