Saturday, February 22, 2014

Prompt #178 – Capture Your Kinfolk by Guest Prompter Gail Gerwin

This week’s prompt comes from guest blogger, Gail Fishman Gerwin—
get ready to call up your kinfolk!

From Gail:

My late aunt Helen Stern Mann, who met challenges with courage, humor, and high dives, began all her letters to us with Dear Kinfolk,. This greeting provided the title for my poetry collection, which deals with kin by blood, kin by marriage, kin by experience. So many of our memories call on these kin: perhaps feuding aunts, spouses (current, former, or fantasy), loving parents and grandparents, siblings, children, grandchildren, cousins, and even the animal kinfolk we love(d). This week, in a spirit of honoring our family members, I invite you to think about your kinfolk and to write poems about them. Here’s one of mine from Dear Kinfolk,:

Smothered with Love

Foam or feather, says my daughter
when I forget
where I left my keys,
where my glasses hide,
what happened yesterday.

Foam or feather, she says, lets
me choose the pillow she’ll use
to smother me if I forget who she is.

The pillow engulfs my head,
I struggle, then give in to the white
void, my arms at rest, parentheses
against my sides, my legs slack,
toes point out second position.

I climb over the hedge that separates
the old real from the new real, see
my mother, father, aunts, uncles,
grandparents, friends.

They beckon, they know I didn’t
forget their lives, I recorded them.
Look—they are poems.

(Prologue, Dear Kinfolk, ChayaCairn Press, 2012)

Poetry calls on many of us to remember, to honor people who touch(ed) our lives, events that linger in our hearts, places we cannot erase. In the following poem from her collection “No Longer Mine” from This Sharpening (Tupelo Press, 2006), Ellen Doré Watson, who heads the Poetry Center at Smith College, honors her mother whose indelible mark she can’t relinquish:

How many years will my mother go on passing/the anniversary of her subtraction, the day the first/piece of her slipped off into wet grass or got left/in the parking lot like a scarf lost and the end of winter/and not missed until the next? Why mourn the day/my daughter takes possession of her body — mother,/daughter, no longer mine as if they ever were? Who/flipped the switch from wishing to remember to trying/to forget? It’s all recorded, each scintilla, memory dozing/until some rasp or whiff heralds its return and leads us/back without our knowing. Brain whorls are funny/that way, forever rearranging us — daughter opening/because she says so, mother a watercolor fading to plain/paper, not because of not remembering but because/her mouth no longer makes words; she lives beneath/her eyelids because she can no longer name the world.

In "My Grandmother's Bed," Edward Hirsch takes us on a trip that calls on our senses to share his beloved grandmother’s apartment and his childhood nights within. In "A Dog Has Died," Pablo Neruda’s matter-of-fact voice belies the tragedy of a pet’s loss. He takes us on a voyage that questions one’s own existence and place in the world.

This week, think about your kinfolk and write a poem that calls on your memories. Maybe there’s an old photo in your own archives that will prompt you. A wedding, a drive for a holiday visit, a conversation long overdue, people you cannot identify. Share your kinfolk.


1. Give your kinfolk voice. Write a poem from a kin’s point of view.
2. Write from your childhood point of view or write as an adult looking back.
3. Take readers to your kin’s home: the furniture, the meals, chatter among visitors, dust under the sofa.
4. Adopt a relative you admired or disdained: your friend’s mother, father, sibling.
5. Write a poem that lets readers know how you feel about the subject without spelling out these feelings.
6. Write a poem that places your kinfolk in history; use images that define that period.


1. Tap your memory for your kin’s qualities; note those you want to feature.
2. Use interesting enjambments (See Watson poem).
3. Take a look at your poem sideways. Is there an interesting line pattern?
4. Try a prose poem.
5. Don’t forget imagery.
6. Use stanza breaks to show time lapses.
7. Let your thoughts flow; let stanzas run into each other.
8. Try a poem with short lines, no more than four words each.
9. Try repetition at the end of each stanza.
10. Have fun as you bring kin to life in your words.
11. Reveal. Revise. Elaborate. Cut. Revise again.



Sincerest thanks to Gail for sharing with us this week!

You Can Order a Copy of Gail’s Book by Visiting


  1. Love this, Adele! Our "kinfolk" provide a wealth of inspiration for our poems. As an amateur genealogist, I've found so much info on my own family that I think I'll write a poem about finding my family. Thank you, Gail Gerwin, for the great prompt!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! I hope you DO write that poem!

      (I've done a lot of research on my English ancestors and have been able to trace them to c. 1600 through church records -- it's amazing to know who my kinfolk were back to my great x9 grandparents.)

    2. Thank you so much. I'd love to see your poem that comes from this, Jamie.

  2. Nice prompt -- thanks, Gail! This prompt reminded me of a powerful "kin" poem by Marie Howe in which she remembers her brother.

    What the Living Do

    by Marie Howe

    Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
    And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

    waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
    It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

    the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
    For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

    I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
    wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

    I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
    Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

    What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
    whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

    But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
    say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

    for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
    I am living. I remember you.

    - See more at:

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Bob, and thanks for the Marie Howe poem that leaves us feeling stunned and yet, somehow, more deeply aware.

    2. Bob, I wrote the prologue poem above in a workshop facilitated by Marie Howe. Thank you for this poem.

  3. Gail,
    As someone who lived most of my life away from homeland and family, I find myself reaching out more and more to catch up with things I had left incomplete with my kin folks. Beautiful blog entry. Thanks, Basil.

