Aspiring to poet


2016 The Top 12 Viewed Quillfyre Poetry Posts

carol-a-stephenenhancedI thought for my Year in Review post, I’d take a look at the poetry posts that had the most views in 2016. While none of them went viral of course, I still wanted to revisit as a way of getting ready for my annual daily small stones in January, 2017.

So, here are 12 of my poems, revisited, that appeared here on Quillfyre in 2016:


  1. Caroling, from the Same Name series at Silver Birch Press:

by Carol A. Stephen  carol-burnett

Perhaps I laugh a little louder
when I watch Carol Burnett
traipse down a staircase, shoulders broadened
by green velvet drapes as she mocks Scarlett O’Hara’s antebellum belle.

I might find myself mugging in my mirror,
making moues, tilting head,
ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille!
It’s what she said, as she sidled her Swanson flapper
down another flight of stairs.

But I never tie my hair up in bandanas like the 40s,
or slop around in workboots with a bucket
and a mop. And when her show’s over,
and it’s time for Carol to sing,
I can only listen; I can’t carry a tune. Ironic
when the name we share in French means joyous song.


2. NaPoWriMo 2016 Impromptu #6 Storm Sonnet

Here’s the prompt: #5: Write a sonnet in the modern key:

Line 1: narrate action, include at least two nouns
Line 2: ask a question without using “I”
Line 3: make a statement without saying “I”
Line 4: now say “I” in another statement
Line 5: use a fragment
Line 6: narrate another action, include one of the nouns from line 1
Line 7: ask a question using “I”
Line 8: use a fragment that
Line 9: spills into the next line
Line 10: now say “I” and include the other noun from line 1
Line 11: answer your first question
Line 12: make a statement that is in total opposition to line 3
Line 13: combine phrases from lines 5 and 8 here
Line 14: answer your second question

And my attempt:

Storm Sonnet

Wind howls through dim alleys—
What price the snows of early April?
No birds sing in this early spring storm.
I hear grey sadness in the voices of the wind.
A trick of the ear.
The alleys between these houses narrow to deadends.
Am I the only one to hear their music?
Their hollow echoes, their blank walls, not
even the mockery of graffiti–
I hear the wind in all its many voices.
The brave green shoots of budding plants lie dead with cold.
Outside my window, the robin’s cheerful song.
A trick echo glances off hollows in the walls.
And I am the only listener.

“What are the different ways we can translate poetry into music? What would music look like as a poem? Let’s find out. 

Step One: Find a Source Text

Start by choosing a source text. I recommend working with an e-text from a site like Project Gutenberg, but you can go old school if you’re willing to put in the time. Choose a selection of this text to work with. A few chapters or 8-10,000 words should suffice.

Step Two: Excerpt All of the Words Starting with the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and G.

There are a number of tools available online that can help you with this task. Hop on over to Applied Poetics, then copy and paste your source text into the editor. Under the Oulipian menu, pick “Tautogram,” choose the letter “A” from the dropdown, and click “run” to condense your text to all of the words that start with A. Repeat for letters B, C, D, E, F and G to build your word bank.

Step Three: Craft a Poem

Using only the words from your word bank (those starting with the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and G), craft your poem.

Step Four: Translate the Words of Your Poem Into Notes

To follow this process step by step, go here to the FPR Impromptu #28

Title: The Waste Land http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1321/pg1321.txt

Author: T. S. Eliot, May, 1998  [Etext #1321],      ast Updated: April 23, 2013

POEMS   http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1567/pg1567.txt

  by T. S. ELIOT  New York Alfred A. Knopf 1920

My poem: followed by my composition. Since I am totally unfamiliar with the tool, the notes and the poem lines do not quite match. Understandable, perhaps, why the poem is a short one!

Bridge after Bridge, comes from Project Gutenberg, two of T.S. Eliot’s books:  The Waste Land and Poems.

Bridge After Bridge 




Above Athens and at Alexandria
death arrives, burning bridge after bridge.

Fire flames bones, children crying, dogs bloody,
gashed deep from cruel and broken glass

bodies falling from above crowd gutters
blackened by fire. Fog filled eyes,

fixed expression,
exquisite fear clasped closer.

Carol A. Stephen
April 28, 2016

The musical version is here at Flat:

4. NaPoWriMo 2016 Impromptu # 7  Cento:  Only About Light

Today’s prompt at Found Poetry Review comes from Simone Muench, who wrote a favourite of mine, a collection titled Wolf Centos. Please click on the link to access the full post, and for more information about Simone, as well as to view other poems answering the challenge today.

