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Poetry prompt: How to use a favorite poem to create your own

Have you ever read a poem that inspired you in your own writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” is one such poem for me. I have read it several times over the years. It’s one of those pieces that has stayed with me and became even more resonant over time.

My husband died two years ago so when I re-read Oliver’s poem recently it was from this new perspective of understanding how fleeting our time is here, how every moment is a blessing.

Her work inspired me to write a poem called, “When Love Comes.” I started by following the general form of her poem but then allowed my poem to flourish and take off in its own direction. Though I started off using her form as a guide, I made sure I used my own words and my own ideas.

The result? I like it enough that it’s going to be the final poem for my poetry book to be published later this year.

Below are a few tips for using another poet’s work as a jumping off place for your own poetry:

  • Begin by studying the poem’s form. How many stanzas are there? How many lines per stanza? Are the stanzas all the same length or do they have the same number of lines?
  • Are there any other discernable patterns in the poem?
  • What feeling does the poem evoke in you?
  • Is there a certain theme or image you want to write about?
  • What feeling do you want to evoke in your reader?
  • Begin your poem by following the form of the poem you’ve chosen but make sure you do NOT copy their words. Make sure the words and ideas are your own. You don’t want to plagiarize someone else’s work. You’re only using their form to ignite your imagination.
  • Edit. Once all the words are down, you may end up changing the beginning so much that you no longer recognize the other poem’s form. No problem. And if some of the form is still there—also no problem!

Below is my poem inspired by Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes:”

When Love Comes

When love comes like a morning glory
opening to first light,

when love comes like the blues, plucking
buttercup petals, singing “he loves me,
he loves me not,” and places those petals
in my hair like a coronet,

when love comes like a newborn colt’s
first awkward steps,

when love comes like the sun
after a month of rain and I lift my face
as if to feel its heat for the first time,

when love comes like an infant
in the night, suckling my breast,
I want to greet it with open eyes
and a smile, saying, “You, again?”

I want to greet it without demanding
promises it can’t keep. I want
to greet it brimming with questions—

When love comes will I be a jackal devouring
each morsel or will I be a honey bee
sampling each flower in the garden?

When love comes will it tangle around me
like a forest vine or will it buoy me
like an ocean current?

When love comes will it leave
a taste like bitter chocolate,
or like dandelion wine—
sweet and hopeful on my tongue?

When love comes
I don’t want to hesitate
or talk myself out of it
or lock my windows
and hide under the bed.

When love comes
I want to say
take me I am yours.

When love comes
I want to say
let this be the last time.

I want to say
stay with me
until the end.

(“When Love Comes” copyright 2017, Carol Despeaux Fawcett)

One Comment Post a comment
  1. thanks, this was really hopeful

    February 6, 2018

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