Prompt 19 – a ‘how to’ or didactic poem



Many years ago, “didactic” poetry was very common – in other words, poetry that explicitly sought to instruct the reader in some kind of skill or knowledge, whether moral, philosophical, or practical. Today, I’d like to challenge you to write the latter kind of “how to” poem – a didactic poem that focuses on a practical skill. Hopefully, you’ll be able to weave the concrete details of the action into a compelling verse. Also, your “practical” skill could be somewhat mythological, imaginary, or funny, like “How to Capture a Mermaid” or “How to Get Your Teenager to Take Out the Garbage When He Is Supposed To.”

My mind went round in circles on this one, then I decided on how to complete the NaPoWriMo challenge. This one will appeal particularly to those who have hung on in there and done all the poems.

How to complete the NaPoWriMo challenge

All you do is find a spark!
To write a lune is quite a lark.
A tritina or a san san form
both need a fairly big brainstorm.
Or how about a fanmail letter?
Or heirloom plants?  Now, are they better?
Which month do you find most cruel?
A poem with a theme that’s dual!
Your favourite flower, your favourite food,
a fortune cookie rhyme is good.
Or how about this questionnaire?
The sound of home is in the air.
A family portrait’s worth a look,
or how about the spines of books?
Just take an index as your prompt
or dictionary terms – you won’t be swamped!
A big surprise just at the finish
your poem’s success will not diminish.
That’s the way to write each day
take a spark and write away!

Prompt 18 – the sound of home



Here’s today’s prompt:

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that incorporates “the sound of home.” Think back to your childhood, and the figures of speech and particular ways of talking that the people around you used, and which you may not hear anymore. My grandfather and mother, in particular, used several phrases I’ve rarely heard any others say, and I also absorbed certain ways of talking living in Charleston, South Carolina that I don’t hear on a daily basis in Washington, DC. Coax your ear and your voice backwards, and write a poem that speaks the language of home, and not the language of adulthood, office, or work.

I could have written, as instructed, about speech and dialect and the way people spoke in the Fifties and Sixties, but in the end this poem led me in a different direction – to the music we listened to. For me, these are the sounds of home.

The Sound of Home

Shall we listen to a record? they’d say,
and we’d open the lid of the record player,
set the turntable spinning at 33
for the Beethoven Symphonies box set
by Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic,
or The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews,
hills alive with lonely goatherds.
Some people called it the gramophone,
had thick, black 78s, His Master’s Voice –
Myra Hess plays Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,
or Children’s Favourites, The Runaway Train.
Later we had EPs of The Seekers,
I’ll Never Find Another You,
and 45s with crinkled paper covers:
pink Pye, green Parlophone, orange Decca.
We piled up singles, six at a time,
listened to them drop on the turntable
mixing soulful Shadows with upbeat Beatles
and the power of Dusty Springfield.
In the background the chink of china,
the slicing of an iced Victoria Sponge;
the music of Sunday afternoons.

Prompt 17 – a poem inspired by terms from a specialist dictionary



Over half way through and still going!  Here’s today’s prompt:

Today, I challenge you to find, either on your shelves or online, a specialized dictionary. This could be, for example, a dictionary of nautical terms, or woodworking terms, or geology terms. Anything, really, so long as it’s not a standard dictionary! Now write a poem that incorporates at least ten words from your specialized source.

The source for the terms for my poem was Everyman’s Dictionary of Music by Eric Blom.  There’s so much music in Italian this volume was difficult to resist!


Meet me, Allegro, at the double bar
where piano music tinkles vivace
to the crotchet clink of glasses.
And we will walk to the river
accompanied by plainsong of birds
deep faux bourdon of frogs
glissando of ducks on water.
Willows murmur pianissimo
in the light evening breeze:
our swan song before I leave.
Meet me, Allegro, at the double bar
for our final canzonetta.