The prompt:

“The Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira created the cento “Anthology” (see below) using lines from his own poems, instead of employing the traditional method of cento-construction (in which you build a poem entirely out of lines from other people’s poems). Following his example, write a cento that is a self-portrait, or anthology of your life, utilizing lines and fragments from your own work.

Or, alternatively, create a “self-portrait” cento using lines and fragments from other people’s poems (the traditional method), or song lyrics, or prose (fiction and/or nonfiction)

*To see the basic stipulations for writing a traditional cento, see http://myenchiridion.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html 

I decided to use my own poems as source material.  To keep it simple, I chose only from poems written in 2016.  My attempt is titled “Only About Light”

Only About Light

Sometimes I wake, not because there was music—
here the silence deafens as only silence can.

Suppose the world was only about light—
the ultra-sentient particles.

I convince myself each fear is a chimera
while we sleep the Earth rotates east

the song dog
lifts his muzzle to the wind

and desert dog song soars skyward in a moon moan
but he doesn’t understand the depth of sky.

Carol A. Stephen
April 7, 2016

*the phrase, song dog is quoted from Alice Notley’s Culture of One


5. My First Driving Lesson Was Almost My Last, poem by Carol A. Stephen from Silver Birch Press (LEARNING TO DRIVE Poetry and Prose Series)

My First Driving Lesson Was Almost My Last
by Carol A. Stephen

Sixteen, and legal, my dad agreed to teach me
Sunday morning early. My brother tagged along.
Safe enough, that large empty parking lot, plenty of
room for error.

I slid beneath the wheel of the Ford wagon, knees
not yet quivering, too new to know or fear horsepower.
Too new to scan the lot for lurking hazards, yet in the shade
a single parked car I didn’t see.

Give ‘er some gas, my father said. And I did.
To the floor. Never heard his voice crack before,
’til he hollered out brake— BRAKE!!! BRAKE!!!
On the third brake, I hit the gas again.

As we accelerated across the lot, one yellow car
loomed large beyond the windshield. Dad’s foot
came down heavy as an anchor as it found the right pedal.
We stopped, an inch shy of the yellow car, clearly marked POLICE.

police car

6. Small Stones for January 2016 Week 1

Each January for the last several years, I have participated in one way or another with the Small Stones/River of Stones challenge.  This year I have been struggling with inspiration as it always seems like the cold and the snow are uppermost in my mind as January begins, and as winter takes its firm hold.  I was an April baby, and perhaps that is why over the years I have found the darker months of the year difficult. They’ve become a time of hibernation and a depressing season, as it is for many of us. This is perhaps why I have held off posting this year’s Small Stones.

As the days start lengthening though, I find myself striving to find other words to move away from the dead of winter. With mixed results. These are, as always, spontaneous writing, and so very much first drafts, potential discards or lines for mining later and carving into something else when the time comes. Here are the Stones for January 1st to 7th.

Small Stone for January 1, 2016

In the air, strains of Auld Lang Syne.
As images of foreign shores fill the screen
with wishes for the year, a bittersweet
memory of someone no longer here
to share the new lingers still.

Among bygones and shadows,
filtered images of yesterday
blur sepia. Another leaf
drops from the tree, buried
in the snowy pages of fallen years,
the new calendar yet blank of story.

Jan 2 2016

Last week the grass still spoke in summer dialect
today the world breathes cold and colder still
Neighbours call thanks over the road
for help with the daily task of digging out from
under winter’s weighted white


Jan. 3 2016

Sky and snow blur to one,
the sun hibernating this noon.
Over the river the greyness darkens
to promises of fresh white
and cotton wool dreams

Jan. 4 2016
Out from the shadows of the old year,
brilliance of a January day pretends
a warmth it doesn’t own, only the promises
we grasp as if it were the gold ring
we’ve searched for,
always another distance.

Carleton Place on the Mississippi

Carleton Place on the Mississippi

Rivers to cross,
crosses to carry,
we carry
hopes still wished for but
just a hairsbreadth more.

Jan. 5 2016
A weight descends out of darkness
muffling the music and I’ve stopped dancing,
stopped singing too, my voice
a silent croak as notes, no longer in my throat,
rise silently out of hearing.

It is not comfortable here.
Somewhere, as the year approached its close
inner strength died too, beneath the long dark hours.
I waver here between the pain of moving forward
and the pain of staying still.

Jan. 6 2016

Heard screams are terrifying, but those unheard
are more terrifying still
– from Odysseus Blinds Polyphemus, The Polyphemus Painter,
Dual Impressions, John Brantingham & Jeffrey Graessley

Unmoving here the silence deafens as only silence can,
yet inside my head, the sound of a voice,
terrifying in its screams.

