P&W Prompt 1: Parting In Winter

Here’s the first of what I hope will become weekly installments of new writing in response to the prompts offered by Poets & Writers Magazine. I selected a poem by Robert Hass titled “To a Reader” from his collection, Praise. Here’s the prompt again (for those who may have missed it):

“Choose a favorite poem written by somebody else, type a copy of it, delete every other line from the poem, and write your own lines to replace those you’ve deleted. Next, delete the remaining lines from the old poem so that only your lines remain. Read what you have, and revise it, adding new lines to fill in the gaps.”

Here is the original poem:

To a Reader

I’ve watched memory wound you.
I felt nothing but envy.
Having slept in wet meadows,
I was not through desiring.
Imagine January and the beach,
a bleached sky, gulls.  And
look seaward: what is not there
is there, isn’t it, the huge
bird of the first light
arched above first waters
beyond our touching or intention
or the reasonable shore.

As instructed, I removed every other line and filled in my own in their place.  I wanted to maintain sense in the poem – so I attempted to make my “replacement” lines fit the content of the lines that remained.


I’ve watched memory wound you.
It’s far-reaching tentacles span time, wrap you who,
Having slept in wet meadows,
Forget the forgetfulness of parched earth.
Imagine January and the beach,
Frigid and unforgiving:
look seaward: what is not there
will be there come spring, you,
bird of the first light
remember the rains washing over us,
beyond our touching or intention
Remember the green of the grass on our legs.

The next step was to delete the remaining lines from the original poem and re-write them.  This step, for me, was the most difficult.  Because I had worked to maintain meaning in the poem, what I found after deleting the rest of Hass’ lines was that most of the meaning had been obliterated.  I also struggled with choosing imagery that did not come from the original (especially the idea of memory and the image of the wet meadow) – imagery that is so powerful and effective in the original.  Without that first line, the whole poem flounders – forcing me to come up with a new premise, new meaning for the entire piece.  Here’s what I came up with.


Your lover’s leaving spirals.
It’s far-reaching tentacles span time, wrap you who,
Holding one small hand out to the empty wind,
Forget the forgetfulness of parched earth.
The mid-winter ground holds steady under your feet.
Frigid and unforgiving:
The pin oaks shade your grief, they know the juniper
will be there come spring, you,
eyes held fast to the east, only need
remember the rains washing over us,
our tumbling, sun-stroked love.
Remember the green of the grass on our legs.

Finally, I revised (slightly) the new poem – paying no attention to the original poem or earlier drafts of the poem.  My focus was to make the lines in front of me as good as they could be.  Most of the changes here are a result of taking the poem back out of the second person (which hardly ever works) and solidifying the narrative (barely existent, even here).  Here’s the final version.


Parting in Winter
My lover, your leaving spirals.
Its far-reaching tentacles coil around me, here,
holding one small hand out to the empty wind.

Forget the forgetfulness of parched earth.
The mid-winter ground holds steady under my feet.
Frigid and unforgiving:

the pin oaks shade our grief, they know the juniper
will be there come spring, and you,
eyes held fast to the east, only need

remember the rains washing over us,
our tumbling, sun-stroked love.  Only
remember the green of the grass staining our legs.

I wrote this rather quickly and will probably spend more time revising it over the next couple of weeks.  However, I find it interesting that what came out is a poem that I would not likely have written without this exercise (which is exactly why we use prompts).  I typically write narrative poetry – poetry that tells a story, has a plot line (real or implied) – this little love poem is much more imagistic. I’d love to see your own experiments with this prompt…keeping in mind that these are exercises and no one (least of all me!) expects polished poetry here (although…that would be nice too) 😉

3 thoughts on “P&W Prompt 1: Parting In Winter

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