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.