Archive for the Writing Prompts Category

Poem #32: How to Say Goodbye; Prompt #5: The Villanelle

Posted in Best of TPP, Love Poems, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2009 by czarnickolas

How to Say Goodbye

To sever love it’s always worse to lie
and leave your lover with a drop of hope,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

We started strong, our ceiling seemed so high,
but honesty rebuffed our toxic scope.
To sever love it’s always worse to lie.

She smothered me with ardor gone awry,
a lather built from arid slabs of soap,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

We sinned apart and failed on the sly.
Mendacious tongues prepared a gentle slope.
(To sever love it’s always worse to lie.)

She slept to dream then woke herself to cry,
and emptied whiskey bottles dry to cope,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

That night I came too late to ask her why –
she gave her final answer to a rope.
To sever love it’s always worse to lie
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

@NBF 5.19.2009


Boston, 2006



The form I’ve used here is the villanelle. My favorite belongs to Elizabeth Bishop, the famous “One Art” (“The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”). Other popular villanelles include Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” alluded to here) and Theodore Roethke’sThe Waking” (“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. / I learn by going where I have to go.”).

When writing a villanelle, it’s easiest to start with your refrain lines and work backwards from there. The form adheres to the following rules (from The Making of a Poem – A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms):

  1. It is a poem of nineteen lines.
  2. It has five stanzas, each of three lines, with a final one of four lines.
  3. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas.
  4. The last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.
  5. These two refrain lines follow each other to become the second to last and last lines of the poem.
  6. The rhyme scheme is aba. The rhymes are repeated according to the refrains.

A villanelle is a powerful form for writing about loss and is still relevant today, despite our being in an age “when artifice in poetry has been distrusted.” More on this from from Norton:

“Perhaps the single feature of the villanelle that twentieth-century poets most made their own is the absence of narrative possibility. Figural development is possible in a villanelle. But the form refuses to tell a story. It circles around and around, refusing to go forward in any kind of linear development, and so suggesting at the deepest level, powerful recurrences of mood and emotion and memory.

“Unlike most other rhymed poems, where the sound of single syllables is repeated once or twice, the villanelle repeats on sound thirteen times and another six. And two entire lines are each repeated four times. It is this last feature that sets the form aside from other poems. the villanelle cannot really establish a conversational tone. It leans toward song, toward lyric poetry. and while the subject of most lyric poems is loss, the formal properties of the villanelle address the idea of loss directly.

“Its repeated lines, the circularity of its stanzas, become, as the reader listens, a repudiation of forward motion, of temporality and therefore, finally, of dissolution. Each stanza of a villanelle, with its refrains, becomes a series of retrievals.”

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop


Poem #27: Two Lovers in an Hourglass; Prompt #4: The English Sonnet

Posted in Best of TPP, Love Poems, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2009 by czarnickolas

Two Lovers in an Hourglass

What makes us grow to wish these days away,
content to spend our hours combing sand?
The grains between our toes have much to say
to those still clinging grimly to our hands.

Encased in glass, we’re safe from fortune’s touch
as subjects in our own menagerie.
Though trapped inside we cannot hope for much,
the risks we face are minimized this way.

In time the coarse precipitate will fade
and facing us will be a question, too:
do we attempt to flee this cell we’ve made
or flip our fragile hourglass anew?

Well there is one thing history has shown:
The choice is not one I should make alone.

@NBF 5.13.2009


Los Angeles, 2008



This poem is an English Sonnet, the form employed by Shakespeare when he wrote his collection. Like blank verse, the English Sonnet is written in iambic pentameter. In addition, it uses an end-rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, upping the challenge a bit. I invite any serious masochists or poets (or both) out there to give an English Sonnet a try. The balance of narrative, rhythm, rhyme, and originality is very tough to maintain, but the satisfaction level of creating a great sonnet cannot be overstated.

The sonnet, though less popular today, has evolved over time and many twentieth century poets experimented with the form, including Robert Lowell and John Berryman.

