A Leaving Poem

For this prompt you are going to write about “leaving.” You can approach it in any way that you want. Make sure you are the one leaving. You can leave anything, it doesn’t have to be a place. 

What I want you to avoid is building up to the poem. As poets, we sometimes tend to start with lines of cover and fluff and them move to the crux of what we really want to talk about. It’s an safe way to get into the vulnerability of the piece. It is also not needed. 

This is different than the use set ups (leading to a twist) or the work done to set a scene. Those build ups are functional. We want to draw the reader\listener into the poem. Not drag them into it.

A great way to engage from the beginning of the poem is to start with the subject doing something or saying something. It is a natural catalyst for forward progress. It sparks curiosity about what is going on. Now that you are moving ahead with the poem you can work backwards and you move forward providing any needed insight into how things got here. 

You want to establish what is going on and the why it is happening or needed to happen. Don’t forget to make it clear in the poem what it all means. This trifecta, what is happening, why is it happening (or needs to happen), and what it means, is the framework of your approach to the poem. This is how you create room for the reader/listener to be immersed in the poem. It is also where those “ah-hah” moments come from. Those moments of realization, understanding, and shared emotion that make the poem resonate deeply. 

End the poem strong and declaratively. Remember you are leaving or you left. Make it the closing moment you deserve. 

Here are three great examples:

Movement Song” by Audre Lorde

B______” by Carolyn Kizer

At the San Francisco Airport” by Yvor Winters

Show don’t tell

photo by Strauss Western

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Anton Chekhov

I remember the battle with my masters advisor over my final capstone project. It was about the idea of “showing vs telling.” When I was finally able to grasp the nuance of what she was explaining to me, it not only changed the way I was writing, it changed my thinking about teaching as well. I started to think about how the concept related to how we operate in society. It seems like we have been socialized to tell and not show. 

We are encouraged to tell people what to do and what to think rather than providing with them the information, showing them the choices available, and allowing them to make a decision. The thing about this is that telling centers us and our perspective. In that moment, what matters most is what we are sharing and why we are sharing it. Showing centers the person we are providing the information to. It makes us think of the audience. We all know through the literature we have fallen in love with that showing is way more engaging and impactful. We are drawn to it. We are drawn in. It stays with us because we feel a part of the experience. We leave different. 

What I wonder about is this? if you reach folks by telling, is it because of what you are telling or because of their respect for you? It may make sense, but should you be ok with the fact that it sounds right? Shouldn’t we want them to grasp the nuance? Shouldn’t we want them to experience the discovery? Isn’t showing a way to equip them? Telling just allows them to regurgitate the outcome. Showing allows them to demonstrate and replicate the process. Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that learning and growing?

Of course, there are times when the answer is all that’s needed. Then again, are we really taking the time to consider when that is the case and when it’s not?

Let’s show the world the beautiful and necessary that too often gets dismissed and overlooked!

Holding Space

Photo by  Bob Osias

When I think about holding space for art and artists, I believe there are some key considerations. 

How do you create capacity? How do you foster and nurture their development? How do you provide a viable platform? How do you keep the art at the center?

There is great joy in helping to facilitate the presentation of that art to an audience. Careful thought goes into how that is done and how is it done in a way that allows the artists the greatest opportunity to thrive. Nowhere in there is a centering of self. Ego and pride about anything other than the way that space serves the art and engages audience is detrimental and counterintuitive. When the art and artists thrive the community is fed, when the community is fed the space is successful, when the space is successful then more artists are cultivated, and in that your vision and work is celebrated. 

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Objective Correlative

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”

TS Elliot (qtd. in J. A. Cuddon’s Dictionary of Literary Terms, page 647)

If writers or poets or playwrights want to create an emotional reaction in the audience, they must find a combination of images, objects, or description evoking the appropriate emotion. The source of the emotional reaction isn’t in one particular object, one particular image, or one particular word. Instead, the emotion originates in the combination of these phenomena when they appear together.

One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to convey a message to the reader without telling them what the message is. 

Envision an object that would carry meaning for a person. Write a poem that shows what the meaning is and conveys the emotion attached to the object. What is the object? Why is it important? Think about the scene taking place that helps illuminate the significance of the object to the subject of the poem. 

Things Overheard

This prompt is based around Patricia Smith’s poem “Listening at the Door” 

First, write down something you’ve overheard (sound, words, etc.). Then go over Patricia’s poem which paints this vivid scene and gives this context all from what she heard. 

Then write the story behind what you overheard. Build the scene. Use sensory detail (feeding the 5 senses) as much as possible. 

Make sure to close with dramatic effect.

For US

Photo by Josh Gios

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”


I want to be the kind of person to bring the best out of those around me. I love to see folks shining. When that happens everyone around benefits. They are also inspired to let their inner beauty and power free. 

I feel a responsibility to help build this community and to build as much capacity for artists as I can. I was given so much by my community. My journey as an artist is full of stories of people who saw what I didn’t see yet, who believed in my possibility and encouraged me to pursue that. Folks who offered opportunities and support. I wouldn’t be here without them. So I want to provide that for other artists. 

I have come to understand that not everyone will understand my methods. Not without my experiences because my methods are informed by the lives of the people I work with and the mentors who have devoted time to guiding me. 

Not everyone will agree. Some will resist. Some will try to derail. Some will seek refuge elsewhere. A few will try to take up too much space. Not much of any of that will work. Most will concede to that or walk away. Nonetheless, my purpose and vision won’t change. 

My aim is to use the gifts I have to do good work. I consider the folks I have learned from and fought beside and followed and whether I can look in their eyes and not be concerned about any decisions about work I am making. It’s a self imposed standard I will not compromise. Accountability is a choice and I make that choice again and again based on the community that shaped me. 

We all have to figure out where we stand in this work and operate from that position. Outside of the art we create, what is our role in the arts scene we are a part of? What do we see as gaps in what is happening and is available? What do we see as unrealized opportunities? What do we need? How can things be better for all of us? There is a way of seeing and thinking that we have honed in our creative practice that is a valuable tool for creative and critical analysis. We know each other, even if we haven’t met each other. We know what it is that leads us to do what we do. How does that factor into how we advocate for the arts and artists across the community?

There is so much talent and so much potential here. The breadth of artists we have in the area is amazing. Hell, North Carolina as a whole is full of artistic brilliance. Now, as in any arts scene, there are still some issues. There will be. That doesn’t change what’s here. It just means that artists are human beings and we can’t lose sight of the fact that the personal also impacts the scene. We can’t be so disillusioned by the feel of the art that we forget the artists behind it.

The things that are happening here are so promising. There are resources being devoted to the arts. There is growing organization amongst artists. There are new efforts by arts organizations to serve the artists. There are important conversations about equity and sustainability happening. The scope of creative placemaking and public art is expanding and previously marginalized voices are being included in new initiatives and projects. Pay attention, it’s a wonderful blossoming thing. 

“A purpose, an intention, a design, strikes everywhere the careless, the most stupid thinker”

David Hume

As always, it’s about the work. That means that doing the work doesn’t guarantee that folks will recognize the value even if they benefit. But the fact that the work is being done matters. The prospect for impact is there, is what we do the work for. 

We can contribute to the ongoing growth of something wonderful here.