Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

The end of a week of poetry prompts

Friday, November 20, 2009

Today is the final prompt in my series honoring my teacher, Ricky (Ottone Riccio) and his new book of poetry assignments, “Unlocking the Poem.”

Ricky is known for his poem-provoking assignments and I hope you've tried some of these. In the time I studied with him there was always that moment at the end of the workshop when he would say, “For next week...” And what followed was often something that sounded impossible, involving both form and content, and eliciting groans around the table. But, invariably, we returned the next week energized by our efforts, eager to share our poems, and enriched by the challenge to step outside our comfort zones and try something new. And, strangely, if he gave us a few weeks off to just write whatever we chose, we’d often ask for an assignment.

For today, I’m feeling benevolent, so no villanelles based on complex text, no Shakespearean sonnets on Sumerian goddesses. Just a free verse poem of 25 lines or a prose poem of 100-120 words on the subject of “year’s end.”

Did you have some fun with these prompts? Let me know.

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Thursday poetry prompt

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I continue with my week of poetry prompts in honor of my teacher, Ricky (Ottone Riccio)’s new book, “Unlocking the Poem,” written with Ellen Beth Siegel.

Here’s the one for today: write a poem based on this quote by Albert Einstein, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

Now, imagine the poem...

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Another day, another poem

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I’m blogging more frequently this week to let you know about a new book of poetry prompts, “Unlocking the Poem,” by my teacher, Ottone (Ricky) Riccio and Ellen Beth Siegel.

Today’s prompt comes from Ricky’s web site, where it is the assignment for the month of November: a rondeau about ocean waves crashing against the shore.

Here, from Ricky’s first book, “The Intimate Art of Writing Poetry,” is a little about the rondeau to get you started. “the rondeau evolved gradually from the older rondel and consists of 13 full lines of four beats each, arrange in three stanzas of five, three, and five lines. Only two rhyme sounds are permitted. At the end of the second and third stanzas there is a tail--a half line taken from the first half of the first line. It’s a non-rhyming tail and is frequently turned as a pun. Using R as the symbol for the tail, the rhyme pattern is aabba aabR aabbaR.”

It’s easier if you see an example, like this famous World War I-era poem by John McCrae
In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Now go try one of your own.

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Today's poetry assignment

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yesterday I blogged about a new book of poetry prompts, “Unlocking the Poem,” by my teacher, Ottone Riccio--aka Ricky--and Ellen Beth Siegel. I offered a sample assignment. Today, as promised, another:

Write a poem, between 12 and 45 lines. It should be about you, but may not include any of the following: your name, birth date, place of birth, physical description, profession, schooling, family, partner.

Also as promised, here’s my poem from the wolves/skate prompt I talked about yesterday. And, yes, my mistake: it was wolves, not wolf. I had seen the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra play an outstanding concert of Peter and the Wolf on Saturday, so I think I was still in “wolf” mode. Though not wolf’s clothing.

So, are you writing a poem?

where the wild things are

the wolves are always waiting
staring into us with pale unblinking eyes

they watch us as we rush to hear Mozart
our red claws brushing past outstretched hands
we smile our crushed glass smiles
and hurry into cars
to restaurants with sparkling chandeliers

and the wolves with licking tongues
watch as we skate the knife edge
between day and night

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The key to unlocking your poems

Monday, November 16, 2009

Poets, here is a brand new book you should know about. “Unlocking the Poem” is by my poetry teacher, Ottone Riccio (“Ricky”), and Ellen Beth Siegel, a student of his and former workshop classmate of mine.

Here’s my Ricky story: I was living in New York, about to move to Boston. I was finding myself drawn to writing poetry, but with no idea how to proceed. I could revise a piece of prose writing, but poetry was a different world, one that felt like a mystery. Where to start?

One day in a bookstore I was lucky enough to come across a book that answered many of my questions. It was “The Intimate Art of Writing Poetry” and it turned out that the author, yes, Ricky, taught at the Boston Center for Adult Education, just a few blocks from where I would be living. He became my teacher.

Ricky has always been known for encouraging students to make their poems as concrete and as tight as possible. One apocryphal story has him saying to the author of a three-page poem, “This would make an excellent haiku.”

But beyond the deep knowledge of poetry and the striking ability to grasp what the poet was trying to do, was always a great respect for the poet. He is most definitely not of the slash-and-burn-the poet’s-ego brand of teachers. He most frequently introduces his comments by saying, “This is your poem. But if it were mine, this is what I would do.”

One of his greatest gifts as a teacher has been the assignments. And that is what “Unlocking the Poem” is all about. The book is a collection of his assignments--provocative, sometimes startling, sometimes groan-inducing prompts all designed to get you writing in new ways. To get you to dig deeper, work harder, write better. (Blatant plug reality check: some of my poems are used as examples in the book.)

One of my first of Ricky's assignments was to write a poem using the words “wolf” and “skate.” It became, strangely, the first of several wolf poems for me and for other workshop members, too. Try it. Tomorrow I’ll post my wolf/skate poem, along with another of Ricky’s assignments for you to try.

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