Poem #22: Love Rules of the Ibis; Prompt #3: Three-Part Blank Verse

Posted in Love Poems, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2009 by czarnickolas

Love Rules of the Ibis

Alone, I lie upon a wooden bench.
The trees above enshroud me in a la-
zy shade, the sun obscured, my eyes at rest.
A timid ibis bowing from his branch
attracts a mate with fragile twigs and class.
What birds can teach of romance I’ve no clue;
My time alone away from you is proof.
Perhaps it is the partners’ preening dance,
or gifts of wood that prove their faithful hearts.
If only we could love like them, I think.
Then maybe you’d be on this bench with me.
But we aren’t birds, or anything so kind.
And so you sleep in his arms, not in mine.
Some moments later, he moves in – they kiss.
The sacred birds achieve a bond at last,
and glide away for nests as yet unbuilt.
The February summer’s eve remains,
and with it drift my wistful reveries.
So lost, I can’t remember my last meal.
In Oz we only eat on breaks from dreams.

@NBF 5.7.2009


Sydney, 2004



The ibis is a most unusual-looking bird found throughout Australia. They can teach us a lot about love, as can most animals.

I wrote this poem in blank verse (not to be confused with free verse), a form popularized in the 16th century. I did so after reading the introduction to Mary Kinzie’s book A Poet’s Guide to Poetry this morning. (The book is part of Professor Michael S. Harper’s recommended reading). The first assignment in the book is a 20-line blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter with occasional – and necessary – enjambment) “using the three-part organization of the poems by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Larkin, Nemerov, and Gunn: that is, first the description of a scene, which then triggers a meditation on something in the speaker’s experience, which enables the speaker to return to the initial scene with a sense of resolution or understanding.”

Try writing your own blank verse poem with the above three-part organization.

Poem #16: To Rage; Prompt #2: Koch’s Address

Posted in Best of TPP, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2009 by czarnickolas

To Rage

I found you inside me and tried to kick you out, but each time we fought you brought an accomplice: cars, bigotry, eyeliner, the body of Christ, and heat that would not let me be.

You are too pure to fake.

You ripped a taco from my hand. How could you? That was my lunch. Can’t we talk this out?

Where are you going? I can’t defend myself without you.

Is this a holy lesson, rage?

You can’t trick me into sex, I’m on to you.

Get a goddamned rebound, man.

Don’t crowd me, please – I live here. This is my home and I won’t sleep with earplugs in.

How did that whole “dying of the light” thing work out?

Rage – you rhyme with cage. Did you plan that?

I can’t help laughing at you, I’m sorry.

How can I be a polar bear now?

Your arms are too short to slap-box with God.

I wish I understood you better. Maybe we can work this out.

@NBF 4.29.2009


Venice Beach, 2008



This poem’s form is inspired by Kenneth Koch and his collection New Addresses, in which he addresses, directly, many subjects that don’t often get the second-person treatment. I’m going to call this form “Koch’s Address” and invite people to give it a shot.

Allen Ginsberg’s address to America from Howl is phenomenal, especially layered onto Tom Waits’ “Closing Time”:

Allen Ginsberg – “America (Closing Time)”

Poem #1: BEATTY; Prompt #1: Passacaglia

Posted in Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2009 by czarnickolas


Because everyone asks time to yield,
yeomen teach eternity. Blessed are thieves –
they abscond behind you. Earth trips,
etymology, archeology: thick yearbooks that bear
emblems. The younger age begins there.

Beaches alter expectations. Tides yo-yo together,
breaking apart eventually. Yesterday’s tales tier
top to bottom. Awls enter, you
yowl: those bitter tears. End and
begin again. Errant trust tears youth.

Aren’t you taking this back? Eggs
empty, artificial yolks: breakfast terror. Triumphant
enterprises built towers around yonder towns,
abandoned. Every ticket torn, yards barren
and yellowed. The boom ends today.

Black exhibits: art that trumps Yahweh.

@NBF 4.12.2009

NY Pier

NYC, 2007



I enjoy creating poetic forms based on musical ones. In 2000, I wrote my first “passacaglia” poem. The musical form of the same name originated in Spain and is often marked by a grave character and the presence of a bass-ostinato. I adapted the form for poetry by enacting a few challenging restrictions. First, I turn my subject’s name into the ostinato – here, BEATTY – and treat each letter of the name as a note that must be played once per line. As a result, I am limited to using only words that start with the letters, and using each letter once. As an added challenge, I make sure the letters appearing in the first and last lines occur in order. Lastly, I try to adhere to a 5-5-5-1 stanza pattern, with each of the first three stanzas telling distinct stories, and the last line a remark about my subject. The form is challenging, but a lot of fun. Give it a shot.

This poem is a tribute to Paul Beatty, covered here earlier.