P&W Prompt: Poetry As Survival

It’s officially February, and I’m just two prompts away from being all caught up with the 2017 poetry prompts from Poets & Writers Magazine called The Time is Now.  This prompt comes from January 17 and reads:

“I began writing poetry as an act of survival,” writes Safiya Sinclair in “Shadows of Words: Our Twelfth Annual Look at Debut Poets” in the January/February 2017 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Think about how you might look at your own writing as an act of survival: What are the most troublesome issues and sources of conflict in your everyday life, whether small and tangible or large and amorphous? How might the practice of putting pen to paper and giving words to emotions be integral to your encounter with these obstacles? Write a poem that helps you think through and voice your troubles.

So, okay.  The first step is to identify these “sources of conflict” in my life.  Whew.  Here’s a partial list of what I came up with off the top of my head [to read the last draft, click HERE)]:

  • my ex-husband texts to say he misses me four years, three months, and 12 days after I learned of his last affair
  • some asshat has taken over the country and is burning democracy down, tantrum-like
  • i’ve had three job interviews in three states in the past three weeks, and there’s exactly $14.43 in my checking account until payday (tomorrow)
  • some jerk keeps bringing an aggressive dog to the dog park.  the dog keeps attacking the other dogs, forcing me and huck to leave

I decided to choose something seemingly innocuous and minor and to use it as an extended metaphor for the other rather serious conflicts.  Here’s where I started:



Huck hops in a furry pirouette, a smile wide as his head

cracks open when we arrive at the double gates

of Barker Field.  There is a certain protocol that all

dog park regulars follow:

[here I decided to not try to write it straight out but, rather, to create a series of vignettes that I might be able to pull together later]


The little dictator I call “orange julius” shoves a sticky finger

skyward while his other pudgy hand wraps tightly

around a wooden stick, his puckered lips suck on a popsicle

the sugar-stained saliva sliding down his chin.  You go ‘way!

he growls, kicking up dirt at a scruffy, matted little hound.


Over by the picnic table, lonely in the middle of the field,

an unneutered white male has a couple of bitches cornered,

his last conquest wades neck deep into the pond, eyes lowered.

He looks toward her for a moment, a recognition, almost,

before the winds shift and he moves like a dancer toward light.


Meanwhile, Huck inspects the far reaches of the fence line,

not seeking escape, but home, he bounds between one edge

and another, there is hope in each stop.


……blah.  This is where I abandoned the effort.  I have this idea that’s not quite fully formed about my tiny dictator (we all know who he’s going to end up representing, yeah?) being the animal in this park full of very heavily personified dogs.  But I also want this to be lighthearted and humorous.  Humor, let’s face it, is not my strong suit when it comes to poetry.  Oh sure, I can make you snort laugh in person, but that has never translated to the page for me – so this exercise is actually kicking my ass just a little bit.  Humor….I think I’ll go read a little Bukowski and see if I can’t find the right tone.  [BRB]

Several days and a few Bukowski poems later, I returned to this exercise.  I think the tone is much better, but I’m ultimately not certain it’s really doing anything…if you know what I mean.  Since I’m already a bit behind on these exercises and have bigger fish to fry, I’m leaving it here.  I suspect this will be one of those poems that either sticks in my head and works itself out over time (which would be awesome), or it will be one of those poems that I mess with for the next ten years and never finish (oh god, another Memphis Blues!), or – and this is most likely – it’ll end up being exactly what it is: an exercise I did that one time.  Either way, I encourage you to give this one a try.  Labor never goes unrewarded in creative work, we just don’t always see the rewards right away (or at all, but they’re there, trust me).




Barker Field is really hopping

as Huck and I approach the double gates.

He circles round in a furry pirouette,

making me dance, a marionette working

to unfold my legs from the leash. One more tug

and I’m down.  I scan the park

for our tiny dictator, look

for the perpetual pucker of his mean little

lips round his signature popsicle.

I see him near the back,

a sticky finger shoved skyward

sugar-stained saliva sliding down his chin.

You go ‘way! he growls, kicking up dirt

at a scruffy, matted little hound.


Penny pops her head up at the first gate’s

closing clank and comes loping

toward the second.  If she gets there

before we’re through, it’s on.

I’ve already wasted

precious seconds and thumb

the metal spring to release

leash from collar, dog

from human, desire

from love.


It’s too late now, though.

Penny rounds the post

and just like that, the two of them

are circling,

institutionalized convicts,

an entire open field spread wide, still,

they posture for a position

between the double gates.

They think it’s safe in there.


I shoo them out into the world.

Penny takes a running leap into the pond,

neck deep she keeps her eyes

on the ballsy male who’s got two bitches

cornered under the picnic table.

Huck circles the field, attempting

the great whizz, he pisses every ten feet

or so on anything not moving.  I wonder

if he’ll make it the whole way round

this time.  Meanwhile, orange Julius

terrorizes the crowd, he pulls on tails

and slams his tiny body onto slunked down backs,

Giddy up! he shouts before being ditched.

He lands with a thud.


For a moment, the world

is bathed in light: Penny lays wet

by the shore, her back to the bitches

now dozing under the table’s cover

having outlasted the heavy hitter’s

momentary interest. Huck

lets three drops fall on a live oak branch

before moving on to inspect

the far reaches of the fence line,

not seeking escape, but home,

he bounds between one edge

and another, in each stop

there is hope.




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