HOW TO ADD POETRY’S POP TO YOUR WRITING by Mary Kennedy Eastham, Guest Blogger

Author: Squinting Over Water – Stories & The Shadow of A Dog I Can’t Forget – Poetry & Prose
Creator of 30 Poems in 30 Days (PoWriMo) & How To Add Poetry’s Pop to Your Writing

I grew up loving make-believe so writers were magical storytellers to me. Poets intimidated and excited me with the way their words slid down the page like a sneaky snake not invited to the picnic. My parents were loving New England people who were used to my brothers who couldn’t get their hands off of balls, mostly baseballs and here I was, their only daughter, who couldn’t get her head out of a book. Fast forward to many years later and somehow I found my way to a UC Berkeley poetry class. The instructor said I had a good ear which I immediately attributed to myrecent move to superficial California. She called me after the class ended to tell me to keep writing. We all need  wonderful people like her in our lives. She helped me believe in myself when I was so insecure. She taught me to write with purpose. And she reinforced with us every week in her class  to never stop learning as writers. ‘The more you know and put into practice,’ she would say, ‘the better you get.’

I see my life as a big artistic project. I genre-hop from writing short stories to novels to pumping out a few guest blog posts in between, but somehow my happiest writing moments always occur when I’m writing a poem. My greatest writing accomplishment came when I was given a $5,000 award for my poem “Points of Love.” My latest poem “Beautiful Angel Goddess” was recently selected to be included in a video poem series and was read by an actress who hit every high note in the poem. Check it out at:

or on my FB wall under Mary Kennedy Eastham or my Twitter page under Word Actress. A number of my poems (“What Marilyn Says About Her Things Being Auctioned”, “A Hymn for Wish”, “What He Left”, “Home”, “Terrorism As Seen Through The Eyes of A Little Boy”, “Forgive…Move On…Remember”, “The Priestess Who Sang at Midnight in The Garden of Lost Souls”, “Destiny of Joy” to name a few) have brought in some decent coin which I guess you could say keeps me going.

Last Spring, I decided I wanted to share with a larger audience both my love of poetry and my learn-as-I-go obsession with what makes a poem and really a writer successful. I developed two workshops,
one for poets, to give them their own NaNoWriMo month-long challenge and one for all other writers who maybe wanted to reconnect with poetry or use poetry’s exquisite economy of words and its insistence
on exact pacing and line rhythm to tighten up a scene or section of their novel, memoir or short story. I’m using some of poetry’s techniques with the first and last paragraphs of my novel-in-progress. The Girl With Sand in Her Hair. I’ve taught a version of  these month-long online workshops to poets, novelists and teens. Their enthusiasm and emotional honesty on the page is heroic and has taught me that shaping a poem can shape a life. The writer Ira Glass talks about how all writers go through a phase  where their work is trying to be good. But the work hasn’t caught up with what the writer knows to be good taste. Some writers quit at this phase. Here’s his suggestion that ties in well with what I’m trying to do here with these courses. Do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline and eventually the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

Here is just a small prompt sampler from these courses which I’ve been tweaking as I go:


The book poem crazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge is one of my favorites. She opens the book with a quote from Bay Area poet Brenda Hillman – We walked through night ’til night was a poem. Her suggestion to all of us is to buy a notebook or journal where we allow ourselves to be self-centered. Nothing is ever lost on a writer. Scribble it all down. Listen to the sound of words. Steal words from everywhere, even other people’s poems! If you’re trying to identify an insect on a walk, look through an insect manual collecting interesting names. Be sloppy. Don’t think. You can’t make a mistake. There aren’t any wrong words. Just let things come out of you. You can cut out words or phrases that appeal to you from magazines and add them to your notebook. All of this will become your wordpool. The question is not what you look at but what you see (Thoreau).

So for today’s prompt, get yourself a notebook and start your wordpool. Let words unravel and break open, maybe to something entirely different. Remember to trust your intuition. So go at it and create a loose, free-verse poem from your wordpool. Here are a few of my favorite poetry sites to check out for inspiration:
Poem-A-Day at
Poetry Daily at
Rattle – Poetry for the 21st Century at:


Imagine waking up one day to find out that technology has eclipsed language as our means of communicating. Quick, you’re on the run. What words would you save???Write a crazy free-verse poem using the words you carry with you on your wild escape.

We all try to capture snippets of life’s moments in the photos we take. Even though we now live in the selfie/Instagram world, I still love a beautifully rendered photograph, something that evokes a memory or tells a powerful story with its images. I stare and stare at it, paying special attention to all the little details. A sweet friend just sent me her professionally taken wedding photos and they are just breathtaking.

For today’s prompt I want you to write a poem about a photographic moment in your life, something filled with emotional strength or energy for you, maybe, or its opposite, something sad or disturbing or just unresolved. If nothing comes to mind right away, look through magazines, the newspaper. I Googled inspiring photographs/photographers and hundreds came up. Pinterest has lots, too. Just find an image that tells its own story and start writing your poem.

I’m including my poem Valentina Pearl for you from my first book The Shadow of A Dog I Can’t Forget. This poem came to me in a dream actually. In this dream, I saw a photograph of a woman in a heavy woolen coat. She looked weighted down, weary. The next morning I raced to the computer and wrote the poem. I wish more stories came to me this quickly.


A freak Italian earthquake took everything away
everything but her father’s top coat.
She wore it for thirty winters
remaining to the end
a pearl in its own oyster
buried in his coat.


I’ve learned over the years it’s wise to have a daily writing gameplan. I try to go to bed thinking about a story or poem challenge that I need to work out, hoping my dream state will reveal some important plot point or fabulous last line to a poem. Sometimes taking a walk or jog or dance class can accomplish the same thing. Do what the best filmmakers do – create for your audience a beautiful (but not necessarily pretty) graceful, elegant world. Or do the opposite – create a crazy, bizarre world. Just make the words flow in a riveting sort of way. Think of your stanzas as scenes. Ask yourself what happens next? If you feel frustrated or stuck just write down the words AND THEN and move on. You can come back to that section another time. I want you to go deep with this poem, take it slow. Don’t force things. I want you to ease the words out onto the page. Where to begin? That’s always the toughest for me. What music is playing in the background? Spotify’s tagline is: “You have a story. We have a song.” What are you introducing about your character in
the stanza or scene? What’s happening between stanzas? Look up words in a language you don’t know. Look up exotic flower names or paint colors. What is the name you wished your parents had given you?
Mine is Destry. I want you to be really excited about this poem. Call it Lust or Crave or The Night With No End. Call it your soon-to-be bestseller poem. Just go…write…

There you have it, THE TEASE! Anyone interested in these online workshops may contact me through my private email at: More about me at:
Working hard every day at my writing and working out  are tandem goals of mine. I have four Golden Retrievers. I have no choice!!! Sometimes I teach dance classes here at my home. What I say to the dancers throughout the rigorous routine is what I’d say to you about your writing:

…Keep moving, don’t worry that it’s not perfect
…You gotta work hard to get results
…Breathe…remember to breathe
…Stay with me, we’re almost there


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