Poem Tryouts: Opposites Attract

20 Jan

7:55 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Ludovico Einaudi’s Beautiful Night

Hello, all. We are going to work with an adaptation of a prompt by Gray Jacobik, from Diane Lockward’s book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (of course I own it — you know how I like this kind of book). We have written counterpoint poems before, where the points stand in opposition to each other. This exercise asks us to pair opposites, to have them run through our poems woven, one to the other.

Jacobik tells us that Yeats believed these opposites, or contraries, are what moves history forward, as well as good poems, making sure a noble act was paired with a despicable one, day with night, interior with exterior, the sacred with the profane, the objective with the subjective, and so on. Yin and yang.

She suggests that we consider having opposite moods within a poem, shifts to the opposite pole on the emotional spectrum.

A shift in diction toward words that carry opposite connotations is an area that might be great fun (this is where I tinker for hours). If your words have connotations of lightness of being, ground them with words that carry the opposite feeling. A subtler contrary within diction choices is sound. If your words are light, be sure the words that oppose them are heavy in feel and sound.

Give us imagery (any and all of the senses) that allows us to see the threads working with and against each other to move the poem forward.

If you are in a hurry, pick more obvious pairings such as seasons, time, place, or personality traits. Otherwise, look at the ones Jacobik mentions above, when discussing a Yeats’ poem.

Topic? Ah, well. The whole wide world, or something small and intimate, is yours. Lockward gives us, ‘In Answer to Amy’s Question What’s a Pickerel,’ by Stanley Plumly, and ‘Anatomy Lesson,’ by Lisken Van Pelt Dus. A fish and matters of the heart are the examples she chose for us. I could not find the text to Van Pelt Dus’ poem so have found another by her that has intriguing, more subtle contraries, ‘Virginia’s Walking Stick‘. Read them if you aren’t sure where you are going. As you go through, find the contraries, remembering that some contraries are stylistic. Otherwise, read them afterwards.

Give this a try. While it’s not an easy exercise, it is a satisfying one and a good stretch. Don’t worry about the contraries so much for your initial draft. Be aware and when you go back in, you can strengthen the threads. I look forward to what you come up with. If it’s a struggle and you have initial work you don’t want to post on your blog, post it in the comments so we can see what you were aiming for.

I will see you Thursday for links; Friday for the week’s roundup of prompts; and Tuesday for our image prompt.

Happy writing, all.

P.S. The italics are Gray Jacobi’s words. Any bolding is mine.



Posted by on 20/01/2015 in exercises, poetry, writing


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30 responses to “Poem Tryouts: Opposites Attract

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  2. Misky

    20/01/2015 at 3:43 pm


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  4. georgeplace2013

    20/01/2015 at 3:54 pm

    I want to try again later. I love the examples you gave .

    • margo roby

      22/01/2015 at 10:12 am

      The example poems helped me see how this can work.

  5. barbcrary

    20/01/2015 at 4:19 pm

    I have been lazy, crazy, busy and haven’t written a poem yet, but I was happily surprised to be greeted with this from Goodreads this morning, a serendipitous little poem (or fragment of one) by Edward Hirsch:

    I am a tiny seashell
    that has secretly drifted ashore
    and carries the sound of the ocean
    surging through its body

    It seems like the perfect response to this prompt.

    • margo roby

      20/01/2015 at 6:03 pm

      I love this, Barbara!

    • Hannah Gosselin

      20/01/2015 at 9:45 pm

      Ooo…I really love this tiny/big beauty of a poem, Barbara. Thank you!

    • purplepeninportland

      22/01/2015 at 7:02 pm

      I love this poem, Barb. Thanks!

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  7. Hannah Gosselin

    20/01/2015 at 8:57 pm

    Hello there!! What an excellent challenge…I was already for this WAY earlier today and then an unexpected call and a visit, too…my whole poeming day ran away…sigh. Like Debi, I think I would like to give this another try but here’s a little one for now.

    Thank you, Margo for sharing this with us – inspiring!

    • Hannah Gosselin

      20/01/2015 at 8:57 pm

      AND by ‘already’ I mean ‘all ready’ of course. πŸ˜‰

      • margo roby

        22/01/2015 at 10:18 am


    • margo roby

      22/01/2015 at 10:17 am

      Hello! I will take a little one :-). If you do write another, we’ll be here.

      • Hannah Gosselin

        22/01/2015 at 2:27 pm

        Yes…this one was calling to me yesterday and then my pen ran into other ideas and forgot to return…I’m sure there’s another though. πŸ™‚ Thank you, Margo!

  8. purplepeninportland

    20/01/2015 at 11:26 pm

    Very thought-provoking prompt, Margo.
    Mine is up at:

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  10. Misky

    21/01/2015 at 6:11 am

    Tried again.

  11. b_y

    21/01/2015 at 8:18 am

    I don’t know that it follows the prompt, but it started out from it
    (password is: submit )

  12. barbcrary

    21/01/2015 at 10:43 pm

    I’m not sure about sharing this. It’s unfinished business, but I think this one will provide me with opportunities to try again.

  13. dslockward

    22/01/2015 at 9:30 am

    I’m so pleased to come across this reference to The Crafty Poet and your exciting post on Gray Jacobik’s wonderful craft tip about using contraries. One little correction–Gray didn’t include the Plumly poem or the Van Pelt Dus one–I put those poems in that section as I thought they made a good match with Gray’s tip. The Van Pelt Dus poem made its first appearance in my book, so sadly it’s not available anywhere online. She has 3 sample poems in the book, all wonderful.

    • margo roby

      22/01/2015 at 9:53 am

      Hi Diane. I’ll edit the bit about the poems’ source. Thank you, and thank you for everything you do with helping all of us with the craft. I loved being able to use your book as a resource and will revisit from time to time. While I’m thanking you, I have loved discovering Van Pelt Dus’ poetry and have now read everything she has on line.


      • Lisken Van Pelt Dus

        20/03/2015 at 10:01 pm

        So gratifying to find someone reading and enjoying my work – and putting it to such great use! Thanks for your appreciation and your efforts. Sounds like you might be interested to hear that I’ve just signed a contract for a book to be published by Word Tech under its Cherry Grove imprint, tentative publication date May 2016. If you (and anyone else!) would like to be notified of its availability, please send your e-mail address to . Thanks!

        • Lisken Van Pelt Dus

          02/02/2016 at 7:20 am

          Still on track for May publication! But I have a new e-mail address. If you would like to be notified of my book’s availability, please e-mail me at . Thanks!

  14. b_y

    22/01/2015 at 10:43 am

    Same theme, maybe a bit closer to the prompt, but not much
    still with a password: submit

  15. Janet

    22/01/2015 at 9:46 pm

    better late than never…trying to get back to the classroom after a lengthy break:) Not sure if this is right but it sure is fun to tug-of-war with mood and Muse.

  16. Janet

    22/01/2015 at 9:58 pm

    one more…this is the one I wrote as soon as I read the prompt on Tues. but wasn’t sure if this was quite true to the prompt. Thank-you Margo, for the stretching exercise.

  17. markwindham

    25/01/2015 at 10:44 am

    wow, first thing written since Christmas, and that one should probably not count. But I do read the prompts, and they swirl around until I can find time to write something (there is something still swirling in there about fog, cant quite pull it out yet). Lots of opposites here, most obvious, some not so much, could not do much with tone in this one though…

    • margo roby

      25/01/2015 at 3:06 pm

      Okay. this is weird. In one of my sleepless moments last night, i was cogitating and among my cogitations was the thought that I needed yo email you to see if you were alive. Here you are. (Twilight Zone music plays softly in the background.)

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