Prompt 16 – a poem based on responses to an ‘almanac questionnaire’



Today, I challenge you to fill out, in no more than five minutes, the following “Almanac Questionnaire,” which solicits concrete details about a specific place (real or imagined). Then write a poem incorporating or based on one or more of your answers.  You can see the Almanac Questionnaire in full here

Here’s my response:

The law at sixty three

When I was thirteen I climbed The Law:
once a volcano they said, now extinct.
I wore a red cotton anorak, brown shoes.
Today I am older, the weather grey,
the rocks slippery in the light rain,
the mountain gear waterproof.
Grey turrets rise from the town below
skirted by squat Scottish bungalows;
yellow gorse trims golf course greens
and in the Firth boats fish for crabs,
dip and soar on white-topped waves.
Once my childhood dream was to
travel to far countries. Now my hair
has started to grow again and the
white summit trig point shouts
its black graffiti; live for the moment.
In the afternoon the sun shines.

How I did it:

I used my responses to the following on the ‘almanac questionnaire’:

Weather: grey
Flora: yellow gorse
Architecture: Scottish – turrets and bungalows
Customs: fishing and afternoon tea
Mammals/reptiles/fish: crabs
Childhood dream: travel to far countries
Graffiti: live in the moment
Dress: mountain gear
Scrap from a letter: my hair has started to grow again

The poem that came out is based upon something I did very recently – I had my first holiday after cancer treatment and climbed North Berwick Law fifty years after my first ascent! The ‘scrap from a letter’ was in an email from a fellow cancer-patient and the graffiti words on the trig point were just right!

Prompt 15 – a poem inspired by doubles


And now for our prompt. Because today marks the halfway point in our 30-day sprint, today I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that incorporates the idea of doubles. You could incorporate doubling into the form, for example, by writing a poem in couplets. Or you could make doubles the theme of the poem, by writing, for example, about mirrors or twins, or simply things that come in pairs. Or you could double your doublings by incorporating things-that-come-in-twos into both your subject and form.

In response to this prompt, my thinking initially led me down the doublethink route of Orwell, but then I went on to consider ‘Very British problems’ and our tendency to say the opposite of what we mean.  After the rigours of yesterday’s san san, today’s poem is just a bit of fun.

dinner party

Great to see you! Yes, I’m good.
Lovely dinner, favourite food.
Brussels sprouts are always nice
and such delicious pudding rice!
I love dogs, honest, he doesn’t smell.
And how are you? You’re looking well.

Actually, you’re tired and pale,
that slobbering dog should be in jail.
Brussels sprouts don’t make me sing
and pudding rice is not my thing,
You haven’t picked my favourite food
and I’m not feeling very good.

Prompt 14 – a san san



Today’s prompt comes to us from TJ Kearney, who invites us to try a seven-line poem called a san san, which means “three three” in Chinese (It’s also a term of art in the game Go). The san san has some things in common with the tritina, including repetition and rhyme. In particular, the san san repeats, three times, each of three terms or images. The seven lines rhyme in the pattern a-b-c-a-b-d-c-d.

Here’s an example san san from TJ’s blog, Bag of Anything:

Drinking the driven storm, the sturdy apple
Dances, between sky and earth, her spring-young leaves.
Knowing no purpose, knowing only season,
Her spring-young leaves, storm-driven, dapple
Earth and sky; all that my eye perceives
Dances. My eye drinks in the apple’s spring-
Young leaves, her dance that has no reason:
Only the storm, driving each dappled thing.

As you can see, three images or terms are repeated: the driven storm; the spring-young leaves; the dance, and the seven lines rhyme per the pattern given above. I hope you have fun giving the san san a try.

Today’s san san has been a sudoku of a poem.  I’ve actually reworked a poem I’ve already written, because once again when presented with a ‘write a form’ instruction I’m never sure what theme to pick.  It was easier for me to tweak rhymes and patterns with a framework already there.

The birdwatcher

I, the bittern, boom in sedges,
hide my head in yellow of rustling reeds,
watch waters ripple, stroked by wind unseen.

Through rustling reeds and spring-green hedges
where waters ripple and wind unseen blows seeds
I peer and see them come to watch today.

I boom in rustling reeds. I watch binoculars gleam
where waters ripple; then like wind unseen I turn away.

Prompt 13 – a poem inspired by a fortune cookie message


And now for today’s prompt! The number 13 is often considered unlucky, so today I’d like to challenge you to beat the bad luck away with a poem inspired by fortune cookies. You could write a poem made up entirely of statements that predict the future (“You will meet a handsome stranger”), aphoristic statements (“The secret to getting ahead is getting started)” or just silly questions (“How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges?”) Or you could use a phrase you’ve actually received in a real fortune cookie as a title or first line. However you proceed, I hope you will feel fortunate in the results.

