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Rereading and Rewriting

December 2019

In the poem "Rereading Frost" by Linda Pastan, she confronts a problem that many poets probably confront at some point. Is there anything left to write about or has everything been written?

This is not a problem only for poets. All writers, inventors, scientists, painters, filmmakers and other creators are faced with this problem. Is there anything new and original to create?

Of course, the answer is that there are always new things. The world changes. We change.

But the more poetry you read, the more likely you are to realize that a lot of topics have been covered already. The real problem might be that you may feel that someone else has already written a better poem than you could ever write.

Billy Collins' poem "The Trouble with Poetry" addresses this issue too.

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

We hope you won't close your notebook (or laptop) and sit back and stop writing. Collins didn't stop. In fact, he continues:

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.
And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others

Like Pastan, we read and reread poems and poets and we are inspired to write our own. Our poem may complement the original or go against it. It might update the topic of the poem. William Shakespeare writes about love and you do a 21st century update on his approach.

Like Collins, we might steal a bit from the other poet - a line, a title, an image, the idea for the poem itself.

In Pastan's poem, she has more of a mixed response to rereading Frost's poem.

And I decide not to stop trying,
at least not for a while, though in truth
I'd rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.

For this month, we ask you to reread & rewrite - a poem that begins in response to rereading some favorite poem. It might be one you know you can't do any better. It might be one that you can rewrite in a new way. Let the reader in on the poem or poet that inspired you.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Hope like music
Un-perched on a summer night
Floats thru an open window
Accommodating as a breeze
Lassoed by a kite

If lifts your spirits
It’s with you as you sleep
Working its way to your heart
Holding the dreams you keep

Displacing knots of doubt
And tangles of fear
Unshackling the soul
And drying your tears

It cannot be stored
You must gather it fresh
It’s free to roam
It has no address

You seek its source
You can feel it near
It urges you onward
It whispers "I’m here"

Terri J. Guttilla


I love the fact that the title is so misleading!
Do you think of one in a home, or office,
With rainbow-shards of tropical fish
Swimming above pale gravel and a toy treasure chest
In vaguely moss-green water?
Or do you picture the sparkling tanks
In the public aquariums in London,
Palma, Brisbane, San Francisco,
With their exotic sea-creatures;
The rays, the sharks, the improbable seahorses
(That I believed to be mythical, like unicorns,
Until, as a young teenager,
I found and bought a perfectly preserved, dried specimen
In a shop in Lyme Regis)?

The word 'aquarium' conjures up such pictures, such memories.
It does not invite us to focus on a lowly snail!
Yet Ammons takes us from the vastness and variety of marine-life containers,
Both public and private,
To a close-up of a single snail,
Taking air into his shell,
Taking too much air,
Letting some go and,
In a magical final couplet,
"and down he goes, as if
dreaming gravity's smoothest dream."

Amen, Mister Ammons. Amen.

Damon Leigh

(Inspired by Billy Collins' ''Litany'"

You are the moon and the stars, but
you are not Mars and I am not Venus.
You are the sky meeting the sea.
We are not the sand melting into the tide.=
You are the wind in the trees, and
you are the dew caressing the grassy meadow. .
You are not the rose within the bud, and
you are not the oak hidden within the acorn.

You are the spark that created the flame,
that lit up the night sky,
but you are not the rain in the forest and
I am not the crystal goblet, or the wine.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


Countee Cullen
And I are of this consensus:
Prejudice drafts psychopaths.
Their warpaths
Transfix our people to many a crucifix.
There resides the reason why
My protest must never relax
From typing its attacks.

Addressed to your psyche,
My compositions are microphones for
Emmett Till, Michael Griffith,
Yusef Hawkins, Amadou Diallo,
Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham,
Trayvon Martin, Darius Simmons,
Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride,
Eric Garner, et cetera,
Et cetera, et cetera.

Addressed to your psyche,
You can hear the murdered entreat:
“Don’t allow another name to join
A homicide report sheet.
Don’t allow another name to join
A homicide report sheet.”

Addressed to your psyche,
The compositions
I’ve written are parts of a bulletin,
The passages transmit
To our terra firma’s retina.

Addressed to your psyche,
My protest wants life
To evict the combustive
And discriminative.
If armed with you,
Lawfulness will live.

Bob McNeil


People today just don't take haiku seriously.
My kid wrote those in first grade, says my neighbor.

On an autumn evening, Basho goes alone down a road.
He sees a solitary crow on a bare branch.

At the crossroads, he meets Issa and they walk together
silently under the yellow moon.

"You know, that moon is totally unimpressed by us," says Issa.
"Like that bored scarecrow over there," says Basho

"Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo," Basho says.
"You've got that right," replies Issa

Charles Michaels

a response to Maxine Kumin’s “The Summer of the Watergate Hearings”

Patient Amanda, did you deserve
to become poetically famous for the worms
you dropped in horse-apples?
Purge becomes poetry, your actual ascarids
and strongyles as metaphor
for worms in the government.
I’m writing you now – decades gone –
because sometimes
in the course of human events,
there comes a time when we need another
worming. Amanda strawberry roan,
I have no horse of my own
now, but I have a government.
May I borrow you metaphorically
to show the way in a poem?

Taylor Graham


A traveller’s tale is always so tall.
But I haven’t traveled far, thus keep it shut:
This mouth of stone; my jaw bone didn’t fall
Into the Sand, nobody needs to pick it up
And try to read my inner voice.
My accomplishments remain my own;
It always was a conscious choice
To hide my frown and lower my tone.
Yet! Longing words – and longing words alone – I can produce.
I summon to me demons, gods and men –
Believe me, neither I nor they need names – so I deduce:
the words we wrote shall now and then
be recognized, when past and present new invent:
the soaring sadness, holy joy, in ink of tears that just unend.

Victor Green


so much modern

depends on manure

from the barrow

on winter’s fallow

to blossom into

Robert Miller

(Rereading Dylan Thomas)

I cannot tell you how to make your flight
To go, or not go, gentle into that good night
I do not know if light may die, or shine more bright
I cannot tell without the sight
To say if you will truly see
A dying or emerging light

I cannot tell you how or when to die
To rage and fight against your fading sight
Resist deserting us, and earthly life
The show that ends with curtain’s close
And no more questions left to pose
Or drink in deep the passage of the night
And fly towards a newly gathering light

Iris Lavell


if i believe in love
it is (more than honey
and birdsong) be
cause your kiss
that tu lips covered
almost summer day
beyond the brink of
crazier than fears
we climbed mountain peaks
taller than doubt
steeper than foolish
hope flowered brightly
your eyes
mindless we drank
from tomorrows
tainted springs
filled with (unspoken)

of us
we shall be (a bit)
more jealous than
every else
(nearly) as careful
as newborns (while
more than maybe
morphs into) forever
guard old wounds
until the last unsure
gives way to certainty
yet dare to leave
life's door ajar
hearts free to roam

if when death knocks
distracted I answer not
knowing it is her
be sure
it will mar our
unshakable closeness
only ever so faintly
the chance brush of
a sweetly scented arm
in a (dimly lit) room
crowded with white lilies

Frank Kelly