Prompt 28 – a poem that tells a story backwards



Here’s today’s prompt from the NaPoWriMo website:

Today I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that tells a story. But here’s the twist – the story should be told backwards. The first line should say what happened last, and work its way through the past until you get to the beginning. Now, the story doesn’t have to be complicated (it’s probably better if it isn’t)!

For this prompt I’ve tried to write a poem that is the Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyage backwards. If you start with the first line and read down you will get the Classic Voyage South.  If you start with the bottom line and read up you will get the Classic Voyage North.   Take your pick!

Hurtigruten – The Voyage South

Feet planted east of Cairo
at the north of Europe
wind-blown we touch the globe
tundra tourism
Nordkapp’s towering cliffs
the straight road
past reindeer herds
cloudberries, rock, bog,
shops of Sami goods
moor and rock
at Honningsvag.

Near pungent cod drying racks
we fall asleep to sucking of waves
fishermen’s cabins red and gold
dark mountain spires
on Lofoten.

Blue, bare mountain
green water reflecting
red wooden houses
pines cling by waterfalls
the fjord finger
at Geiranger.

Augmented fourths
Arietta on Grieg’s piano
seven hills round a fish market
at the harbour
we embark
in Bergen.

Hurtigruten – The Voyage North



Prompt 27 – a poem with long lines


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Here’s today’s NaPoWriMo prompt:

Today’s prompt comes to us from Megan Pattie, who points us to the work of the Irish poet Ciaran Carson, who increasingly writes using very long lines. Carson has stated that his lines are (partly) based on the seventeen syllables of the haiku, and that he strives to achieve the clarity of the haiku in each line. So today, Megan and I collectively challenge you to write a poem with very long lines. You can aim for seventeen syllables, but that’s just a rough guide. If you’re having trouble buying into the concept of long lines, maybe this essay on Whitman’s infamously leggy verse will convince you of their merits.

My poems usually have short lines, so this was a challenge.  I reworked a draft of a poem I had written about the German city of Dresden, which I visited five years ago.  I was inspired by this photograph of the reconstructed Frauenkirche and the statue of Martin Luther.



What the guide said

The dark stones are from the original church, the guide said. Dirty stones
salvaged, sorted, bonded to bright new ones, machine cut. Many died here;
bones crushed, homes destroyed. Silence and smoke drifted over chaos.

We lift eyes to the dome’s bulk against blue skies where our planes,
pregnant with bombs, once droned in black night. The dome dominates,
too large for the church beneath, dwarfing the statue of Martin Luther.

He spoke the language of the people so that all could read the word of God
in their own tongue, the guide said. Behind us cameras click; a thousand voices
speak different languages; spoons clatter on silver metal tables of street cafes.

The church stands firm, symbol of peace and reconciliation, organ music
singing through open doors. And in this film set of buildings, this city
sanitised, reconstructed, reshaped, we try to comprehend the invisible past.

Prompt 26 – a call and response poem


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Here’s today’s prompt:

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that incorporates a call and response. Calls-and-responses are used in many sermons and hymns (and also in sea shanties!), in which the preacher or singer asks a question or makes an exclamation, and the audience responds with a specific, pre-determined response. (Think: Can I get an amen?, to which the response is AMEN!.). You might think of the response as a sort of refrain or chorus that comes up repeatedly, while the call can vary slightly each time it is used. Here’s a sea shanty example:

Haul on the bowline, our bully ship’s a rolling,
Haul on the bowline, the bowline Haul!

Haul on the bowline, Kitty is my darlin’,
Haul on the bowline, the bowline Haul!

Haul on the bowline, Kitty lives in Liverpool,
Haul on the bowline, the bowline Haul!

The call can be longer than the response, or vice versa. But think of your poem as an interactive exchange between one main speaker and an audience.

Here’s my response to the call of today’s prompt.  It’s a long way from yesterday’s poem at Callinish, and it’s a bit more colourful.

