Friday, November 24, 2023

Poetry Friday: In the Style of Valerie Worth

One of my favorite small things: 
French green lentils

November's challenge is one of the most fun:  an invitation to write in the style of a well-known poet.  It's a chance to learn by imitation, and an opportunity to delve into the choices each poet makes when they create. This time it's Valerie Worth, who's best known for close observation, spare lines, attention to the "small things" (either in size or in importance) and an affinity for a child's viewpoint.  One of my favorite quotes about her work comes from Valerie herself: 

“It has always seemed to me that any tree or flower, any living creature, even any old board or brick or bottle possesses a mysterious poetry of its own, a poetry still wordless, formless, inaudible, but asking to be translated into words and images and sounds—to be expressed as a poem. Perhaps it could be said that written poetry is simply a way of revealing and celebrating the essentially poetic nature of the world itself.” ---as quoted in a profile of Valerie Worth, written by  Lee Bennett Hopkins for Language Arts, Vol. 68, October 1991 

I tried to honor that approach by  picking two small objects and finding the "mysterious poetry"  in them. 
The first poem was inspired by a soup I was making during our Sunday ZOOM meet-up, and by Worth's poem, "Safety Pin" in which she explores a pin both open and closed.  I did the same for a humble lentil, plucked from a bag, and examined both raw and cooked.  


they chatter
against the bowl,
a patch of pebbles
blotched as
turtle shells.

they fatten
to a chorus, sing 
of one hundred days 
in snug pods,
unspoiled sun.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

By the way, did you know there's a MasterClass in growing lentils?   I relied on that as I revised my poem, making it more specific with details like how long lentils take to grow, and how much sunlight they need. Research for the win! 

The second poem was a response to the most humble thing I could find in my office: the doorstop. At first, I thought: I can't write about that.  But then I thought: but Valerie Worth would.  So I did. 


an outstretched arm,
its white rubber tip
a gloved fist, dampens

the fling of an opening
door, the coiled spring
catching the energy

of the wild children
who enter. 

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Funny story:  the first picture I took of the doorstop showed me a dust bunny hiding behind the door.  Had to grab that and take another photo.  But maybe I should've written a Valerie Worth ode to the dust?? 

Find out more about Valerie Worth from my poetry sisters' explorations of her style and their wonderful poems.  Grateful to be writing all these years with these kind and talented poets:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Ruth

Friday, October 27, 2023

Poetry Friday: Let's play with Bouts-Rimés

Quotes fill the walls
at Planet Word,
Washington, DC 
(highly recommended) 

This month's challenge is another game, or as Mary Lee puts it, "a word puzzle."  Bouts-Rimés is an old game, played by poets since the early 17th century.  The name means "rhymed ends" and the game is played by giving a poet a list of rhymed end words, and challenging her to write a poem to fit.  Supposedly, the harder the end words, the better the game.  We weren't too cruel to ourselves, but the list did have a few doozies: 

A: profuse/abtruse/chartreuse/truce

B: incline/shine/resign/supine

C: various/gregarious/hilarious/precarious

D: ceasefire/quagmire/higher/dryer

E: transform/barnstorm/uniform/conform

F: humility/futility/nobility, tranquility

G: perturb/superb/reverb, disturb

We also decided to use these rhymes in any form of a sonnet. I always have to look up the variations, so here they are: 


Shakespearean: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG



And of course, we should try to work in our theme for the year of transformation (conversion, alteration, metamorphosis, mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change) 

Whew.  Enough with the rules...on to the game! What would you do with these words and that theme and these rhyme patterns?  I chose to pick an A word, ask a question with it, and use the "other" sonnet form to think out my answer. 

My solution is below:

Change (no, you change)

What is the nature of our truce?
Is our pause deadly quiet or sharply profuse?
If we decide to lie, hand in hand, supine,
unspeaking, could we still re-sign
with anxious fingers passionately gregarious
the terms to end this battle; quit this precarious
stumbling over words, un-mine this quagmire
and declare, with silent volumes, a ceasefire?
Or must we open with a hail of words, barnstorm
mutual defenses, stun by direct apology, and with uniform
speed, sheath every confession with disarming humility,
and wordily, warily, negotiate renewed tranquility? 
Either—but choose, no truce lasts undisturbed,
Speak then the piercing language of love, superb.

