The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, July 2, 2019:


… We say, correctly, that every child has a right to food and shelter, to education, to medical treatment, and so on. We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.

Philip Pullman, winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award


The Prompter Room

For Friday, January 18, 2019:


For those who don’t know, beloved poet Mary Oliver passed from this mortal plane on January 17th from lymphoma.  She will be missed, but at least we have her words still.  Let’s honor her, her life, her words by taking walks among the oaks and beeches, on the beach, along the edges of a pond, by listening to a grasshopper and a bear and the deer, singing with a mockingbird, whispering to the geese as they fly to heaven.


… When it’s over, I want to say all my life/I was a bride married to amazement …

Mary Oliver (1935-2019), ‘When Death Comes’


For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, some-thing as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.

Mary Oliver


The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, October 10, 2017:


A mysterious quickening inhabits the depths of any good poem—protean, elusive, alive in its own right…. We feel something stir, shiver, swim its way into the world when a good poem opens its eyes. Poetry’s work is not simply the recording of inner or outer perception; it makes by words and music new possibilities of perceiving…. The eyes and ears must learn to abandon the habits of useful serving and take up instead a participatory delight in their own ends. A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from a tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.



The Prompter Room

For Friday, September 8, 2017:


From the most serious to the most comic, the simplest to the most baroque, the most personal to the most political, poems alter the landscape of the given.  This tilting of ordinary reality and ordinary expectation is the gesture that lives in the ink of art’s first impulse.

Jane Hirshfield, ‘The American Poetry Review,’ Sept/Oct 2017

The Prompter Room

For Sunday, October 25, 2015:

“It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them.  The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page.”

Joan Baez

This has happened to me with some of my poems.  When it does, they need little, if any, further work. They seem to come whole and complete all at once, pouring out onto the page.  For me it happens less often with fiction, but I’ve been lucky that there have been a few passages that have come about in the same way. 

I don’t know how to explain it, why it happens some times and not others, but it’s an incredible, almost indescribable feeling.  I wish I could offer advice or suggestions to make it less ephemeral.  All I can say is to capture and celebrate those words, and enjoy the poems or songs or stories that crawl down your sleeve as a result.

What is a Poem?

What is poetry? What makes a poem a poem and not prose?

A few collected (and beginning) thoughts

Samuel Taylor Coleridge declared poetry to be “the best words in the best order.”

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of image and allusion, and concentrated, condensed emotion and experience.[1]

A friend of mine who is a powerful and profound poet asserts that a poem is the right words for the right occurrence.

Rackham and Bertagnolli respond to Wordsworth’s claim that “poetry is a ‘spontaneous overflow of emotion,’” by saying that “no writing, not even poetry, is ever totally spontaneous.”[2] Yet Robert Frost is known for saying a poem “begins with a lump in the throat.”

Someone else has written that

… Poetry is a break for freedom. In a sense all poems are

good; all poems are an emblem of courage and the attempt

to say the unsayable; but only a few are able to speak to

something universal yet personal and distinct at the same

time; to create a door through which others can walk into

what previously seemed unobtainable realms, in the passage

of a few short lines.[3]

Mary Oliver writes that “Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something.

Another Robert Frost thought: “Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance.” Perhaps that’s the difference between poetry and prose too? As much as prose can be written poetically, it’s still a different ‘creature’ with a different intent.

I suggest, too, that the difference between the two is the ‘white space.’ Poetry is more about what’s left out, to be intuited, already known – like haiku writers leave room for the reader to finish the creation – whereas prose tends to spell it out for us. If “Fiction is the truth inside the lie,” as Stephen King asserts, is there a poetic correlation?

Robert Penn Warren believes “The poem is a little myth of man’s capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see – it is, rather, a light by which we may see – and what we see is life.” As Sylvia Plath says, “I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still.”

I wrote my first poem at age six (I still have that little poem somewhere), so I’ve called myself a poet for over 50 years. I believe there is what I call a ‘poetic sensibility,’ a way of looking at life, of understanding life, of getting through the hard times, of celebrating the joys in ways no other form of writing can do, in my humble opinion.

In fact, I agree with Sharon Olds, who writes of poetry, “I would hate to imagine living without it. It’s where I discover what I think and feel and make something of it.”

© ERR 2008/2015

[1] I am not sure where this comes from. It will be found in either Letters to a Young Poet or the collection of Rilke’s works translated by Stephen Mitchell.

[2] From Sight to Insight, 5.

[3] Unattributed introduction to the Website of David Whyte at