What is there in the dead of winter that
turns bones chill? As if, like the bounty of summer,
the spirit succumbs to the first killing frost.

Perhaps a child born of spring wilts too
as winds turn bitter when the sun turns its colder face
and the sky bleeds white.

Jan. 7 2016

“The moth’s single thought is light”
– from Notes for a Small Pocket/Call and Response Lorna Crozier

Suppose the world was only about light—
Light as religion, light equals life,
Light running through each artery, every vein.
What, then, of winter, of the dark time, the night?
Would there be a small death each night, not sleep,
but death, and rebirth with the coming of each day?
With each turn of the Earth upon its axis,
each black face of Earth
held away from the Sun, every evening
a new and quiet grieving.

English: Moth attracted by porchlight

7. NaPoWriMo Day 5 A Three-Fer


NMP-BANNER-DToday I have a poem for each of three challenges, the NaPoWriMo.net, Poetry Super Highway, and the Impromptu #5 from Found Poetry Review.




At NaPoWriMo

The daily prompt challenges us to consult seed catalogues and seek out heirloom plants as inspiration for a poem today.  I chose the suggested tomato plants, for the reason given: the names are so wonderful.  Here is my poem, Heirloom:

My source is an Ontario location, in order to use plants that I could actually grow here in the Ottawa area http://www.terraedibles.ca/index.html



Various heirloom tomato cultivars

Various heirloom tomato cultivars Wikipedia)


No one there is who does not love tomatoes
is what Frost should have said each spring,  as gardeners
turn to catalogues and dream their August dreams.

No Belgian chocolate for me, instead an Amazon Chocolate,
full of flavour in its flattened oval, sliced on a plate
beside the yellow-red streaks of Allegheny Sunset.

Ghosts in the shadows, silver-sheened leaves
of this year’s  prize Angoras garnish a summer salad:
yellow Apricots jostle Azoychkas and just ripe Banana Legs.

Believe It or Not, every one of them tomatoes.

Carol A. Stephen
April 5, 2016

(first line paraphrases  Robert Frost’s Mending Wall)


At Poetry Super Highway, today’s prompt was a fun write, encouraging us to write a Creation Myth poem for a kitchen item.  Here’s my attempt, a Creation Myth for Oatmeal.



In the beginning was the Flake,
flat, without colour. Flake needed substance,
to cling to its brothers, to form a greater whole.

Oatmeal directly from the packing.

Oatmeal directly from the packing. ( Wikipedia)

With the first rains from the heavens, each Flake knew joy.
Each Flake swelled into greatness as it welcomed
the worshipping moisture.

But the Flakes were not yet whole.
Their joy soon dimmed as they floated
without substance upon the waters.

Behold, the rain passed away and there came the sun.
And a second time each Flake swelled but
joy was elusive.

And the Flakes dreamed they must know water and warmth
together. They consulted Oracle who told them verily
to seek out the Lord High Bowl, that they must cluster there.

And the Flakes sought out Lord Bowl, and climbed inside
Bowl’s vessel. For the first seven days, they waited. The eighth day
the heavens opened and behold, there fell a sun shower.

Rain poured down into Bowl. Sun heated Bowl till it glowed.
And Flakes were transformed. On the ninth day Bowl beheld
Oatmeal and it was good!

Carol A. Stephen
April 5, 2016

Breakfast of raspberries, blueberries and oatmeal.

Breakfast of raspberries, blueberries and oatmeal. (Wikipedia)

High Fiber Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies. (Wikipedia)








Finally, the Found Poetry Review prompt, today from Sarah Blake, calls for a poem that follows the rhythm of a song.Found Poetry Review

At first, I was imagining I’d need a month to even start to tackle this one. Until I remembered the blues.  It may be a bit of a shortcut, copout or cheat to go with that, since it is a rather simple form. But it’s what I went with and on a day when the thermometer has slipped well below zero (Celsius) the lyric is appropriate!

English: Comparison of Centigrade (Celsius) an...

Centigrade (Celsius) and Fahrenheit thermometer scales (Wikipedia)

Weather Blues


Don’t want that chill wind hangin’ outside my door
Said I don’t want that chill wind hangin’ outside my door
Bringin’ me blue fingers like it done before

It brings me the shivers, it brings me cold feet
Yeah, it bring me the shivers, an’ it bring me cold feet
Cold bringin’ me down when the weather ain’t sweet

Don’t want that chill wind hangin’ round my door
No, I don’t want chill wind hangin’ round my door
If it ain’t good for springtime, don’t want it no more

Wind blows in the mornin’, and all afternoon
I said it blows in the mornin’, and all afternoon
It ain’t good for springtime, and it ain’t good for June

Fridays it blows in, blows all weekend too
yeah Fridays it blows in, blows all weekend too
Come Monday morning, man, colour me blue

Don’t want that chill wind hangin’ outside my door
Said I don’t want that chill wind hangin’ outside my door
Bringin’ me blue fingers like it done before


Carol A. Stephen
April 5, 2016

If I Leave
by Carol A. Stephen

If I had never slept in barns, nor called
a cellar home, might walls have held me
safe from tractors I could never drive?

