Ode to a sprig of parsley, and other things

IMG_5706 (1)Introducing… odes! Odes are a fun kind of poem written in praise of something.

Well-loved Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote a lot of odes, including this, his Ode to the Onion (or Oda a la Cebolla). Here’s the English version. And for the folks who prefer to read in Spanish, here’s the Spanish original.

He writes to praise the onion (which is a pretty magical thing if you think about it). I love the line where he says “You make us cry without hurting us” because wow, sometimes I really want to chop onions because I need to cry about something but can’t otherwise.

Write an ode to your favorite vegetable. If you aren’t quite up on the ode-mode, try a love letter. But keep it specific. That’s what makes these poems tick. Readers won’t know what you mean when you say an onion is beautiful, but if you describe it as a “luminous flask” with “crystal scales” then everybody sees onions in a new way, and poetry magic happens.

Happy writing,


In the details

red_wheelbarrow2Here’s another prompt from Ken, based on another famous poem by William Carlos Williams. By focusing on observation and detail, you can counterbalance whatever tendencies your poems may have toward too much abstraction.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends



a red wheel



glazed with rain



beside the white


– William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

Using “The Red Wheelbarrow” as a model, write a poem in this style in which you present some objects that, taken together, seem to have an intrinsic relationship, even if that relationship is transitory, occurring only at that instant of time. This operates like a freeze frame in a movie, except this is the movie of your life.

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Writing about place: Carl Sandburg


In honor of poet Carl Sandburg’s birthday earlier in January, here’s a Carl Sandburg-inspired prompt.

First, hop on over to Poetry Foundation and read this poem. Sandburg spent some time in Chicago throughout his life, so this poem is a kind of love-hate letter to the city. Mostly love. And a bit of terror. But love.

Your task? Write a poem about Winona, or another city you know well, in the same vein. You could start a few lines with “They tell me you are…” You could experiment with different personifications of Winona, as Sandburg does with Chicago, giving us a vivid image of a half-naked wrestler laughing as he stands over an opponent.





Just Sayin’…

Here’s a poem famous for its brevity and humor, followed by a quick prompt from Ken. Enjoy!

fridge door 2


I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold


Using “This is Just to Say” as a model, write a poem in this same style—short lines, incremental. His poem was written as an apology to his wife that he left on the refrigerator. Find something in your own experience that parallels this. Write an apology for something you did. Notice that Williams uses the title of the poem as his first line. Williams’ topic is light and whimsical. It would be good to find something easy-going like this, but you could also take on a more serious apology, which is probably the more usual situation in our lives. Don’t start it with “This is Just to Say” as your first line—come up with your own parallel move.






Field trip and other news


Just a friendly reminder to Teen Voices participants: Grab some poems and come on down to Blooming Grounds tomorrow, Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m. for a poetry workshop. Then at 7 p.m., we’ll walk to Mid West Music Store to check out their monthly slam event. Listeners and readers welcome!

Also, short notice: if you’re looking for something interesting to do Tuesday night, check out Haki Madhubiti, who is speaking at 7 p.m. in Kryzsko Commons at WSU.

For more info, see winonastatenews.com/8056/wsu-hosts-haki-madhubuti/.

Internet Poem Sources

Here are three great places to look for poems. It’s important for writers to have other writers that they admire, learn from, aspire towards…

Poetry FoundationPoetry.org is the website for the Poetry Foundation, an outgrowth of Poetry, the oldest poetry journal in the U.S. The Poetry Foundation received a huge financial legacy about 10 years ago, earmarked to promote and nourish American poetry and poets, and they are doing a great job doing just that. Browse  Poems & Poets for specific poems, or just look around and see what you can find.

poetry180-bannerPoetry 180 is a project developed by Billy Collins, one of the 3 or 4 most well-known poets in the country. When he was U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03) he created a poem-a-day internet source, which is now archived by the Library of Congress. These are poems selected with teen readers in mind. They are not categorized; you just have to browse through the list and see what looks good. You can also check out Collins’ advice for How to Read a Poem Out Loud.


PoemHunter.com offers lots of categories and a large searchable database of good poetry. The site has more of a social network orientation, with Top 500 rating, trending topics, and so forth. Girl poems, kiss poems, death poems, New Year’s poems…. Have fun!

Poetry slam Jan. 6

Hey all, just a quick invite to a poetry slam tonight, January 6, at 7 p.m. at Blooming Grounds Coffeehouse.

Whether you read a poem or not, these events are a great time to hear some poems, get ideas, and meet awesome people.