Earthsong – Call and Response

Rhythm of earthsong
tread dusty ground
blood pulses in veins
and the sun beats down!

     You dazzle in colour
      leap to the sky
      to the beat of the drum
      you hold then fly!

We sing the songs
from Africa’s core
our voices in harmony
upwards soar.

      You dazzle in colour
      leap to the sky
      to the beat of the drum
      you sing then fly!

We dazzle in colour
leap to blue sky
to the beat of the drum
we sing and fly.

     You dazzle in colour
      leap to the sky
      beat your own drum
      but together fly!

Over the years I’ve enjoyed learning some ‘call and response’ songs from countries in Africa in community choirs, and that is what came to mind for this prompt.  I’ve also had a go at African drumming once, and enjoyed the ‘call and response’ that goes on there too.  Drumming and singing in this way enable us to start as individuals but finish up in harmony.  I wanted this poem to have a strong drum beat rhythm.

Prompt 25 – a poem using a line from another poem


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Here’s the prompt!

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that begins with a line from another poem (not necessarily the first one), but then goes elsewhere with it. This will work best if you just start with a line of poetry you remember, but without looking up the whole original poem. (Or, find a poem that you haven’t read before and then use a line that interests you). The idea is for the original to furnish a sort of backdrop for your work, but without influencing you so much that you feel stuck just rewriting the original!. For example, you could begin, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” or “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” or “I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster,” or “they persevere in swimming where they like.” Really, any poem will do to provide your starter line – just so long as it gives you the scope to explore.

Megalith still

Mist swirls


the circle

jagged teeth

of stones

pierce damp,

Atlantic air;

grey silent fragments

in a grey silent world –

we touch the past

listen in emptiness:

hear no voices.

I took a long time to do today’s prompt. All the lines of poetry that came to me such as ‘I must go down to the seas again’ had such a strong rhythm they seemed to dictate what came next so I struggled to find a good line prompt that gave me room for imagination. The lines I have picked come from the middle of ‘The Horses’ by Ted Hughes – ‘grey silent fragments in a grey silent world’. Later in the poem he uses the expression ‘megalith still’ which I have taken for my title. I had in mind the standing stones of Callinish, Isle of Lewis.  Not a horse in sight. This started life as a compact, fatter poem but then decided it preferred to be tall and skinny like a standing stone.


Prompt 24 – a ‘mix and match’ poem



Here’s the prompt from NaPoWriMo:

Today I challenge you to write a “mix-and-match” poem in which you mingle fancy vocabulary with distinctly un-fancy words. First, spend five minutes writing a list of overly poetic words – words that you think just sound too high-flown to really be used by anyone in everyday speech. Examples might be vesper, heliotrope, or excelsior. Now spend five minutes writing words that you might use or hear every day, but which seem too boring or quotidian to be in a poem. Examples might be garbage disposal, doggy bag, bathroom. Now mix and match examples from both of your lists into a single poem. Hopefully you’ll end up with a poem that makes the everyday seem poetic, and which keeps your poetic language grounded.


I will open the cupboard door
in the early light;
pack plates in wicker basket –
a caprice, this day
when sun rises mellifluous.
Our plans nebulous,
we will pack the car boot,
with tartan rug, food, drink,
drive to that moment of felicity
in the tree’s shade,
while the sun rises to its zenith.

This is the list of words that I came up with:


car boot

With this I definitely felt ‘less is more’ and did not use all my words.  I could have got a more wacky poem if I’d gone for some more bizarre choices for the everyday words.  Perhaps I’ll try that another day!

Prompt 23 – a sonnet



Here’s today’s NaPoWriMo prompt – and oh, it’s a sonnet!