The only time I’ve had a fortune cookie was at a Chinese-themed day we organised for the pupils at my school a few months before I retired. The message said ‘you are almost there’ and was just right for me! I could feel myself eager to reach the finishing post and see what lay beyond. But then I thought of a photo I’d once taken on Norwegian Airlines which is all about enjoying that moment between two states.



Enjoy your time here
you are almost there
suspended over clouds
you follow the sun
to your destination
and the places beyond
you do not yet know.
Enjoy your time here
you are almost there.

Prompt 12 – an index poem


Here’s the prompt:

Have you ever flipped to the index of a book and found it super interesting? Well, I have (yes, I live an exciting life!) For example, the other day I pulled from my shelf a copy of on old book that excerpts parts of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journals. I took a look at the index, and found the following entry under “Man”:

fails to attain perfection, 46; can take advantage of any quality within him, 46; his plot of ground, 46; his use, 52, 56; not to be trusted with too much power, 55; should not be too conscientious, 58; occult relationship between animals and, 75; God in, 79, 86; not looked upon as an animal, 80; gains courage by going much alone, 81; the finished, 89; and woman, distinctive marks of, 109; reliance in the moral constitution of, 124; the infinitude of the private, 151; and men, 217; should compare advantageously with a river, 258.

That’s a poem, right there!
Today, I challenge you to write your own index poem. You could start with found language from an actual index, or you could invent an index, somewhat in the style of this poem by Thomas Brendler. Happy writing!

I’ve taken some lines from the index of ‘Drawing on the Artist Within’ by Betty Edwards, which is about unleashing your inner creativity in drawing and painting.  Its index inspires any kind of creative work. I’ve mixed these lines up with items from the index of ‘The Five-Minute Writer’ by Margret Geraghty.


What are you waiting for?
Drawing on gleams from within
taking a long look at creativity
drawing on new points of view.

The power of ritual:
drawing on intuition
making telling marks
drawing meaning from the inside out.

The age of epiphany:
drawing up the rules of the game
there is more to seeing than meets the eyeball
drawing close to the magic moment.

Prompt 11 – a surprise ending


And now for today’s prompt! Today, I challenge you to write a poem in which you closely describe an object or place, and then end with a much more abstract line that doesn’t seemingly have anything to do with that object or place, but which, of course, really does.  An abstract, philosophical kind of statement closing out a poem that is otherwise intensely focused on physical, sensory details. Happy writing!

Here’s my response.  I’ve been on a little holiday with some finer dining than we’re used to – not as fine as what’s described in this poem, but I’ve been inspired a little here by the poetry of ‘menu speak’.


Amuse-bouche of carrocino,
pate de foie gras
livers of plump geese
topped with quail’s egg
drizzled with truffle oil,
Scottish oak-smoked salmon
garnish of rich dark caviar,
velvet vichysoisse topped
with light foam of leeks,
saddle of Highland venison
with juniper berries and
a red wine reduction,
panna cotta with plum compote
finished with amaretto,
platter of French cheeses,
scattered with black grapes.

And the sun sets
over hills of Africa
as you stir the cookpot
with your thin hand.

Prompt 10 – a book spine poem


Today’s prompt comes to us from Lillian Hallberg. She challenges us to write a “book spine” poem. This involves taking a look at your bookshelves, and writing down titles in order (or rearranging the titles) to create a poem. If you want to take things a step further, Lillian suggests gathering a list of titles from your shelves (every third or fifth book, perhaps, if you have a lot) and using the titles, as close to the originals as possible, to create a poem that is seeded throughout with your own lines, interjections, and thoughts. Happy writing!

Thought I was stuck again as I am away from home and my own books. However, I solved the problem by taking a few titles from my Kindle library.


Secrets of the sea house –
sacred country, sea of ink.
Elizabeth is missing:
island wife out stealing horses.

The shock of the fall
arriving at your own door:
sunset song in another light,
burial rites then life after life.


I have added little to the book titles but I did shuffle the order round to get a kind of story!