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

Friday, May 27, 2022

Poetry Friday: String, Thread, Rope, Chain

Photo taken at the Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C.
Exhibit:  This Present Moment, Crafting a Better World

May's challenge was to write a poem using the words string, thread, rope and/or chain.  I struggled with this one. For starters, I couldn't make our monthly ZOOM session, and found out how much I need that push to get going.  Frankly,  a LOT of  us missed this month's session---too much going on.  And then I cast about for any excuse not to begin: Time was running short. I should work on my novel. No one else was going to make it either, right? 

But...then Tanita said she was posting on Friday. I couldn't let her post alone. So... I just let the words take me where they took me.  Today's post is by grace.  

String, Thread, Rope, Chain

I think of elephants, 
knotted trunk and tail
a string of calves and mothers, 
no one lost

I think of bobbins,
wound tight with promise
of seams and hems and darts
no undone thread

I think of water,
shining in the shadowed well,
roped to light by gentle bucket,
no splintered days

I think of paper,
turned on small fingers,
looped, linked, chained to
no finite end

I think of all
that binds, yet earth
again is broken to hold
those we hold
no more

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

My sister poets can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise

Friday, April 29, 2022

Poetry Friday: Taylor Mali is...

April's challenge for Poetry Month was to write "in the style of" Taylor Mali.  If you're only vaguely familiar with this poet (as I was) here's a great link to several of his spoken word poems.  They are sweeping, circular explorations, sturdy with extended metaphor, and pointedly opinionated. During our ZOOM session, I tried to explain why Mali's long, re-iterative poems hit a nerve for me, and why such poems are a joy to dive into, but even so, I had to agree that WRITING in that style was going to be a big ask. 

So I went back and re-engaged with that list of his poems. One, called Labeling Keys, sang to me. His father's secret language for coding which key belonged to which lock is a beautiful way to talk about poetry---and it reminded my that any form can be a a way to unlock what you want to say. So, despite my love of his expansive poetry, my "in the style of Taylor Mali" poem is concise. 

Haiku concise.  Yeah.  That was a surprise. 

 I did try to imitate his flair for unusual metaphor, his humor, his repetition, and his penchant for mild swearing. If you feel like it, drop me  a "Taylor Mali is...." haiku  in the comments. 

Getting There

Taylor Mali is
the road unpaved; throwing bones;
the long confession

Taylor Mali is
what you wish you’d said right then—
tart as blackberries

Taylor Mali is
the backbeat; what’s up your sleeve;
your heart exploding

Taylor Mali is
waking up past your bus stop;
a backpack of bees

Taylor Mali is 
an unfolding map of words;
not your damn haiku

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

My Poetry Sisters' "in the style of" Taylor Mali poems are here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by  Jone Rush MacCulloch.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Poetry Friday: It's Greek Japanese to Me (Ekphrastic Dodoitsu)

Creating together--it's our 2022 poetry theme. For March, we're exploring the Japanese form of dodoitsu, which is a four line poem that's syllable-based, using a 7-7-7-5 pattern. Thematically, the form often talks of love or work, using a comic twist to leaven its commentary. 

To make this challenge more communal, we each donated to a pool of off-beat photos, and wrote in response to as many of them as we wished.  (That's the ekphrastic part-- a Greek word describing "a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined.") 

I wrote two dodoitsu, one mentioning work, and both about love. 

(thanks to Mary Lee Hahn for the image)

(thanks to Liz Garton Scanlon for the image)

More wonderfully wry and vivid dodoitsu here: 


Poetry Friday is hosted today by The Poem Farm. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Poetry Friday: Exquisite Corpse

Me, circa 1st grade,
looking quizzical 

Hey, friends--this isn't a pop quiz, because I'm giving you the answer, but have you noticed that the Poetry Sisters have a sort-of theme for 2022?  Let me explain: 

Last month, we dipped into the sounds around us and borrowed overheard words to create our poems. This month, we're doing "exquisite corpse" poetry---which has nothing to do with a morgue and everything to do with sharing words as a community. In essence, we divvied up the task of writing a poem by each contributing one line. The twist was that we only saw the line before our own until we all viewed the whole thing on the day of our ZOOM meeting.