Today, I challenge you to write a sonnet. Traditionally, sonnets are 14-line poems, with ten syllables per line, written in iambs (i.e., with a meter in which an unstressed syllable is followed by one stressed syllable, and so on). There are several traditional rhyme schemes, including the Petrarchan, Spenserian, and Shakespearean sonnets. But beyond the strictures of form, sonnets usually pose a question of a sort, explore the ideas raised by the question, and then come to a conclusion. In a way, they are essays written in verse! This means you can write a “sonnet” that doesn’t have meet all of the traditional formal elements, but still functions as a mini-essay of a sort. The main point is to keep your poem tight, not rangy, and to use the shorter confines of the form to fuel the poem’s energy. As Wordsworth put it, in a very formal sonnet indeed, “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room.”

That’s a lot to achieve in a day, especially a Saturday, so I’ve gone back and dabbled with one I tried earlier this year, iambic pentameter/Shakespearean. It probably needs more tweaking – but here’s today’s version.


A ship in harbour, cradled, creaking, warm,
its ropes secured to twisted wooden staves –
we shelter from the darkening winter storm
and rock upon the whispering, slumbering waves.
A candle’s glow lights up the cabin walls
and flickers in the circle of our love;
as we link hands the evening shadow falls
and seagulls cry in rigging high above.
They cry that this is not their way to live,
that trackless ocean waits to show us more,
that danger, joy and sorrow it will give
when we set sail for distant, unknown shore.
The harbour gate yawns wide as we slip free
to seek adventure on the open sea.

A review from Germany


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It’s been five months since I published ‘Shifting Sands’ and I’m delighted to say sales have gone well, both for the book (available online from Lumphanan Press ( and for the ebook (available on Amazon Kindle  There are some great, informative reviews up there on Amazon, so thanks to all who have read and commented!  If you’re travelling in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, the book is also available at

Aros Centre, Portree, Skye

Carmina Gadelica, Portree, Skye

MacGillivray’s, Balivanich, Benbecula

Kildonan Museum, South Uist

Ullapool Bookshop

and more to come!

It’s been a turbulent five months for me as I have been going through cancer treatment, but I’m coming out the other side now and enjoying the spring sunshine as well as the daily prompts for NaPoWriMo 2016 which I’ve been posting on my blog throughout April.  Thanks go to my husband Iain for dealing with a lot of the book administration when I wasn’t up to it!

Thanks also go to all the people who have kept me cheered with cards, flowers and chocolates.  The parcels are still coming!  Yesterday brought this delightful selection from Gabriele Haefs in Germany.

DSC00509_crI’m delighted to receive this signed copy of Christine Vogeley’s ‘Sternschnuppensommer’, some chocolate and the first review of ‘Shifting Sands’ in German, written by Gabriele for Folkmagazin.

And here’s the text of the review and an English translation:

Schottisches Buch: Von Christine Cochrane gibt es bisher eine Geschichte auf Deutsch (in dem Buch ‘Weibsbilder’ der Edition Narrenflug).  Es ist eine Geschichte wie eine schottische Ballade, von einer Frau, die auch Seehundsgestalt hat und die an Land kommt, um Unheil anzurichten. Diese Erzählung ist auch in Christines neuer Sammlung enthalten, die gerade auf Englisch erschienen ist.  Man koennte ja denken, sie schriebe nur solche märchenhafte Dinge, aber einige Erzählungen sind auch im Hier und Jetzt verwurzelt.  Die Personen halten sich nicht nur auf den Hebriden oder in Glasgow auf.  Auch nach Spanien und sogar nach Schwerin führt sie ihr Weg.  Und immer ist Musik im Spiel – eine alte verwirrte Dame im Altersheim erinnert sich ploetzlich an ein Lied, mit dem sie immer großen Erfolg hatte, eine junge Witwe versucht trotz allen Widerstandes ihrer Familie ein neues Leben als Sängerin anzufangen, ein älteres Ehepaar, das sich vor vielen Jahren in einem Folkclub kennengelernt hat, will den Lebensabend in Spanen verbringen – der Mann packt seine alte Gitarre aus und statt ‘Streets of London’ spielt er nun Flamenco.  Sch schoen und variert sind die Geschichten, und so lange es das Buch noch nicht in deutscher Uebersetzung gibt, empfehlen wir den massenhaften Erwerb der englischen Ausgabe über

