Category Archives: Poetry

How the Dog Days of Summer Can Supercharge Your Descriptive Writing


The Dog Days of Summer—
days when heat and humidity reign,
sizzling July days that melt into August. 

Don’t waste them allowing your writing to languish. Instead, study the descriptive paragraphs, sentences and phrases found in summer poetry. Think about how words transform into specific moods and pictures. Then apply what you learn to your works in progress.

Here are a few examples.

2de14353abcf3a19678609e6a294006e--stephen-king-quotes-stephen-kingsA stanza from John Koethe’s poem, “Sally’s Hair”

It’s like living in a light bulb, with the leaves
Like filaments and the sky a shell of thin, transparent glass
Enclosing the late heaven of a summer day, a canopy
Of incandescent blue above the dappled sunlight golden on the grass.

(Copyright © 2006 John Koethe.)


9781543294002_p0_v1_s550x406.jpgDiscover how Phillip Lopate uses a loaf of bread to describe layered city sounds in “The Last Slow Days of Summer” .

I’m lying on the grass, listening to city sounds.
They come to me in three-dimensional form,
Like a loaf of Wonder Bread. Baby carriages squeak
Near the middle. Cars humming through Central Park,
Somewhere near the back of the loaf.
What sound would be the end-piece, the round brown sliver?
The unzipping of airline bags.
Or a glove thwacked
By a rookie pitcher who falls apart
In the eighth inning.

(“The Last Slow Days of Summer” from At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate.)


 In his “Summer Song” William Carlos Williams describes the moon fading on a summer morning and then adds himself to the scene.

if-writers-block-is-staring.gifWanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
where would they carry me?

(This poem is in the public domain.)



And, finally, study poet Mark Strand’s character description in “My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer”:

When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon’s ash-colored coat
on the black bay.

From Mark Strand: Selected Poems, by Mark Strand, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1979 by Mark Strand.

Make time during these Dog Days to read and study more summer poems. You’ll find them online at:

graphicstock-poems-word-on-metal-pointer_SPPlyPHAdub_thumbThe Poetry Foundation

The Academy of American Poets

Poem Hunter

A reminder: In narrative writing use descriptive language sparingly and with good judgement. Keep it in your writer’s “toolbox” as a technique for advancing plot, character and theme.


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Filed under Creativity, descriptive writing, Inspiration, Literary Devices, motivation, Observation, Poetry, Summer, Uncategorized, words, Writing craft, Writing Tips

How Autumn Can Supercharge Your Descriptive Writing

1Autumn is the best time to sharpen your descriptive writing skills. Stop whatever you’re doing! Follow this advice from poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Grab a notebook and pen, get outside someplace quiet, and write.

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

Let these poems guide you. Think about how the words transform into pictures and create specific moods.

b7de59d48ed1cea22aa91ad133972040.jpgLi Po, known as a poetic genius, lived in China during the Tang Dynasty. He wrote many of his poems while wandering the Yangtze River Valley. In this short poem, carefully-chosen words create a powerful image.

Autumn River Song
The moon shimmers in green water.
White herons fly through the moonlight.
The young man hears a girl gathering water-chestnuts:
into the night, singing, they paddle home together.

86378e3310293fcc925b5362baa288d6--goldfish-autumn-fallThe 20th century Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, is well-known for his lyrical style. Notice his use of comparisons.

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling. 

700-00681295And, finally, study this poem by the contemporary British poet, Michael Shepherd. How do all five senses combine to create an image for readers?

Autumn Gardener

Gathering rosebuds with my rake; 
the wooden tines scraping
over the gravel path
bringing a token of order 
to the autumn of a life; 

rosebuds, nipped at the neck
by frost; dead leaves
curled like begging or covetous hands, 
coloured like rich memories, red, orange, brown, 
dry husks, spilt seed, 
now crisp, eager to surrender to the fire, 
its scented smoke curling like a pyre against
a cold blue sky now welcoming
a tidy offering up; 
how clean, how sharp the autumn air

478586728.jpgdarker under the trees
the leaves still wet
limp and flat as hope defeated, 
pressed together as
words not meant, or
something missed; 
next year the leaves
will remember innocence, 
the tree broader, eager, 
brown as wisdom tipped with exploratory green.

gathering rosebuds with my rake
the season with its woodsmoke, evocative, 
tempting to metaphor, hovering, 
a garden of lost meaning; 
no longer, this cooling autumn, a construction, 
but speaking its own seriousness.

how clean, how sharp the autumn air 
scented by surrender.
(© Michael Shepherd)

Don’t let autumn slip away.
It’s like a fire burning hot, awakening the senses,
fueling the desire to write.
But . . . it won’t last forever.


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Filed under Autumn, Creativity, descriptive writing, Inspiration, Poetry, Uncategorized

Modern Words That Came From Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’

Did you know that Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky,” gave us words that we use today?

The web site “Interesting Literature” recently published an article about the poem’s affect on the English language. Today, I’m sharing part of that article with you,

but first here’s the Jabberwoky poem with a twist
(set to music by the Scottish singer/songwriter, Donovan):

The following is from “Five Fascinating Facts about Jabberwocky” (

1. The poem ‘Jabberwocky’ gave us a number of new words which are now in common use. The most famous of these is ‘chortle’, a kind of laugh that is a blend of a ‘chuckle’ and a ‘snort’. But the poem – which was written, of course, by Lewis Carroll – also gave us the word ‘galumph’ (to walk clumsily and noisily) and ‘slithy’, in the sense of ‘lithe and slimy’. ‘Jabberwocky’ may also have influenced our modern use of the word ‘mimsy’, though this remains difficult to determine (‘mimsy’ already existed with a similar meaning, though Carroll’s poem probably helped to popularise it).

2. Humpty Dumpty, who explains the poem to Alice, also invented another word. The term ‘portmanteau word’ is now used by linguists to describe words such as ‘chortle’ and ‘slithy’ which combine, or blend, the sounds and meanings of two existing words. (Other famous examples include ‘brunch’, from ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’, and, more recently, ‘chillax’, from ‘chill’ and ‘relax’.) In Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass (1871), Humpty Dumpty tells a bemused Alice: ‘You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.’ A portmanteau is a sort of case or bag which opens out flat into two halves – so Humpty’s use of the term (we hope he won’t mind us assuming first-name terms with him, but if he does – well, he’s an egg, for goodness’ sake) is a sort of metaphorical representation of the two halves of a ‘portmanteau’ word, whose meanings and sounds are then packed up into one unit (e.g. brunch). ‘Portmanteau’, by the way, literally means ‘cloak-carrier’, since the bag was used to carry clothes around.

3. There is a computer program inspired, and named after, ‘Jabberwocky’. The poet and new media artist Neil Hennessy created JABBER: The Jabberwocky Engine, a Java program which can generate neologisms, or new coinages, much in the manner of Carroll’s poem. Random letters are programmed to group together into probable English words. It’s an intriguing idea, though perhaps nonsense poets will be rendered obsolete by the program? We hope not – and we doubt it.

Interested? Do you want more?

Read the entire article: “FIVE Fascinating Facts About Jabberwocky”
on the Interesting Literature website.


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Filed under Famous Authors, fun with words, Poetry, unusual words, words