Poems, Prompts and Plums

Tomorrow is National Poetry Day for New Zealand. For the last month, my Facebook feed has been full of information about all the different events happening around the country. If I had limitless funds, and could either clone myself or time-travel, I’d be racing around to poetry readings from in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, New Plymouth and Auckland, just for starters.

In the absence of magical powers, I’m contenting myself with heading to the event at my local library. The writing workshop group I go to has been asked to kick off proceedings with a reading of some of our work, before the open-mic session, and then the big news of the night… the announcement of the winners of the district libraries poetry competition.

I haven’t decided what poem I’ll read yet. By 5pm tomorrow I should have written at least three new poems, thanks to National Poetry Day events. At midnight tonight, I’ll get a list of 10 words e-mailed to me, and have until midnight tomorrow to write a poem including each word in the right order. At ten past one tomorrow afternoon, if I tune in to Jesse Mulligan’s afternoon radio show, I’ll hear him announce some words – 6, I think -and will have until 2pm to write a 6 line poem using the words, in whichever order I like. And there’s another tab open on my laptop now, for a site called Given Words. Five prompt words, used in any order and grammatical structure, in a 200 word max poem – to be submitted by midnight tomorrow.

All these contests have a slightly different approach to the prompt words idea, but they all have one thing in common. They impose a limitation and rules on the writer. This kind of writing activity is really useful for developing your writing craft. When you have an idea of something to write about, it’s easy to fall into your comfort zone – familiar style of poem and choice of words, etc. But imposing structure through form, prompt, content or limitations such as length, it can take the writer in quite unexpected directions.

I prefer to write free verse. I prefer reading free verse too – so for me, it’s always a challenge writing a specific form, especially if there is rhyming involved. But I like to try every now and again, because to me it is like flexing writing muscles – the more I use them, the stronger they become. Nailing a particular style of poetry helps make my comfort-zone writing better too.

I doubt I’ll be pulling off any form poetry in the next 24 or so hours, but you never know – it all depends on where the words take me when I get them. Until then, as my National Poetry Day contribution, I’m sharing some of the different forms I have come across.

diamante quake pinDiamante 

The Diamante poem is a shape poem – the clue to the shape is in the name! It’s a seven line poem short first and last lines and long middle lines, so it forms a diamond. This would be a lovely form to teach children to write when introducing them to poetry – there’s a real playful attitude to words involved in this style..

It seemed the perfect form to use to write about an earthquake – they often start with small signs, quiet rumbles and shakes that spread out to longer, more violent ones, before dwindling away again.


Haiku Sonnet

Riffing off the style of both haiku and sonnets comes this little number! A haiku sonnet. I can’t remember where I first came across the haiku sonnet form, but if you like the syllabic structure of haiku and the rhyming couplet finale of sonnets, you’ll probably enjoy having a go at this.

All you need is four haiku and a rhyming couplet.

The first one I wrote was not fit for public consumption – just some pretty-pretty observations about Spring, but after practising writing haiku and getting my head around the deeper features of the style, I gave it another go.


shivering bamboo
umbrellas mossy logs
walking Basho’s trail

silver river glides
under boughs of red acers
ancient book opens

soft with fallen leaves
stone slabs carve the hillside
lines from Basho’s pen

Jizo statues stare
heads cocooned in red crochet
summer sun blazes

Three hundred years since Matsuo Basho set forth
to walk and write The Narrow Road to the North


dazzle pinBlues Sonnet

I came across this form when I was given a prompt to write a blues sonnet about food and Egypt.

The sonnet has many forms. Originally the Petrarchan sonnet, from Italy, it has been adopted and adapted by other writers over the years.  I’m sure many of us remember sleepy, sunny afternoons in the schoolroom, stifling yawns over the teacher’s readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets to his mystery love.

With a strict rhyme scheme and meter to follow, they are a demanding form to write but well worth the effort.



The basic structure of a villanelle is 19 lines – five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a quatrain (four-line stanza), with two repeated rhymes and two refrains repeating alternately.

One day, I might finish writing one. It’s on my must-try list, but for now, the closest I’ve come is reading Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, which I do every month or so. One Art is my favourite poem and she makes the villanelle look easy. It’s not!

plumspinReply Poems

Not strictly a form, but a great writing exercise that makes you adhere to a particular structure.
The idea is you respond to a poem someone else has written – in the same style.

For several months, I swapped e-mails with friends in the UK, and we wrote them in the form of the William Carlos Williams poem This Is Just to Say.

That was a novel way of sharing our latest news with each other – but I finally got round to writing a more serious response poem the other day for my writing workshop group.

This Is to Say Back

I found the note
you left
on my fridge
about those plums.

you didn’t realise
laced their skin.

Forgive me,
but you’ve already
more than plums.


This list is a very small selection of all the different poetic forms you could write. I’d include more, but right now, it’s coming up to midnight, and I’ve got some prompt words to check out.

You never know, they might even turn into a villanelle.




24 thoughts on “Poems, Prompts and Plums

    1. I wasn’t confident when I first started trying them, but beginning to feel better about the ones I write now


  1. Sounds like you had a busy day for National Poetry day. Your poems and explanations of styles are great. I love your “Dazzle my Tongue” and “This is to say back” is fabulous.

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  2. This was an interesting read – educated me on the different types of poems. While my husband occasionally writes poems, I’m an absolute dunce when it comes to it. Writing or understanding both go over my head 😛

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  3. While I might not agree with you regarding multiple sources of “inspiration,” your poetry columns are outstanding! They give me hope that traditional forms of literature have not entirely succumbed to the onslaught of rubbish writing done in the name of pop culture and ‘vital’ interests such as the size of Kim Kardashian’s rear end.

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    1. Thank you – glad you appreciate them. As for disagreeing about inspiration – life would be boring if we agreed on everything!


  4. Wow! This was really interesting! And I love the ideas your town does for a contest! It makes me think you live in a small town where everyone knows everybody and a lot of people participate in the contests. I’m probably way off but that’s what this post conjures up in my mind.

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  5. I love your “Dazzle My Tongue” poem. That is a fun one to read. I’v never been great with poetry. I feel that I’m not quite creative enough to manage that. I am much better with direct writing. The prompts given for national poetry day sound interesting. I can easily see how putting limits on writing would take a writer out of their comfort zone. I can’t wait to see what you have written for the event. Please share!

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  6. Great post! I like that you said poems can push a writer out of their comfort zone. And it got me thinking – I don’t really go out of my comfort zone, and I think there is a lot of merit to doing so. I feel super encouraged reading your words!

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