                                                        ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

My poetry sisters' solutions to this poetry puzzle can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol Labuzzetta at The Apples in my Orchard

Friday, August 25, 2023

Poetry Friday: Exquisite Corpse (Clunker Edition)

Dead or not?
Mystery photo taken
 November, 2016

August's challenge was a fun one. As a group, we played a version of the "Exquisite Corpse" game, where one poet passes a set of two lines to the next poet, who adds her own two, and then sends only the new ones on to the next person, and so on, until everyone has added (in secret) two lines to the whole poem. The big reveal of ALL the lines was during our Sunday ZOOM session. And there was a twist: each of us added one original line and one "clunker" taken from Linda Mitchell's clunker exchange and comments here. 

Wow. At first sight, our draft poem actually held together (see it below my poem.) We couldn't believe it! Still, the challenge for the year was transformation (conversion, alteration, metamorphosis, mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change) so we couldn't stop there.  Each of us took the raw material and created something new. Here's how my transformation ended up:


I’m no longer winsome to the world—
I’m a yesterday shadow of the sun’s rise, 
the one that got away, a nub of flower,

plucked, no snap, no sass to sweeten September
when trees turn so orange the road looks blue;
when words tangle, colors muddy the palette

and thoughts of you sprout. I bury
them, and yet in they creep, weedy-thick,
until the prickly buds of odd logic bloom:

I don't cry anymore, so why do I sing all the words—
each line in a different language as the light shifts,
every scattered petal saying “but you loved me”—

and then I remember
love was exactly what you wrote
about the green beans.

                      ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

Here's the raw material we all had to work with:

They say the mind is garden-like, with thoughts as sprouting seeds
but I'm left holding cuttings I'm not sure where to plant
Weedy-thick, the prickly buds of odd logic bloom: 
You don't cry anymore, but you sing all the words.
Each line in a different language as the light shifts,
trees turned so orange the road looked blue.
Words tangle, colors muddy in the palette.
I am no longer winsome to the sun.
a whole sun’s rise to share
there goes the one that got away
found a bit of sunflower
and plucked every petal (by the way, he loves me)
and then I remembered
that’s what you wrote about the green beans
Stockpile, then, that snap and sass to sweeten your September.

See what beauties my poetry sisters created here:

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Linda at TeacherDance.


Friday, July 28, 2023

Poetry Friday: The Monotetra

Of course we stopped
at the "world's smallest Bigfoot store"
because that's what you do
on vacation.

The July challenge is the monotetra.  If you parse that name, you'll see it means something like "single-four" because each stanza has a repeated mono-rhyme scheme---yes, every single line rhymes with each other!-- and four "feet" per line.  (A foot has two syllables, so this means eight syllables for each line.) You can write as many stanzas as you like, and (thankfully) vary the singular rhyme between stanzas, but each stanza is only four lines, and each ends with four repeated syllables. all those rules make writing a monotetra easier or harder?   I say easier because it tells you what to do...and harder because it leans towards sounding forced. Add in our 2023 theme of transformation (conversion, alteration, metamorphosis, mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change.. ) and I had myself a job to do.  At least I had Bigfoot and the new Star Trek series to put me in mind of how exploration spurs transformation....

The Lagoon Nebula, 
image courtesy of the 
Hubble Telescope

Strange New Worlds*

Dust hangs like ochre chandeliers
over the trails of pioneers;
the ragged edge of their frontiers
unstrung by years; unstrung by years. 

A parchment map, the cloth unwound
in a graveyard of ships gone down
still threads the rocks without a sound;
calls the unfound, calls the unfound. 

Now nebulas expand, efface   
starlight, a crown of crocheted lace
knotting this fringe of outer space
with dark grace, with dark grace.

