Monday, March 16, 2009

March Poetry Prompt 2 - What we didn't know then

For the second of this month's writing prompts I thought we could stay with childhood, or at least locate ourselves at a specific time in our past.

This is an exercise in stages. It's probably best to attempt each stage as you read it, rather than reading ahead, but not to worry if you can't do that.

Imagine a photograph of yourself when you were much younger.

Take your time to let it appear clearly in your mind. Take a good look at it.

Begin with the phrase: In this one I am...

Describe what you can SEE in the photo e.g. what you’re wearing, what you’re doing, who’s next to you, what the weather’s like, what’s behind you, anything in scene.

Now describe what happened just before the photo was taken, or even earlier in the day, perhaps what you were doing, or what someone else was doing.

Now use the phrase I don’t know yet... and describe something/s that will happen later in your life, that you have no knowledge of at the time of the photo.

Follow whatever comes up in your memory. If something leads you away from the photo/scene that has a lot of energy then follow it.

When you've finished writing, put your draft away for a few days before reading back over it and seeing if it can be shaped into a poem.

Good luck.


Keith Wallis said...

In this one I am four
coat buttoned tight
on an Easter morning.
I share a bench with a cat
and the discarded wrapping
of an easter egg.
Clutching the wooden car
that sat waiting in the womb
of a cardboard egg
I feel secure.
The love shown
in a myriad of eggs
of various sizes
as days of rationing fade away.
I don't know yet
that Easter is bigger than
silver-papered chocolate
nor that love also comes
in a myriad of sizes.

annie clarkson said...

Oh, I like Keith's poem.

Here's mine (which I found difficult.. and it probably needs further work).

Age 5

In this one I am stuck on wooden step ladders, in my vest and red wellies. Hair in plaits. Face, a scowl of concentration. Don’t move. Might fall.

I have made my own house with blankets and the clothes horse, a chair here, a chair there. I want to see it through the window, my blanket house, inside our house.

That’s how I got here: outside, in the yard, on the step-ladder feeling oh so scared. Don’t move. Might fall.

I don’t know yet that I will cut off my hair, climb sea-cliffs, live alone, write stories, learn Spanish, jump from a waterfall.

I see her reflection in the sash window. She is smiling, thinking I’m oh so cute, her girl, stuck on the ladders wearing a vest and red wellies.

I hold my hand out so she can help me down. Wait, wait, she says laughing, pressing the button on the camera.

anne.kenny said...

I really had fun with this!

Greenhow Grove

her small feet are planted
in soft buck leather, in a cobbled street
by a red brick house she will recall
like a scene from an old film

in soft buck leather, in a cobbled street
where children hop-scotch pavements
like a scene from an old film
washing is strung like bunting

where children hop-scotch pavements
her head crowned a raw circle
washing is strung like bunting
lungs gasped the coal warmed air

her head crowned a raw circle
she cradles her doll in a cardboard cot
lungs gasped the coal warmed air
unaware, she is practising

she cradles her doll in a cardboard cot
by a red brick house she will recall
unaware she is practising
her small feet are planted

Lynne Rees said...

Thanks Keith, Annie, and Anne for your poems. I always find this exercise an interesting one to do - the juxtaposition of past and present can often be surprising.

Congratulations on your Pantoum, Anne. Here's a brief description for anyone who'd like to have a go:

The PANTOUM is a Malayan form from 15th century that came into English language poetry through France.

1. each pantoum stanza must be four lines long

2. the length is unspecified. You can have an indefinite number of quatrains rhyming (traditionally) a b a b – but the pantoum must begin and end with the same line

3. lines 2 & 4 of the first quatrain, in their entirety, become lines 1 & 3 of the following quatrain, and so on with succeeding quatrains

4. the final quatrain changes this pattern – the unrepeated first and third lines from the beginning stanza are used in reverse as second and fourth lines. So the first line of the poem is also the last line.

Of course, poets vary their approaches, but the hypnotic repetitions, the compelling back and forth movement of the pantoum, lends itself well to obsessive subjects e.g. memory, going over and over a particular event or events, expressing conflict or ambivalence, or echoes of past times.

Martin Cordrey said...

Silver nitrate

In this one I am hovering
on the doorstep, falling
from eleven years old into twelve.

My clothing is beige
even the flowers growing
across a loose shirt are brown.

Shoulder length hair and a pretty face
soon to be disturbed
by monotonous shaven stubble.

