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Filtering by Tag: difficulty level 1/5

NaPoWriMo Poetry Prompt 30: What Do You See?

Sarah and Jeff Boyle

Difficulty Level 1/5

Imagery is the backbone of lyric poetry. Crash course in academic poetry terms: narrative poetry tells a story and lyric poetry presents a series of ideas and asks the reader to make the association among them. Today, we’re going full on lyric, with a focused eye on imagery.

Surely you’ve heard of imagery in your English classes, but just to refresh your memory imagery is poetic description using the five senses. Writers use imagery when they want to make a particular place or object (or person or animal or anything out there in the real world) come to life. 

We’ve got classic examples of imagery from the English canon to show you how particular writers used the tool. William Butler Yeats is a bit of a poet’s poet—he’s just so darn good with his form that often readers don’t realize what he’s doing unless they’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to write with rhyme and meter. Here he paints a loving portrait of his personal utopia, describing it with such loving detail that anyone would want to live there. As you read, take note especially of the sounds and colors Yeats calls up.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening’s full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Oh, that “bee-loud glade” hits me in the heart every time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Elizabeth Bishop uses imagery to reanimate a dead fish. No romanticized vision of utopia here. Bishop’s goal is not to find beauty in the beautiful, but beauty in the hard-won victories of an ugly fish. See how ugly and how beautiful she renders the fish she caught in the excerpt below. And then go read the whole poem here.

from The Fish

He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
strained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygene
o—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.

Now it’s your turn. First think of a subject: what do you want to bring to life for your readers? Describe it using every sense in the imagery arsenal. Here’s a handy-dandy brainstorming sheet for generating sensory details about your subject. After you’ve got the details down, ask yourself “So what?” In other words, when you choose and order your images, consider the emotions and the greater significance you want your reader to take away from the poem. For Yeats, those emotions were calm and peace and quiet pleasure. For Bishop, the significance of her fish is that life persists, even when it’s ugly and seemingly impossible.

And that does it, folks. Today was the last day of NaPoWriMo. How did you do? We think we did pretty well ourselves. Thanks for playing along with us.

NaPoWriMo Poetry Prompt 25: A is for . . . Asp?

Sarah and Jeff Boyle

Difficulty Level 1/5

Today’s prompt comes to us courtesy of this sweet little flipbook Sarah picked up at a teacher supply store many years ago:

Today we're writing pages out of a kid's alphabet book. Sarah "created a page from an ABC book about a panda who loves his drum." NB: The panda didn't come from the flipbook, though, he is an actual stuffed animal Sarah's dad bought in China in the 1908s and brought home as a souvenir:

And there you have it: your task it write an alphabet book page about a subject of your choice. You could use one of the options in the gif above for your subject (S is for sandwich . . . or B is for bug . . . ) or choose your own. Try this username generator if—here at the end of NaPoWriMo—you’re running out of ideas. Your alphabet book page could rhyme, use alliteration, center around an elaborate simile, or only reference your subject obliquely. You could write it for an audience of kids (which is harder than it sounds, be forewarned) or for your peers. However the mood strikes you, run with it. Lastly, as this is an alphabet book page, you also must have an illustration. You can take a photo, like Sarah did, draw your own picture, or find an appropriate picture online or in a book. Here's that online image editor we used for making meme poems, just in case you want to use it again. 

Send us your alphabet book pages (and please include the source for your illustration if someone other than you created it) to

Join us in person in Pittsburgh on Sunday April 26th at the East End Book Exchange for the Poem-A-Thon Write-In and Reading. We will be writing poems for donations on our old typewriters at 3pm, and at 4pm you are welcome to read your poem(s) as part of the Poem-A-Thon celebratory reading.

NaPoWriMo Poetry Prompt 15: The Fine Line Between

Sarah and Jeff Boyle

Difficulty Level 1/5

You know how love poems are kind of, well, universally lame? Like, you’ve read one and you’ve read them all. Yeah, yeah, her eyes are like diamonds, her lips are like roses, his pecs are as solid as boulders. We know. Today, we’re banishing those blandishments in favor of love’s opposite: hate.

Hate is so much more electric than love—at least when it comes to poems. We don’t know why it’s true, but it is. Every single time we ask writers to compose love poems, they are boring and stereotypical. But every time we ask writers to make a hate poem, those poems are alive and specific and extraordinary. Don’t believe me? Read this:

Hate Poem
by Julie Sheehan

I hate you truly. Truly I do.
Everything about me hates everything about you.
The flick of my wrist hates you.
The way I hold my pencil hates you.
The sound made by my tiniest bones were they trapped 
     in the jaws of a moray eel hates you.
Each corpuscle singing in its capillary hates you.

Look out! Fore! I hate you.

The blue-green jewel of sock lint I’m digging
     from under my third toenail, left foot, hates you.
The history of this keychain hates you.
My sigh in the background as you explain relational databases
     hates you.
The goldfish of my genius hates you.
My aorta hates you. Also my ancestors.

A closed window is both a closed window and an obvious
     symbol of how I hate you.

My voice curt as a hairshirt: hate.
My hesitation when you invite me for a drive: hate.
My pleasant “good morning”: hate.
You know how when I’m sleepy I nuzzle my head
     under your arm? Hate.
The whites of my target-eyes articulate hate. My wit
     practices it.
My breasts relaxing in their holster from morning
     to night hate you.
Layers of hate, a parfait.
Hours after our latest row, brandishing the sharp glee of hate,
I dissect you cell by cell, so that I might hate each one
     individually and at leisure.
My lungs, duplicitous twins, expand with the utter validity
     of my hate, which can never have enough of you,
Breathlessly, like two idealists in a broken submarine.

("Hate Poem" originally appeared in Pleides and was later anthologized in the Best American Poetry 2005. It is reprinted here by permission of the author.)

Julie Sheehan’s genius here is that this is, of course, a hate poem and a love poem. She hates the object of her love; she loves the object of her hate. Look more closely at the poem and you can see how she does it: she lists detailed and idiosyncratic parts of herself that do the hating (“the goldfish of my genius”). Then she lists moments in her day when she is seething with hatred ("You know how when I'm sleeping I nuzzle my head under your arm?"). She caps the poem off with that killer metaphor—literally, the metaphor is killing her, as she suffocates in a broken submarine, all while believing it’s going to come out OK.

Now it's your turn: Who do you hate? Or what do you hate? Tell us all the different parts of you that hate them/it. Tell us all the specific things about the person/thing that you hate. However you choose to enumerate your hate, make sure you are undeniably you in doing so. Then send your poems to us at 

Have you registered for the Poem-A-Thon yet? Sign up to write poems and raise money for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council today! We just ordered some pretty sweet one-inch buttons that are yours for free if you play along with us. And don't forget to send us your poems for publication on this here blog: