Friday, December 7, 2018

Poetry Friday: A Rum of a List

December's challenge is a list poem, using at least three of these words:

paper, stars, messages, promises, dirt, flour, rum, hope

Good words, those (thanks, Liz!) However, I got side-tracked by rum. I don't even like rum that much. But it's a fun word with a fun history, and yeah...I guess it went to my head.

SarapulSar38/ Getty Images

Rum, clouded
with ginger beer and lime:
Dark and Stormy.

Rum, sluiced
with sugar and nutmeg (or cinnamon):
Bumbo, hope of pirates.

Rum, dirtied
with water ’til Black Tot Day:
Grog, a naval ration.

Rum, crushed
with biscuits, cocoa, pecans:
High-proof bites on wax paper.

Rum, promised
to raisins, to butter, to no-flour
puddings: On message…but…

Rum, besotted
by two-mocha cake:
Starred Recipe, below.

Double-chocolate Rum Cake

1 (18.5 oz.) Package Chocolate Cake Mix
1 (3.5 oz) Package Chocolate Instant Pudding Mix
4 Eggs
1 Cup Black Rum
3/4 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 (12 oz.) Package Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, divided
1 Cup Raspberry Preserves (Seedless saves time, or strain, as below.)
2 Tbsp. Shortening
1 oz. White Chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan, 10 inch tube pan or a 10 inch springform pan. Combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, 1/2 cup rum, water and oil in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a rack.

 2. In a small saucepan, heat preserves and remaining 1/2 cup rum. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds. Place cake on a serving plate. Prick surface of cake with fork. Brush raspberry glaze evenly over cake, allowing cake to absorb glaze. Repeat until all the glaze has been absorbed.

3. In a glass bowl, combine remaining chocolate chips and shortening. Microwave on medium-high heat until melted, about 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Spoon chocolate icing over cake. Let stand 10 minutes. Melt white chocolate and drizzle on top of chocolate icing. Let stand 10 more minutes.

Also, I'll be checking out these 10 Unusual Ways to Cook with Rum.

See what my fellow poets made of their lists:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Elizabeth Steinglass.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Poetry Friday: A Raven, the Shade of Shadow

Photo Credit: Wallpaper Abyss

A raven,
the shade of shadow,
robs the roofline of its clean edges,
each caustic call a spike in morning's throat. 

                                       ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

I usually introduce the challenge before the poem, but this month, it was so short, I thought I'd switch it up. The challenge (from Laura) was to compose a short poem (six lines or less) describing an animal of your choice using all three of these words: spike, roof, shadow.  What would YOU describe with these words?

My Poetry Sisters' poems are here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Poetry Friday: Before You (a cento)

The Tattered Cover, Denver, CO

Ever take something that wasn't yours? Did it haunt you?

What about a memory?  Can you borrow another person's eyes and see what they've seen? (Isn't that what fiction does?)

 And how about all the words you've consumed in the course of a reading don't ever give them back, of course, but how many can you reuse in a row without giving the original author credit?

None of these questions are really addressed by this month's challenge, in which the Poetry Sisters "borrow" lines from other poets to make new poems, an art form known as the cento. Still, in creating one, the poet has to decide what the limits of appropriation well as how to make something fresh out of "used" material.

To top it off, there really aren't a lot of rules.

To help with that last point, I threw down two additional guidelines for our centos, mostly to unify them. 

1)  We would each chose a different word from this common stanza to begin:

“This dream of water—what does it harbor?
I see Argentina and Paraguay
under a curfew of glass, their colors
breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay”
---- "I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror" by Agha Shahid Ali

And then...

2)  Using our chosen word, we would each search the database at for other poems which also had lines containing that word. The lines we found would be the building blocks of our new poems. (All lines are credited to the original poets at the end of our centos.)

I chose the word "see" from Ali's stanza and found it to be the perfect doorway to other poems and poets.  Turns out poets "see" a lot.  Or they think they do.  I could work with that.

Before you

My childhood home I see again, and sadden with the view;
Is this a dream?—I see my grandpa milking,
I see the quilted mountains

I see my mother over the hot oil in the fryers
Are those my brothers, down there, those I see evacuating?
Because I see a part and not the whole,

I see us everywhere. On occasions of fancyness,
I see the lilacs crackling like static
I see it as music, I hear it as light;

I see how our lives have unfolded:
I see her hitchhiking the stars’ tar road—
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

Speak, and I see the side-lie of a truth:
I see Argentina and Paraguay
I can see the flaws in the glass

I see the whole morning before you.

            ----A Cento, compiled by Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Line Credits:

1) My Childhood Home I See Again by Abraham Lincoln
2) One A.M. by David Young
3) Balance, onslaught by Khadijah Queen
4) The Red Sweater by Joseph O. Legaspi
5) Alamogordo 1945 by Adriano Spatola
6) I Know My Soul by Claude McKay
7) Never Ever by Branda Shaughnessy
8) Combustion by Sara Eliza Johnson
9 ) Roads by Amy Lowell
10) White Sands by Arthur Sze
11) The Last Kingdom by Jennifer Foerster
12) My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson
13) Modern Love: XXVI by George Meredith
14)  I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror by Agha Shahid Ali
15) Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood
16) For You by Maureen N. McLane

Please find my Poetry Sisters' links to their centos below.  To a word, they are gorgeous.

Liz (with breaking)
Tanita (with like)
Laura (with glass)
Tricia (with under)

Andi and Kelly are on break.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Beyond LiteracyLink.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Poetry Friday: What's to Be Done? (A Sestina)

Sestinas are not usually end rhymed. But they can have rhythm--- and when I write one,* I find myself moving into the cadence of spoken language, riffing in jagged jumps of words. I think it's to disguise the fact that I'm supposed to use the same six words, over and over and over, and we're more likely to do that in conversation, right? I also stave off boredom by embellishing the repeating pattern with internal rhyme. Whatever it takes, because this form is six stanzas long, with an additional closing envoi. I don't think I'd attempt one, except...

Tricia made me. And she made each of us throw two words into the "pot" so we'd have a common pool of words to choose from. That helped. Thanks, Tricia! (And thank you, Tanita, for turning me on to this handy Sestina-o-matic, which puts the chosen six words in the correct order.)

Beyond that, I only needed a starting place, and for me, that was one of our words:  Prism. It made me think of Miss Prism,** who is both rigid and pivotal in Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest. And it made me remember the exhibit from WONDER, at the Renwick Gallery.  (Pictured above and left)  And, most of all, it got me thinking that a simple shape like a prism can be a powerful tool to see things in a new way. We all need that from time to time, especially when the world seems stuck in blindness.

What’s To Be Done?

The wildest of plays turns on Miss Prism
splitting folly from farce, her words like a blade
sharpening our ears until we bend
to her tale of a handbag and a baby, the string
of events so earnestly told we beam
at the deception and hastily about face

from laughter to love and on the face
of it, isn’t that, exactly, what prisms
are for? To righteously come abeam
our whitest thoughts; like a climber belayed
with pale rope suddenly seeing it is but string
if split into colored strands, and if history bends

towards justice, it’s like a river at the bend,
hooking an elbow punch to dirt’s face,
breaking time’s hands; if only we could string
together a new day as bright as a prism,
as long on light as a lithe blade,
as sure as feet balanced to a beam

without splintering the past, we'd remove the beam
from our eyes. Refracting is not only the bend
of light, but the shape of shade, like a sheath for a blade;
a polished block of glass has more than one face
we are prism after prism after prism after prism
a mighty hexagonal light-shattering string

of life-changing breaths, as light as silly string,
but together, a bulwark as broad as ark’s beam;
each a camera, each a chance to flip, like a prism,
the image, until by end and by end and by end,
with far folly and fierce farce, we face
what we see; so get out the pen blade

ready both handbag, and baby, and yes, like blade
braided from broad grass, cut deep; like string
on a finger, loop the past so we don’t forget to face
forward, and up to, what lies off beam
of the right course; and if we bend
light, no one will cry praise for our prism

There’s no daring blade; no super hero laser beam;
we are but search string; making maps that will bend
one face to one face, and unlock our prism.

                                               ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Check out what my poetry sisters have done with their six words:


*I've written only one other sestina. It's chaotic, too.  Here it is.

** Miss Prism spouts judgments like: "I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment's notice. As a man sows so let him reap."

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the amazing Mary Lee of A Year of Reading.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Poetry Friday: Independence, reported

Sometimes, the days before and after a key historical event are worth celebrating as much as the event itself.  Today, July 6th, is one of those days.

The Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776, but the text of the Declaration of Independence was not approved until the 4th, which wound up being the date printed on the broadsides sent to the states to be read. One of the most famous of those readings was on July 8th, in Independence Square in Philadelphia, by Col. John Nixon, next to what would be called "the Liberty Bell." A close second might be July 9th, which is the date on which Gen. George Washington directed the Declaration be read to his troops.

But what of people not within hearing range of these readings? When did they first encounter the words of the Declaration? It seems the answer is:  as soon as their local newspaper printed it.

In fact, days before some of those public readings, the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6th, 1776. Other newspapers, including those in London and around the world, followed.

So, for today's poetry challenge, I choose to honor July 6th, the day the Declaration made it to the rest of us.  Here's to newspapers, and independence, and words that matter.

The Sixth

The sixth, a day unwreathed in stars—
Not yet eighth; when broadsides were read

To mothers of boys not yet dead
And ere the ninth, to troops war scarred— 

And yet, the sixth a salvo sent
Of spotty ink to stripe the white
Unsteady page, declaring rent

A union; dead a peace; by right

A nation born; and though no trumpets blew
By word by word by word, the Fourth was news.

                          ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Note: This form is modeled after a structure used by poet and playwright Aphra Behn, one of the first English women to earn her living by writing. (Essentially, it's a rhyme scheme of ABBACDCDEE in iambic tetrameter, with option of extra beats in the last lines. I tucked in a tribute to our flag, too!)  Thanks to Kelly for the challenge.

***Edited to add:  Okay, it turns out I messed up BOTH the rhyme scheme (should be CDDC in the middle) and the fact that only the last line (not the last two) get extra beats.  Um...I was being as subversive as Aphra Behn?  We'll go with that.

You can find my Poetry Sisters better efforts to echo Aphra Behn's rhythm and form here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by one of our own, Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Poetry Friday: A Trio of Limericks

For easy, breezy June, our poetry assignment was to write three limericks, all about birds/bees.  I chose no birds and all bees.  (And also, apparently, no depth and all funny. What can I say? This is my brain on Limericks.)


There once was a robust letter B
Who chafed at his spot next to C
So he cut back on his belly
And watched way less telly
And now he’s no more than a P.

Paul Gross
"Slings and Arrows"
 (best TV show about Shakespeare ever)


There once was a prince who said “To be”
But negated that thought immediately
Then he picked up a skull,
Asked if life was meaningful...
“For a few more scenes,” said Yorick, dryly.


There once wazzz a wood-crazzzy carpenter bee
Who vizzzited sawtooth clamzzz by the zzzea
But alazzz! that "log" had incizzzors
He wazzz a hammerhead’zzz appetizzzer
And that wazzz all the zzzea he would zzzee.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

You can find my fellow poets' limericks here, including some lovely and lyrical poems which prove this form can do more than twist words into grins.


Poetry Friday is hosted today at Buffy's Blog.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Poetry Friday: A toast! A toast!

I have only myself to blame for this month's challenge. I thought it would be fun to write a toast, in poetry form, to be recited for "any occasion, to someone or something." The only rule for the toast was that it had to begin and end with the same two words. So, as Kelly pointed out, technically, the poem could simply be:

A toast!
A toast!

Readers, I nearly had to fall back on that.

Who knew how hard thinking up a toast would be? There are so many occasions on which to toast---birthdays, and anniversaries, and weddings, and graduations---and so many wonderful people deserving of such a tribute, too (including my own mom, who turns 80 this month---Happy Birthday, Mom!)

Maybe that was the trouble...too many good choices.  I like it better when a poem forces me into a box and makes me scramble to build a way out.  Or, as some of my poetry sisters often say:  can't we have more rules?

A Toast to Rules

Rules instruct, they measure, they bind;
Rules tie the past to the future, families define;
Rules say who reigns, who serves, what’s mine.

Rules birth languages, start art schools, procreate paradigms;
Rules preserve form, marry reason to rhyme;
Rules say how to love, where to live, when war is really peacetime.

Rules lay the groundwork, they chalk mark the fence line;
Rules make vowels speak, name numbers as prime;
Rules say be this, not that, if you’ll be so kind.

Rules make straight the path, stamp out the serpentine;
Rules ink how long to care, how high to climb;
Rules say you’re out, you’re foul, you’re safe—this time.

Which is why poetry rudely rejects such designs;
It cavorts; it break dances; it steps light-years out of line;
For who says we must only be who the fine

rules instruct?

           ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Find my Poetry Sisters' toasts here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Friendly Fairy Tales.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Poetry Friday: She is Dead to Us, inspired by Elizabeth Bishop

Happy April, and Happy National Poetry Month!  I've decided that the best way to celebrate is to lose.

Yup. Lose your fears about poetry. Lose your way exploring new poets.  Lose your heart to words.

In that spirit, this month's challenge is to write a poem inspired by a line from Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art." It is a stunning villanelle about loss, and you must read it whole, if you haven't.

I can't compete with Bishop, but I did love using her poem as a launching pad for creating something new. I chose this line:

 "I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,"

Then I played (just a bit) with the order, so that "lovely ones" refers to not cities, but people.

She is dead to us

Lovely ones, I lost two cities,
and vaster, six branches of
the family tree, all the sewers
beneath, and yet—not the one day
you proposed we flee

lovely ones. I lost three bones,
and vaster, a splintered
windshield, and the courage
beneath, and yet—not the one day
you proposed we flee

lovely ones. I lost sixty dollars
and vaster, every photograph pinned
to a page, and my taste for milk
and yet—not the one day
you proposed we flee

lovely ones. I lost all reason,
and vaster, why one doesn’t do that,
and mile after mile of what if, what if,
where do we go now, and yet—not you,
that one day. You proposed. We flee.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My Poetry Sisters are each taking a different line from Bishop's poem. See what they've created here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Amy at The Poem Farm. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Poetry Friday: Garden of the Gods

This month's poetry challenge takes place in The Garden of the Gods.  I've been there.

Mike and I, last fall

I just didn't see this:

Liz did, though.  And she asked us to write a poem about it this month.

Remember the etheree? (We wrote one back in 2015.)  Each line has one more syllable than the one before.  Steady as she goes, for as long as you like.

I thought it an appropriate form to talk about How Did This Happen?  and Best Laid Plans and possibly: Where Do We Go From Here?

stone was alive
until we saw it
dead still, licking its wounds.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Find my poetry sisters here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by No Water River.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Poetry Friday: The Poet, as seen by a squirrel (a tanka)

February is the shortest month, so it's fitting our poetry task is on the short side, too.  The tanka is a thirty-one syllable unrhymed poem, traditionally written (in Japanese) as one, unbroken line.

In English, however, it's usually divided into five lines. The first three lines are patterned by syllable count like a haiku---5-7-5---and the last two lines are a "couplet" of sorts----a 7-7 syllable pair.  In addition, the tanka should have a "turn"---or an image that bridges the two parts.  Quite a lot to pack into one poem!

And yet....there's more.  This month, each of the Poetry Sisters is responding to one of the other sister's poems from January. I've been given the lovely task of responding to Liz, who wrote a clever curtal sonnet about squirrels called "Kin and Plot."  You can read it here.   Hooray!

I love Liz's idea that in the face of frustration, we sometimes

"toss caution ‘cross the lawn and to the sky:
take what you need, take all that we have got!"

and yet...I can't help thinking that those squirrels would take our words, too, if they knew how much we writers hoarded them, and scrabbled for them, and spent our lives chasing them.

Thus, a tanka from the perspective of a squirrel encouraging a poet at work:

Oh, word-stuffed poet
on a limb. You weigh nothing—
chitter and chime! Leap
then! the glass world sways, may yet
break, and enter into verse.

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

Here are the other tanka responses:

Liz, writing to Tricia's poem (and steady breath)
Tanita, writing to Kelly's poem (and her cat, Kismet)
Tricia, writing to Laura's poem (and warm horses)
Laura, writing to Tanita's poem (and two-sided truth)
Kelly, writing to my poem (and cauliflower words)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Mainely Write.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Poetry Friday: Boxing with A Curtal Sonnet

I'm not in a box, but a basket.
However, I am cute so I can do whatever I want.---Rebecca's cat, Neils

Sonnets are known as a "box form" because of their precise rules and tight appearance on the page.  Some poets, like Gerard Manley Hopkins, cried out inside those boxes, and made some of the most anguished, glorious sonnets I've read.

Hopkins, in particular, was known for counting hard stresses (punches?) rather than regular rhythms, and for compacting the Petrarchan fourteen-lined sonnet into a 3/4 sized poem, of 10 1/2 lines.  For what better way to squeeze out more anguish than with less room to cry?

I've tried one in his honor today.  (Thank you, Kelly, for the challenge.)

Hopkins foxed sonnets to 3/4 spare
    wire-whipped stresses til they wailed
      half-tocked feral hymns from sprung clocks

 Elbowing joy as birdsong from air,
     priested, pressed hard, he failed
       at 44, a life, curtailed and boxed

 Yet, cold-call his poems, and he swells,
     as slugger’s bandied cauliflower ear; rung,
       you clangor, near strangled, on far-hailed
 Words; carrion cry unlocked, he wells
                                      blood to tongue.

                                 ---Sara Lewis Holmes
                                    (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters are writing sonnets today, too, some curtal, and some not.
Find them here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Reading to the Core.