One of their tabby cats is fighting
a squirrel around the garden
in a blur of grey,

the orfe in the pond are fleeing
the shock waves, darting
orange beneath green lilies.
I don’t know yet that I am going to a zoo
a grey wolf in his cage,
pacing back and forth, up and down, left and right,

back and forth – each year
a rut will deepen
in the sand, his stride becoming staid.

linda w said...


In this one I’m eight years old,
standing in our garden pigeon-toed
squinting into the sun. Aunt Doris
come from Manchester on a jaunt
just for the day, is hugging me,
her fat arm round my thin shoulder,
she leans and laughs into the Brownie.
I am not laughing,

although I wear my princess dress
for the occasion, nylon net with satin sash,
dorothy bag, short socks and pearly shoes.
I remember all their colours
pale pinks and blues
though here of course they’re shades of grey
and the day, which I recall was hot and yellow
is grey as well. I am not smiling.

My oh so short hair is like cling wrap
on my skull. That morning it had swung
below my shoulders loose and free.
Aunt Doris was a hairdresser you see.
She led me up to mother’s bedroom
put a towel round my shoulders
sat me in a chair
then taking out her instruments
she cut my hair.

Snip snip with the scissors,
then a razor up the back,
tickling and buzzing, like a bluebottle
till it’s as short as a boy’s.
Lifeless tendrils litter the floor. I will mourn
my girlish plaits, thick bunches
pony tail - like phantom limbs,
be ashamed of my white, cold neck,
my small head round as a pea – and shorn.

Martin Cordrey said...


In this one
I am black and white
with long blonde hair,
two years old and naked.

My feet stand
in a paddling pool.
I look like a flower
in a plant pot.

I don’t know yet
that thirty years from now
I will replicate
this photo in colour;

same face different child.
So many things will change
so many fears
will remain the same.

Anonymous said...


I’m a gatecrasher and can’t find a haiku discussion group; so I googled it and stumbled on your blog. My name is martin and I’ve been struggling with haiku for a long time.
When I saw the assignment to, Imagine a photograph of yourself when you were much younger as a starting point, I remembered my old haiku attempt. Even though it’s my father as a child in the photograph, I got the idea to try a haiku sequence and hang some old haiku attempts on a line to dry. Here are some memories of when I was a kid in the lower east-side projects of Manhattan. My father was working two jobs and I rarely saw him. These are some experiences of that time:

By Myself

old photo
my father as a child
looks past me

after the rain--
the sound of traffic

river sunlight
the smell of tugboats
and blossoms

darkened street
the red horizon in puddles

charlotte s said...


High at the back on a wobbly bench,
I'm pale and vague as the man in the moon

and everywhere, things seem to slip away -
faces, voices, spired buildings.

I drift in a sea of strangers' heads
gently bobbing like floating eggs.

All these kids were top of their class.
Now they're perilously perched mid-air

as windblown string-bean professors below
anchor down in heavy gowns.

Later in my mind, I'll retrace the wake
of my parents' car as it drove away,

I'll wade through boxes of photos, cups,
dundee cake, then hang up my clothes

and fish for a smile to keep my head
above water. I don't know yet

how they lock the tower from jumpers
at exam time. I don't know

this is just the shallow end
and I'll never be a very strong swimmer.

karen said...

Independence Day...
holding a sparkler
in each hand
the stars on her dress
eclipse her smile

-- Karen Cesar

margaret beston said...

Somehow this poem isn't printing out as it should ... have tried several times. I hope you will be able to work out where line-breaks should be! Have enjoyed reading everyone's poems. Thank you all! Margaret

End of Term

In this one I’m at school
sitting on the grass with friends,
wearing our hated shapeless uniforms
enemy of the adolescent body.

It’s the end of Summer term
and we’re all smiling at the lens.

We have no worries.
We’re safe inside our mini-world,
bound by rules we laugh at
and dogma that we question.

We long for home-time, boys on the bus,
frothy coffee, Buddy Holly on the jukebox.

There is no threat from drugs,
alcohol’s a Babycham at Christmas,
sexual diversity’s a whispered rumour.
No one ever mentions Cancer.

We don’t know yet how soon we will forget
the details of that day – who took the photo,
what it was she said that made us smile,
but we’ll remember names and faces, early friendships
freeze-framed forever by the closing shutter.

Margaret Beston