    1. Basil, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing a bit of your personal "kinfolk" understanding and experience.

      NOTE TO READERS: Basil's books, both of which are centered on kinfolk and other relationships are available through Finishing Line Press:

    2. Hi Basil. I hope this brings your family thoughts to us in poetry.

    3. Basil,

      I (gratefully) remember your wonderful poems during America's national poetry month last year and the year before. I hope you'll treat us to the wonder of your words again this April (assuming, of course, that Adele does the month of kickstarting inspiration and examples -- you will, won't you, Adele, please?).

    4. Jamie,
      Thanks for your kind words! I will do my best, although April will be hectic due to some family changes and the "one poem a day" rule will surely be broken.

    5. Yes, Jamie! I've got the moth of April all written and ready to go! Thanks so much for your interest!

  4. Here's another family poem (a prose poem from that I thought you'd all enjoy.

    Now if I can justremember how to post this ???

    Thanks Adele, and thanks Gail!

    by Sabrina Orah Mark

    Mr. Horowitz clutches a bag of dried apricots to his chest. Although the sun is shining, there will probably be a storm. Electricity will be lost. Possibly forever. When this happens the very nervous family will be the last to starve. Because of the apricots. "Unless," says Mrs. Horowitz, "the authorities confiscate the apricots." Mr. Horowitz clutches the bag of dried apricots tighter. He should've bought two bags. One for the authorities and one for his very nervous family. Mrs. Horowitz would dead bolt the front door to keep the authorities out, but it is already bolted. Already dead. She doesn't like that phrase. Dead bolt. It reminds her of getting shot before you even have a chance to run. "Everyone should have at least a chance to run," says Mrs. Horowitz. "Don't you agree, Mr. Horowitz?" Mrs. Horowitz always refers to her husband as Mr. Horowitz should they ever one day become strangers to each other. Mr. Horowitz agrees. When the authorities come they should give the Horowitzs a chance to run before they shoot them for the apricots. Eli Horowitz, their very nervous son, rushes in with his knitting. "Do not rush," says Mr. Horowitz, "you will fall and you will die." Eli wanted ice skates for his birthday. "We are not a family who ice skates!" shouts Mrs. Horowitz. She is not angry. She is a mother who simply does not wish to outlive her only son. Mrs. Horowitz gathers her very nervous son up in her arms, and gently explains that families who ice skate become the ice they slip on. The cracks they fall through. The frost that bites them. "We have survived this long to become our own demise?" asks Mrs. Horowitz. "No," whispers Eli, "we have not." Mr. Horowitz removes one dried apricot from the bag and nervously begins to pet it when Mrs. Horowitz suddenly gasps. She thinks she may have forgotten to buy milk. Without milk they will choke on the apricots. Eli rushes to the freezer with his knitting. There is milk. The whole freezer is stuffed with milk. Eli removes a frozen half pint and glides it across the kitchen table. It is like the milk is skating. He wishes he were milk. Brave milk. He throws the half pint on the floor and stomps on it. Now the milk is crushed. Now the milk is dead. Now the Horowitzs are that much closer to choking. Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz are dumbfounded. Their very nervous son might be a maniac. He is eight. God is punishing them for being survivors. God has given them a maniac for a son. All they ask is that they not starve, and now their only son is killing milk. Who will marry their maniac? No one. Who will mother their grandchildren? There will be no grandchildren. All they ask is that there is something left of them when they are shot for the apricots, but now their only son is a maniac who will give them no grandchildren. Mr. Horowitz considers leaving Eli behind when he and Mrs. Horowitz run for their lives.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Carol. So much said, so much understood.

    2. Thanks, Carol, for commenting and sharing the poem. So glad you were able to post it (I know, posting comments can be a little daunting at first).

  5. A nice idea and another that I'm sure will work well with my students. Thanks Adele and Gail.

    1. So glad you find this useful, Rich. I hope you get some good poetry from it.

  6. Bedtime

    Before bed,my bath, some black bread,sweet butter and caviar.
    I brush my teeth with help, then climb the high bed, sink into
    the deep down, next to Grampa.
    We giggle, watch Grama brush her long black hair.
    She glances at us, her wry smile plays along with our tease.
    Do you think I'm funny? We giggle some more.

    1. Hello, Anonymous! Thanks so much for sharing your sweet memory.

    2. Anonymous, though you haven't identified yourself, you bring vibrant images to us with your poem and have brought your grandparents to life through your words. I'm grateful that the prompt inspired you.

    3. Very nice, Anonymous! Thanks for sharing your poem with us.

  7. Anat

    motherless child
    like looking in a mirror
    woodland nymph
    dream dancing through the mountains of the Galilee
    free spirit
    hazel green eyes set in an oval face
    framed by wild curly hair
    flown away
    into a monarch

    1. Beautiful, Risa! The imagery introduces a wonderful visual element.

      Thanks so much for sharing your poem with us!

    2. Thank you for this lovely response to the prompt, Risa. I especially love the oval face framed by wild curly hair. I feel the contemporary combined with history and legend very exciting.

    3. Lovely, as always, Risa! I looked up Anat and I'm impressed with the way you incorporated the ancient goddess into your mirror image. Dream dancing ... yes ...

  8. Replies
    1. Agreed, Risa! There's always so much happening on this blog. Thanks, Adele and blog readers!

  9. I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, James! So glad you're enjoying the posts. Your comments are always welcome!