Archive for December, 2013

Prompt or Plagiarism?

Cyclamen 3

I recently tried a suggestion to use a poet as a muse for a poem.  I had just read a poem by Carl Phillips and used it as muse for a poem of my own.  I read both poems to my poetry group.  Was it too close to his or did it take off in a new direction?

Someone suggested I contact him and see what he thought.  I did and he replied that my poem was pretty close to his in several places.  He suggested putting “after Carl Phillips” under the title.  He also said, “I think the muse is more than inspiration when whole phrases or only slight re-phrasings occur.”

I had considered submitting my poem to a contest but after reading Phillips’ response, I told him I would not try to publish it.

My poem starts with variations on images in Phillips’ poem that I agree are “slight re-phrasings” and then, thinking about a friendship gone sour, I took the first half to a different conclusion.  I do follow Phillips’ structure with the indented “Righteousness,” and then go into a botanical world of being contented with a place in life, but the last stanza ends with a similar conclusion about choice.

Was this a useful exercise?  Would I use this prompt again?  Sometimes I do get inspired when I read other poets but next time I think I will make a note or two about what inspired me and then close the book, maybe even wait a day or two and then start on my own poem.

I share my poem here with full disclosure as to its origins and credit to my muse.


Hollyhocks, deep grape, stain the fence they lean against, fallen

unlike the impatiens that slump, rather than daisies gone

to seeds hitched onto oak leaves that scatter like notes in the wind

an oboe simmering and bubbling like hawk fledges ready to fly

away, or like sailboats torn from their moorings come loose

like letting go of a friendship that was spinning, time spent at last

recalling – an effort – before the incident, interior of a painted egg

unforgettable.                                          Righteousness, a trumpet flower

that gets our attention, how extraordinary but blemished

no doubt, still a thing of goodness or so it seems for the time being,

wasn’t it just yesterday, a miracle growing little stems and leaves

enclosed souls that are irresistible who do not become restless

or distracted or bored and do not require sleep but remain

content in their righteousness and do not make lists or try

to change because even if they could choose, they would not.

You can find the poem I used as muse here, and judge for yourself:–At-Bay-by-Carl-Phillips.html?soid=1110705357409&aid=X4o8o7WU4i4.


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Market in Spain

Market in Spain

I participated in a local event for poets to write about our town, Madison, WI.  The result is mapped here: 

Here is my contribution:

The State Office Building, One West Wilson

It was where we met, that great art deco monolith on Lake Monona.
The etched brass elevator doors opened to whisk passengers
to one of eleven floors in the center tower, where the Parole Board
at the top was as distant to us as it was to the prisoners at Waupun.
Before air-conditioning, grit from open windows coated our desks.
When we got our own PCs, the typing pool vanished and so did
the boxes of dusty punch cards and crumbling printouts that hid
desiccated bananas and a few musty athletic shoes and socks.
We watched the Circus Parade on the tracks in back of the building
as it headed to Milwaukee, or escaped to the Wednesday Farm Market,
where our purchases left scent-trails of basil and onions and gladiolas   
in the elevator where you gave me a kiss right after the doors closed.

And the backstory:

I met my husband Roger when we both worked for the Division of Corrections.  He worked in Madison and I worked on a research project in a Probation and Parole office on the Eastside of Milwaukee.  I came to Madison for meetings in the State Office Building at One West Wilson.  I did not own a car so I took the Badger Bus to Madison.  Roger started his campaign to win my heart by driving me to the bus terminal on South Bedford Street.  After a year of commuting to see one another, I transferred to Central Office and moved to Middleton.  I worked at One West Wilson for about fifteen years.  I have very fond memories of our supervisor, Ted Johnson, who likely knew what we were up to, but kept it to himself.

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