Again we'll blind-twist, one by one, 
from rough hems of times overrun,
fresh seams; an old revolution:
the world undone; the world undone.

           ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

*I'm enthralled by the Star Trek re-boot called Strange New Worlds.  Have you seen it?

My poetry sisters' monotetras can be found here:

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Bookseed Studio.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Poetry Friday: The Ghazal

"The Weather" by Laurie Anderson,
Exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC

I'm not sure about this one-- maybe because lore has it the ghazal takes its name from the noise a gazelle makes while dying? I certainly gasped my last a few times, working on this non-narrative form which is held together with one rhyme that comes directly before a repeated ending refrain.  The first couplet signals the ghazal form's arrival by doing this twice; the rest of the couplets only have the rhyme/refrain combo in the second line.

And I say again: it's non-narrative. No story telling allowed. The effect is supposed to be one of a string of beads, each sufficient unto itself but tied together by the refrain. Or perhaps a mirror, shattered into revealing shards. Finally,  it's traditional for the poet to mention herself in the last couplet.  Ooof.  

I dunno.  To me, writing this felt like being made to comply with strict rules and yet, being completely adrift without narrative at the same time. But enough about process. This is about trying. DOING. Letting things be as they are and inviting the reader to make their own connections. Perhaps that, too is a form of our 2023 theme of transformation (conversion, alteration, metamorphosis, mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change.. )  I'm still not sure, but as I sprinkled a few of those transformation words into my ghazal, I could feel a poem forming....

Half the world

They say the ad is for oysters, yet there she is, but half
mutated—her mermaid tail the gut half;

They say if we bow to modulation twelve times a day, 
our risk of dying (but they only studied men) is cut by half.

They say: Someone else. Somewhere else.
Can’t you see evolution dictates we shut out half?

They say we can’t write of overflowing life-altering loss, of not now, 
not whole, of not even close to having somewhat half.

They say: would we like roast chicken with homegrown kumquats
and kale salad or hey, catch! one stale doughnut half?

They say I shouldn’t laugh at the erupting fountain 
when I chop the hairy shell of a coconut in half.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

You can read more about the form here.  And my poetry sisters' ghazals can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Patricia at Reverie. 

Friday, March 31, 2023

Poetry Friday: The Etheree (once more)

The March challenge was the etheree, an expanding syllable-based form we've attempted before (back in 2015, and also in 2020, although it looks like I skipped that one.) The first line has one syllable, the second, two, and so on until you reach the tenth line with ten syllables. 

Easy, right?  Well, except for picking the right one-syllable word to begin...and choosing a subject..and possibly sprinkling in some internal rhyme (if you want to.)  In truth, no challenge is ever "hard" or "easy," which makes our continual expectation that we know what we're up against each month hilariously foolish. And yet...we label our challenges anyway. Groan or gloat. Dread or delight. Until the actual writing begins, and then we have to jump in, ready or not, and see what words come. 

At least the inherent steady growth of this form lends itself well to our 2023 theme, which is transformation (conversion, alteration, metamorphosis,  mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change.. )

But, with all that, I still didn't have a subject in hand until I visited the National Cherry Blossom Kite Festival last Sunday. One event was labeled "Kite Ballet," which turned out to be kite-flying to music. But the more I listened (and watched the multitude of kites in the sky) the more I doubted that one dance form could hold what I saw. Instead, I tried to transform, over and over and over again, the initial "definition" of this event.  That led to Take #1, below.  

Kite ballet is...

but hip-hop,
kites pop and lock,
embattled X-wings; 
spring-drunk sky-flower blooms;
current-cranked deep sea creatures;
gust-lifted ghosts, soundless, spinning; 
love-floaty newlywed dragonflies; 
fly-boy flotillas in sky high beat boats.

           ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

I liked it.  But the next day, I set out to make those syllables dance harder.  So here's Take #2:


Kite  ballet is...

but bopping;
X-wing twerking; 
hip-hop high locking;
spring-drunk sky-blooms larking;
sea creatures current-cruising;
gust-lifted ghosts, soundless, meeting; 
dragonflies, newlywed love-woozy; 
brash boasting fly-boys, beat-beat-beat-beating.

                ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters' etherees can be found here:

***For next month, we're writing poems in the style of Pablo Neruda.  So pick any of his poems, and see where it leads you! 

Friday, February 24, 2023

Poetry Friday: Talking back to Art

Fairy rock, Iceland


In February, we're still exploring our 2023 theme of transformation in all its forms: conversion, alteration, metamorphosis,  mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change..  (I'm going to repeat this list every month, for my own benefit, so I know how wide the possibilities are.)  We're also repeating a challenge we've done several times (and one I love):  ekphrastic poetry---which is a fancy way of saying poetry that responds to art. 

This challenge can be done anytime, anywhere a piece of art (painting, sculpture, graffiti, woodblock print, collage...etc.) inspires you to think longer and deeper about the world.  You know you've picked the right piece of art when you want to talk back to it---ask it questions, or dispute its premise, or praise its insight.  As a group, we each threw in two photos that could provoke such a response, and as of blogging this, I don't know what everyone picked.  

As for me, I picked my own photo, probably because I've been dying to talk to this troll woman ever since I saw her on the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland. 

Known as Iceland's "hidden people," trolls (along with  fairies and other folk not easily seen)  are often portrayed as greedy or evil.  But-- if you treat them with respect (the Icelanders say)-- they can be helpful and wise.  So instead of talking back to her, I thought I'd simply let her speak. 

What words would this giantess have for me, should she choose to reveal herself? 



Sunlight will turn me to stone,
they say, leaving me cliff and fissure, 
strata and sediment, mineral and sand

my nose a crag, my eyes, two black nooks,
my arm, an outcrop of granite 
dangling over the sea 

So come, young one,
take a story; I’m unburdening
myself of invisibility. 

Soon, I will be rock,
forever seen. A mountain. 
I think I’ll like that.

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

You can find my poetry sisters ekphrastic poetry here;


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tabitha Yeatts.  And for next month, here's  our challenge: 

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge in the month of March. Here’s the scoop: we’re writing an etheree. This ten-line form begins with a single syllable, and each line expands by one syllable until the tenth line has ten. We’re continuing with our 2023 theme of transformation, but how you interpret that topically is up to you. You have a month to craft your creation and share it on March 31st (hosted here at {fiction, instead of lies!}) in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

What stories do you  have to tell?

Friday, January 27, 2023

Poetry Friday: Cascade Poems


In 2023, the Poetry Sisters are exploring transformation in all its forms: conversion, alteration, metamorphosis,  mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change...

January's challenge was to try a cascade poem, in which the opening stanza (of any length) transforms into the backbone of the poem by "cascading" through the rest of piece. Specifically, each line of the opening stanza becomes the end line for each of the following stanzas. So, if you have a first stanza of ABC, then the next stanza is xxA, and then xxB, and then xxC.

It's a form that because of the repetition, can emphasize what doesn't change: for example, something we can't let go of---producing perhaps, a rant or a eulogy. It also lends itself to explanations of process, or logical argument, making change as orderly as a five paragraph essay. But, it turns out, I wanted to write  about love.

Yes, I know February is the designated month for that stuff, but doesn't January deserve a bit of affection too? And what is love but a transformation of how we see the world?

Nothing has changed since we were young.
You keep a coat for thirty-five years.
I never follow a recipe.
We walk, we talk, we hold hands.

Our first date was 1.1 hours in a Cessna; 
you logged it, pinpointed day and time; 
I had no idea the world held such steadiness;
nothing has changed since we were young.

I still try on new friends, new shoes, new lives,
wander into deep woods, find the sky again;
you land safely, time after time;
you keep a coat for thirty-five years.

You ask where I’m going---
how would I know? I gather words
until I have to give some away;
I never follow a recipe.

Years flow into years--
a steadfast meander;
you, the banks; I, the river; 
We walk, we talk, we hold hands.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters' cascade poems can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Bookseedstudio