That was nervy of us. Would it hang together in any fashion? Would it veer into vagueness or get bogged down in unconnected detail? Would it even be a poem? 

Well, y'all---it worked. It was a poem--a somewhat unbalanced, but beautiful poem. We took time to marvel at it, and to talk about how each line inspired the next, and then....we pulled it apart. No holds barred. We each took the draft we'd created together and made something new from it, on the spot. From individual to community back to individual again. 

Have you guessed the theme now?  I've used the words "community" and "together." Not to mention "borrowed" and "sharing." Okay, and "individual," too, because being part of a community doesn't mean losing yourself as an independent person. Yup. I think you get it: in 2022, we're concentrating on forms that allow us to create in communal ways.  

Sure, the Poetry Sisters have focused on supporting each other and posting together (since April 2008!) but when we also lift the expectation that we must create drafts completely on our own, in our separate poet cubicles, well...the result is...


I hope you'll explore all the ways my Poetry Sisters took the following communal draft and created a poem that spoke to each of us. First, the draft, loosely based on the "exquisite corpse" ideas in this post, and then my take on it: 

Community Draft

This month, odd one out, running short on days and sleep,
This month, past meets pride, roots ripped from native soil still somehow grow.
The once-bright future dims. Shadows grow
but there, near canyon  rim, in  broken light
the yearling hawk shrieked in futile fury
and the steel-edged clouds looked away
trees bow and bend on a blustery day
that rattles old oak leaves down the street. 

                        -----The  Poetry Sisters

For my take, as I began to work with this poem, I was careful to leave lines intact, and to delicately prune here and there. It felt, after all, not like a corpse, but a body of work, vibrating with life. But the more I played, the more I saw ways this poem could evolve. Change wouldn't destroy it. Neither would curiosity. So...I grew bolder. I moved words around. Then, whole lines. I started looking at each word as a deep well of possibilities, and soon, I was even letting a verb be a noun (wild, huh?) The more I worked, the more empowering and exciting it felt to have these vivid and lovely words supplied to me, a gift that I could use in any way I chose. Thank you, Laura, Mary Lee, Tanita, Andi, Tricia, Liz, and Kelly.  

Still--as free as I felt, I did have a focus: that hawk. To me, he was the "odd one out" in all the best ways, and I wanted to write about him.    

My Poetry Sisters' creations are here:

Poetry Friday is hosted today by our own Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect

Friday, January 28, 2022

Poetry Friday: Overheard

For our first poetry challenge of 2022, we composed "overheard" poems---which, as the name suggests, are created from borrowed material. They are similar to found poems-- but made from oral snippets instead of written ones.  The inspiration came from Susan Thomsen's blog

The challenge was clear enough---but when I went looking for material to borrow, I found that overhearing things was not easy in this muffled age of masks and social distancing. And the more I tried to listen in, the more dejected I felt. 


I missed the easy give and flow of public, un-orchestrated conversation.

I missed conferences, workshops, Kidlit drink nights, retreats.

I  missed these lovelies, pictured below. 

So I wrote about that.  Only one word of this was overheard.  I'll tell you which one at the end.


Some of the Poetry Sisters
(August, 2010)


I stand, neck-deep
in the rollicking stream 
of an overbooked hotel lobby
bar, my thighs braced,
minnows of gossip 
flicking my hair. 

I order a bottomless
glass of well-water, clear
as rain on the plain; toast
the flash of the bartender’s 
gold tooth as she catches
my words, first try.

I laugh as three fevered 
discussions stalk
the room like rare griffins,
battering dusty tropes
with their ropy tails
and cavernous beaks.

Our voices pollinate
the air, float 
into anyone’s ears; 
maybe we shout
as the elevator opens
like a levy, spilling
poets into the room:
HEY, old friend!

I tell the doctor what 
was wrong: I needed words.
And he doesn’t blink,
a dry-eyed unwilling
phoenix, and say: What’s that?
Your knee is worse?

One day...
One unmuffled day.  

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

With thanks to Mary Lee Hahn, who gifted me with one perfect overheard word: muffled. 

What did my poetry sisters do with this challenge? What did they overhear?  Listen in:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Latham.