Friday, September 30, 2022

Poetry Friday: The Definito (and related forms)

At Planet Word's photo booth, 
acting out the definitions of SAT words

Last month, I had to take a break due to travel, but for this month's challenge, I'm definito-ly here. 

        Oooh, that joke was...


Not filled with awe,
but the opposite,  
things that drain you

of delight, on the scale 
of bad to worse,
it's nearly dreadful--  
a dire expression of shared
pain:  awwwww, noooooo...


          ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

See how easy that was?  A definito (according to its creator, Heidi Mordhorst) is "a free verse poem of 8-12 lines (aimed at readers 8-12 years old) that highlights wordplay as it demonstrates the meaning of a less common word, which always ends the poem.  You can see her full explanation and several wonderful examples here. 

I admit, this kind of poem is right up my alley. Definitions? Word play? Less common words?  Yes!  But it also got me thinking, as great poetry does:  What about the,..

In-definito??  Would that be....

A poem that vaguely
runs on and on and on...? 
Well....not exactly...

It's hard to say...
I can't pin it down...
Maybe it's just... 

not settled...

I didn't mean
to define an


          ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

Then there's the Imagin-ito.  

That's where you write a poem that defines an imaginary word---or as I call them "words that should be words."  I keep a list of such words on my phone. Not sure why-- maybe it's in honor of Frindle by Andrew Clements. Or to use in my own books one day.  In any case, here's one:


a person
who hides their
true smarts

behind a perky
attitude, appearing

until they skewer
you unexpectedly
with a dimpled smile.

            ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

So what word would you like to define, imaginary or real?  Drop your Definito, In-definito, or Imagin-ito in the comments.  

My poetry sisters Definitos can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tabitha Yeatts. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Poetry Friday: Maya Angelou Recruits Me to her Girl Gang

Quilt by Chawne Kimber*
from the Renwick Gallery's new exhibit
"This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World"

July's challenge was to compose a phrase acrostic, taken from Maya Angelou's iconic poem, Still I Rise.  If you haven't read it, do that now. And perhaps her amazing bio, too. Only then will you appreciate the audacity of creating a new poem from hers. We spent half our ZOOM time talking about that! 

But in the end, you'll see that each of us came up with a plan to tackle the challenge---Liz chose to repeat one phrase three times, Tanita took a stab at using one phrase for the beginning of lines and one for the ending (double acrostic) and Mary Lee wove Angelou's phrases into her titles, too.  We'll see what everyone else decided...

As for me, I responded most to Angelou's personal voice in the poem, which comes from her own experience, and from a long history of Black experience, but also seems to speak directly to those who would "write (her) down in history" and twist the truth. Which, in turn, made me think of how her words gave her the power to affirm differently. And how, by extension, she also so beautifully invites all of us to tap into that power, too--to join her in her irrepressible rising--you know, for some sort of rowdy, righteous writerly rumble. What would that look like---that recruitment rally for her poet girl gang? 

Yeah, that's how my mind works. Bear with me. Leaning into that theme, I took three phrases (actually lines) from the poem, each five words long. (Okay, one was six words, but I threw the last two together because...see definition of ICONIC.)   

The phrases I used were:

Does my sassiness upset you?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops

But still, like air, I'll rise 

And then, I let Angelou's words stir me up.  As Liz said in the ZOOM chat, this form is fun--if you allow it to carry you away.  We could all do with some of that.   

Maya Angelou Recruits Me to her Girl Gang

Does the day crush you? The years suffocate you?
My poet-baby, you squeeze back. 
Sassiness wells from pain, and eases it, too. 
Upset? Feel set up? Don’t forget: 
You reverse the universe.

Shoulders are for standing upon. Hips are for everything else. 
Falling? So does the night, every day. Stand back up, not
down. You know, ”easily digested” is how they ripped me.
Like my trip-wire timing didn't explode their lies.  
Teardrops are just oil and water. Let them lubricate you.

But don’t stop there. If you want to
still the crowing— the “I know better” undertowing   
(like “poetic virtue” is a thing they own) I swear
air makes fire leaping wide. Burn. Only then
I’ll rise, I’ll break the day, and you, the same as I. 

                    ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

If you want to know more about the artist and the quilt in my photo, see the artist's blog here.

Links to my sister poets' phrase acrostics are below. I marvel at the variation and the power!


If you'd like to look ahead to August's challenge (and perhaps join us?) we're writing Bop Poems.  See here for the rules of the form. 

Poetry Friday is hosted by Marcie Atkins.  


Friday, June 24, 2022

Poetry Friday: Welsh Tales and Byr a Thoddaid Poems

Lloyd Alexander

June's challenge was to explore a Welsh poetic form, the Byr a Thoddaid, which pre-dates written tradition, and thus has an oral bias towards sound, syllable and rhyme. It's also of unlimited length, allowing the poet (or bard, as I imagine him/her) to string together a series of quatrains to tell an extended story---which immediately put me in mind of writing about my favorite quintet of books based on Welch mythology, The Prydain Chronicles.  

As a kid, I lived and breathed those stories more than any other, finding myself in its yearning hero, who was not just a pig-keeper, but an even lowlier assistant pig-keeper.  But, oh, how he hoped he was more---a long-lost prince, or a secretly chosen one. Don't we all? 

What I didn't know as a kid was how the author, Lloyd Alexander, struggled. He thought war adventure might serve him better than college but according to this article, "he was too clumsy with artillery to be sent to the front, and the sight of blood made him faint, making him unfit to work as a medic."  He later trained in intelligence, but after the Army, he was jobless, and took work as his sister's potter apprentice.  Reading his life story, you can see how many times he was uncalled, unchosen, and quite often, unprepared. He was (despite his later awards) a non-hero, a life-long apprentice who learned how to write the long, hard, assistant pig-keeper way. And I deeply admire him for it. 

A few points about the Byr a Thoddaid: 

The form is defined by 4 lines (quatrains) of 8 syllables/8 syllables plus 10 syllables/6 syllables.  You can  put the  8/8 couplets before or after the 10/6 lines. You can even alternate between the two orders, as I've done with mine below. 

The 8 syllable couplets end-rhyme. The 6 syllable line's end word, however, finds its rhyme with a word towards the end (but not the end) of the 10 syllable line. 

There's also a subtle link between the absolute end word of the 10 line and a word near the beginning of the 6 line (such as alliteration or slant rhyme)  

If that sounds complicated, it was to me, too---at first. Once I tried a few stanzas, it got easier. Here's a fuller explanation of the form's rules and traditions.  And here's my tribute to assistant pig keepers everywhere: 


I gobbled it, the lore of Wales

the names, the history, the tales

of a pig-keeper far from fairy blessed 

his blood ordinary

not called to battle by horn, or by rite

to fight pale cauldron-born;

by bard’s harp, his shameful truth sung:

not lost prince but boy of pig dung.

He furious loved fair Eilonwy

craved sword of buried destiny 

but weaving witches tangle-told his fate:

his father: none; nor gold.

Deep-enchanted, I trotted by his side,

each stride word-besotted;

not anointed, not sent, 

a tale for those who also went.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters poems are found here:





Mary Lee



Poetry Friday  is hosted today by Reading to the Core