Chapbook Update 7: Elizabeth S. Wolf

The poem above, Dead End, is what we call a “place poem”. Places which were special in people’s lives serve as very evocative prompts. Note how we get so much of the poet’s story from the details described in the poem. These are the prompts which were provided in the assignment:


Chapbooks must have a theme. This doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or VERY IMPORTANT. It just means all the poems are related to each other. Often, like fiction, the poems tell a story. This makes chapbooks popular, even with people who don’t usually read poetry.

There are many ways to find a theme. You may already have one in mind. For my book, I wanted to tell the story of what happened to my mother and how it affected the family, based in what was happening in the 1960’s and 70’s. You can use time or family for your own chapbook. For example:

– Tell the story of how you grew up, in poems. Don’t worry about how anyone else will feel about your writing. This is your story.

– Imagine going around the Thanksgiving table or Christmas tree or family funeral. Write a poem about each person. Why are they there? What are they thinking?

– Think of a table in the school cafeteria or a street of a town or a cell block. Write a poem about everyone you see or hear. Write as if it is today, or ten years ago, or fifty years ago. What’s changed? What’s the same?

– Write a poem about every place you’ve ever lived, how it felt to be there. What made that place different or special, beautiful or terrible? What did you see or eat there? How did it smell? What did you pass on your way home?

Sometimes you don’t know what story you want to tell until you start writing. If you’re stuck, just start. My first writing book was Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Ms. Goldberg believes in timed writing. Set a time, say 15 or 30 minutes. You must write that whole time. Don’t lift your pencil. Sometimes nonsense comes out. That’s ok. After a few minutes, you may find yourself suddenly writing a whole lot about something you didn’t even know you were thinking about. You may re-read a few pages and find some lines to turn into a poem.