Scottish Book:  One of Christine Cochrane’s short stories has appeared in German (in the anthology ‘Weibsbilder’ from Edition Narrenflug).  It’s a story a bit like a Scottish ballad about a ‘selkie’, a seal who takes the form of a woman and who comes on land to create misfortune.  This story appears in Christine’s new collection of short stories which has just come out in English.  You might imagine that she only writes fairy-tales like this one, but the other stories are  firmly rooted in the here and now.  The characters are not just in the Hebrides or Glasgow.  She takes us to Spain and even to Schwerin in Germany.  And music is always there in the background; a confused old lady in a care home suddenly remembers a song that she once sang with great success, a young widow wants a new life as a singer despite the resistance of her family.  And there’s a middle aged couple who retire to Spain; the husband unpacks his old guitar and instead of playing ‘Streets of London’ learns flamenco.  That gives an impression of the nice variety of the stories!  It’s not yet available in German, so we recommend getting the English edition through

Prompt 22 – a poem in honour of Earth Day


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Today’s prompt comes to us from Gloria Gonsalves, who also suggested our prompt for Day Seven. Today, Gloria challenges us all to write a poem in honor of Earth Day. This could be about your own backyard, a national park, or anything from a maple tree to a humpback whale.

I took my inspiration from the whales mentioned in the prompt.  The opening line (from Genesis 1:21) appears in Copland’s choral piece ‘In the Beginning’ and is also the title of a symphonic poem for orchestra with recorded whale sounds by the American composer Alan Hovhanness.  This line, which has its own music, led me into a poem which has the tone of fable.


and God created great whales
who knew they would
inherit the earth.

they touched the salt space
sang to the sun and
silver moon above.

they watched hues turn
from light to dark and knew
the earth turned.

and they turned from
the winds of the land,
the songs of man –

they sang their own song
slipped through smooth waters,
swam in harmony.

For those who would like to explore some interesting sounds, here’s a link to the Hovhanness piece

Prompt 21 – a poem in the voice of a minor character from a fairytale


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Here’s today’s NaPoWriMo prompt:

Today I challenge you to write a poem in the voice of minor character from a fairy tale or myth. Instead of writing from the point of view of Cinderella, write from the point of view of the mouse who got turned into a coachman. Instead of writing from the point of view of Orpheus or Eurydice, write from the point of view of one of the shades in Hades who watched Eurydice leave and then come back.

I decided to use an object rather than a character – as my object speaks, it’s really a character anyway.  I did some research on Snow White and based my poem on a reflective moment by the Talking Mirror (der sprechende Spiegel) at the Lohr Castle Museum in Germany

The Talking Mirror

The Queen’s Mirror

I am your mirror on the wall:
I’m smooth and cool with that –
you are the Queen after all,
the fairest in the land.
I reflect on things,
answer appropriately,
show what you want to see,
say what you want to hear,
don’t crack under pressure.

And then one day I saw that
Snow White was more beautiful than you.
I spoke the truth
and you cracked.

Prompt 20 – a kenning




Today’s prompt comes to us from Vince Gotera, who suggests a “kenning” poem. Kennings were riddle-like metaphors used in the Norse sagas. Basically, they are ways of calling something not by its actual name, but by a sort of clever, off-kilter description — for example, the sea would be called the “whale road.” Today, I challenge you to think of a single thing or person (a house, your grandmother, etc), and then write a poem that consists of kenning-like descriptions of that thing or person. For example, you might call a cat a mouse-stalker, quiet-walker, bird-warner, purr-former, etc.

Today I booked an island chaser, so it’s become the theme of my kenning.

Island chaser

island chaser
wave bouncer
salty people-carrier
swirly-carpet heaven
fish-and-chip fryer
car-alarm nudger
seagull magnet
porpoise racer
hair ruffler
rocky ride
haven seeker
island chaser