Monday, January 02, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Prose to Poem

I've been inspired by Walter Dean Myers' book We Are America: A Tribute From the Heart to reread the Declaration of Independence, portions of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and more. This got me thinking about transforming a prose document into poetry. Consider this your first found poem challenge of the year. Take a letter, a speech, a passage from a favorite book, any portion of prose with some meaning, and use words from it to write a poem. (Note that if you use excerpts from poems by other authors that you will be writing a cento. You can read more about the cento at

I've been reading (for the umpteenth time) Walden: Or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau. Here's a poem I wrote based on the words from the chapter Winter Animals.
Hills rose up around me
and in misty weather loomed
like fabulous creatures.

I could walk freely
far from the village street,
where I heard the forlorn but
melodious note,
quite familiar to me,
of a hooting owl.

At length the jays arrived
with discordant screams.
Then came the chickadees
in flocks, hammering away
with their bills.

And once a sparrow
alighted upon my shoulder.
For a moment,
I felt more distinguished
by that circumstance
than by any epaulet
I could have worn.
So, there's your challenge. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results later this week.


  1. Hi Tricia ~ Thanks for this stretch. It took me back to a favorite letter by Abigail Adams to her husband.

    Taken from Abigail Adams letter of March 31, 1776 to John Adams:


    I long to hear
    that you have declared
    an independency
    and by the way
    in the new Code of Laws
    which I suppose
    it will be necessary
    for you to make
    I desire you would
    Remember the Ladies,
    and be more generous
    and favourable to them
    than your ancestors.

    Do not put
    such unlimited power
    into the hands
    of the Husbands.
    Remember all Men
    would be tyrants
    if they could.
    If particular care
    and attention
    is not paid
    to the Ladies
    we are determined
    to foment a Rebellion,
    and will not hold ourselves
    bound by any Laws
    in which we have no voice,
    or Representation.

    Carol Weis, 2012

  2. This letter from Emily Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson on the occasion of sending him poems to look at in 1862. He did not publish any of the poems at that time, but he and Emily became fast friends through correspondence. Her letter read:

    "MR. HIGGINSON, --Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?

    The mind is so near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask.

    Should you think it breathed, and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude.

    If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me would give me sincerer honor toward you.

    I inclose my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true?

    That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn."

    My poem in answer is a sonnet, part of THE EMILY SONNETS, coming out this year from Creative Editions with pictures by Gary Kelly. As if Higginson answered her this way after her death.

    The Poet Asks

    Yes, Dear Friend, your verses live,
    They parse the years, they stretch the miles.
    They sing at weddings where they give
    The bride an arm along the aisles.
    They solemn stand at funerals
    And dirge the dead men down to sod.
    They count, like holy numerals,
    The way we calibrate our God.

    Yes, Dear Friend, your verses stay.
    The fascicles you left behind,
    Hand-stitched and hidden, in a way
    Are marvels of poetic kind,
    In verses yet you still abide,
    Though gone from here, you have not died.

    © 2012 by Jane Yolen all rights reserved

  3. a (mostly) modern cento

    i was
    a flower
    of the mountain—
    stiff curl
    of wildcarrot leaf—
    dwindling in
    a wall of rain.

    you were choral—
    you were gregarious—
    wanderer moon,
    smiling a faintly
    ironic smile,
    [as you] vainly flapped
    [your] tinsel wing.

    but with a sweet forgetting,
    like a patient etherized
    upon a table—
    [my] face was
    in a bed of hair—
    [I said] “ring out,
    wild bells:
    [you] cannot scare
    me with
    [your] empty spaces—
    the blue
    and the dim
    and the dark.”
    [No, I said,]
    “ring out, wild bells,
    to the wild sky—
    ring out!”

    James Joyce, Molly’s Soliloquy, Ulysses
    William Carlos Williams, “Spring and All”
    William Carlos Williams, Perpetuum Mobile: The City
    Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Wine”
    Andrew Marvell, “The Definition of Love”
    William Carlos Williams, “Summer Song”
    John Keats, “In drear nighted December”
    TS Eliot, “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
    Emily Dickinson, “1722”
    Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ring Out, Wild Bells”
    Robert Frost, “Desert Places”
    William Butler Yeats, “Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”
    Tennyson, ibid.