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Violet Nesdoly PhotoPoems for Mom
Copyright©2009 by Violet Nesdoly

This is our tenth column in Violet's "Poet's Classroom" series.

Anna Jarvis first celebrated mothers in 1907 by handing out 500 white carnations in a West Virginia church. Nine years later she opposed the May holiday that grew out of her gesture because of how commercialized it had become. However, her good idea lived on and over 100 years later we still honor mothers on the second Sunday in May.

This year you could celebrate Mother's Day with more than a card, bouquet of flowers or restaurant dinner. You could write a poem to or about your mother—or memorialize motherhood by expressing how it feels to be a mother.

Below are four kinds of poetry that lend themselves to poems for or about mothers. I have suggested prompts or strategies to help you write them. Hopefully you'll come away with a Mother's Day poem (or poems) that is both universal—because everyone has some experience with mothers—and unique—because the relationship with this special person is a bond like no other.

Ekphrastic Poem

Ekphrastic poetry is "Poetry that imitates, describes, critiques, dramatizes, reflects upon or otherwise responds to a work of non literary art, especially the visual."1 Ekphrastic poems are typically written about paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and architecture. Photography can qualify too, even though the photograph might have been intended as a keepsake rather than art.

When writing an ekphrastic poem:
1. The title or epigraph often mentions the piece of art that inspired the poem.
2. An ekphrastic poem should not merely describe the visual image. Rather, the image should serve as the inspiration or jumping off point for the writing. The poem talks back to the art; it may identify with the feeling of the artist, or disagree or add something new.
3. Remember that your reader probably won't view the photograph or work of art. Thus your poem must be able to stand alone as a poem without the image as a reference. Don't worry if the reader conceives an image different from the one that inspired your writing. In the end, the poem is the important thing.

Write an ekphrastic Mother's Day poem using a photograph:
1. Find photos of your mother as a child. Write a poem or series of poems that reflect on how her childhood foreshadowed the mother she became.
2. Study a wedding photo of your mom. Imagine her thoughts, hopes and dreams. Write a poem.
3. Find your mom in a candid shot where she seems unaware of the camera. What is she thinking or doing? Write a poem.
4. Find a photo of your mom taken with people she loves, beside objects that typify her or of her doing something she enjoys. What does the photo say about her? Does it symbolize her in some way? Write a poem.

Example: "Tintype on the Pond, 1925" by J. Lorraine Brown

Dramatic Monologue

In a dramatic monologue poem the speaker is not the writer. A dramatic monologue resembles a soliloquy delivered within a play but instead of addressing the play's audience, the speaker addresses himself, another imagined character, a person addressed in a letter, or even God.

When writing a dramatic monologue:
1. You may want to use the title to inform the reader that the poem is in drama mode.
2. Use the speaker's distinctive voice to communicate aspects of characterization like viewpoint, personality, motivation and attitude. The person should be identifiable, though he or she may remain unnamed.
3. Though you use the first person "I" in your poem, remember this is not you but your character speaking.
4. An interesting aspect of a dramatic monologue is the character's unwitting revelation of information about himself or the situation that has different significance to the other characters or listeners. This is called dramatic irony.

Write a Mother's Day poem that is a dramatic monologue:
1. Think of a pivotal moment in your mother's life and write her thoughts from that moment.
2. Write a poem about what she would think or say at an imaginary event, e.g. a family reunion or a son's wedding.
3. Write an "if only" poem of her regrets, e.g. a deathbed letter. There's plenty of dramatic irony potential here, especially if years have passed since her death and time has filled in the blanks (for example some of her prayers have been answered).

Example: "To A Child" by Sophie Jewett

Sequence

A sequence poem is a series of related poems. It can be as few as two or as many as the muse delivers. These poems are often numbered. They may include sequences based on the events of a story, the days of the week, the time of day, or different facets of the same subject. A sequence could take the form of a collage, a scrapbook, or a real-time chain of events like an exchange of letters or emails.

When writing a sequence:
1. Each part of the sequence should be a stand-alone a poem. You put poems in a sequence because when grouped together they gain impact. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Poetry teacher Sharon Klander has compared the process of deciding whether or not to put poems in a sequence to deciding where to use a semicolon. "A sentence divided by a semicolon can be split grammatically into two separate sentences and yet still benefits by being connected."2 If the poems are stronger as a collection than alone, they are good sequence candidates.
2. Though poets might make a credible sequence by breaking a long poem into sections and numbering them, the best way to create a sequence is to build one intentionally.
3. Subjects that lend themselves to a sequence of poems are those with time elements (like episodes of a story), definite parts (like activities done at different times of day) and logical concepts (like character qualities).
4. Compose each part of the sequence as you would a regular poem.

Write a sequence of motherhood poems:
1. Write a sequence of poems about what your mother does or has done in different seasons of the year.
2. Write a sequence of poems about the changing seasons of motherhood (from mothering infants to adult children).
3. Write a sequence of poems about what mothers do—from nurturing to disciplining and shooing children from the nest.
4. Write about your mother or the role of mothering on three different occasions. Allow a time gap (hours to weeks) between the writings. Compose a poem from each of these writings and place them in a sequence.

Elegy

An elegy is a love poem to someone who has died. On the surface it would seem that we write these poems for the person who is their subject. But we know our loved one will never hear them, and so they are really poems of remembrance and comfort for those left behind. "They help heal pain and carve paths to each other," says poet and teacher Michael Bugeja.3

Elegies are often delivered at funerals (see Dick Hayes' article "Writing for the Occasion"), but also suit other occasions. My mother died in 2006 and when I thought about writing poems to mothers, I wanted to include this type of poem for those of us who no longer have our mothers with us.

When writing an elegy:
1. Think back to what objects and images you associate with the deceased. Make a list of things that depict that person and what they stood for.
2. Think through what principle or epiphany you want to convey.
3. Decide on a theme to accompany that principle. Ask yourself how you will convey that theme, undercurrent or feeling. For example, if you wish to leave the reader with a sense of ending well with questions answered and loose ends tied up, you might decide to use end-rhyme in your poem. Many elegies are written as rhyming sonnets.

Write an elegy about your mother:
1. Write a poem titled with the inscription of your mother's grave marker.
2. Write a poem of how your memory of your mother has changed or mellowed from the time she died till now.
3. Write a poem addressed to her where you imagine her to be now.
4. What art did your mother display in her home? What did it say about her? Write an ekphrastic elegy.

Examples: "Your Clothes" by Judith Kroll
"I Want to Go Home" by Wanda C. Hilyer

This Mother's Day do Anna Jarvis proud. Give your mother a gift that costs no money but is priceless. Write her a poem.

To enjoy more poems about mothers, visit Utmost's Mother's Day Poetry Project.

Coming June 1:
Come back in June when when we'll talk about nature poetry.

Did you find this article helpful? Please let us know.

Copyright ©2009 by Violet Nesdoly


Endnotes:

[1] John Drury, The Poetry Dictionary, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati OH, 2006, 84-85.
[2] Michael Bugeja, The Art and Craft of Poetry, WriterÕs Digest Books, Cincinnati OH, 1994, 321.
[3] Bugeja, 132.