If I could ride, would the furrows be straight,
narrow trenches filled with rain, the promise of each seed?

Yet, I’ve tilled myself a garden, made a home
for frogs to hide under inverted clay pots. They wait
for flies, their tongues curled, sticky with anticipation.

If I leave first, bury me with a memory of my garden:
a blackeyed susan, blue delphinium,
or an explorer rose, everywhere thorned and twisting.

Scatter the petals of spent blooms in the doorway,
crush them underfoot. Their scent will hold an answer
to when or why. Do not cry then. Walk the old growth forest,
scatter my memories among roots of its oldest tree.

Give what remains to soil and sky, and with each kneeling
do not speak of what’s gone but listen: in the movement of trees
a voice echoes each blade of grass. Your upturned palm
returns my energy to the universe.

IMAGE: “Flower Garden” by Gustav Klimt (1907).

9.The First Time I Read My Poems in a Hat, poem by Carol A. Stephen (ME, IN A HAT Poetry and Prose Series)

The First Time I Read My Poems in a Hat
by Carol A. Stephen

at an open mic, I’m too terrified
to be myself, to stand in front, to speak
my own words to all those faces, other poets,
the ones who read their poems with aplomb.

I think of The Hat. It’s a beautiful hat:
swirled brown Swakara fur, pure white ostrich feather.
A frivolous hat, a dramatic hat,
an important kind of hat.

When I place it on my head, I become The Poet,
take on a new persona sporting a splendid plume.
I might be a musketeer, a courtier, grande dame,
I might be anyone but me.

No one sees the paper shake, nor hears
the tremor in my voice. What they see
isn’t really me. They see The Poet,
and it’s all about the poem, all about that hat.

 10.NaPoWriMo 2016 Day 3 FPR Impromptu



NMP-BANNER-DFor Day 3 on FPR, we have a prompt about Creative Staring from Nico Vassilakis.

http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/blog/impromptu-3-nico-vassilakis/ and a helpful interview with the poet, shared by James W. Moore, fellow challenge participant: http://bodyliterature.com/2014/02/24/what-is-vispo-an-interview-with-nico-vassilakis/ 

While I am not a follower of Vispo, in the spirit of community I decided to give this a go once, but I warn, I am not artistically inclined, so my poetry will always be through the written word. Here then, my attempt to portray the ocular auras that are the form my migraines take, and which have been visiting with the weather changes we’ve been having the last couple of weeks here in the Ottawa area:

Migraine Translations


English: This is an approximation of the zig-z...

example of zig-zag visual disturbance experienced as a migraine aura. (Wikipedia)

What Is Postmod   ism?

Is the aim of mod     aily life and of thought organic?

 Does the passa       be charted between

heterogen   us languages

belong to a differ      der of cognition?


Would it         al synthesis?

What            autiful?

What     said to be art?


What do         ck of reality signify,

free from na        w historic interpretation?


How to mak    isible

somethi     ich cannot be seen?


What the   the postmodern?

What pla     oes it occupy

in vertig   us questions

hurled     e rules?


What spa    ezanne?

What obj     icasso,

image     arration?

What     upposition Duchamp?


What i  stmodernism?


11.NaPoWriMo 2016 Day 10: Cracking the Spine




For today, I chose to do the prompt posted on napowrimo.net


Today’s prompt comes to us from Lillian Hallberg. She challenges us to write a “book spine” poem. This involves taking a look at your bookshelves, and writing down titles in order (or rearranging the titles) to create a poem. Some fun images of book spine poems can be found here. If you want to take things a step further, Lillian suggests gathering a list of titles from your shelves (every third or fifth book, perhaps, if you have a lot) and using the titles, as close to the originals as possible, to create a poem that is seeded throughout with your own lines, interjections, and thoughts. Happy writing!


I’d been working on a 10-word, 48-hour contest poem for the CV2 annual April event (sorry registration closed Apr. 4) and there was just not enough hours today to tackle an intricate prompt. This one was indeed, a change of pace.  I simply scooped up an armful of poetry books and used those as my source. For the poem I selected about two thirds of the titles, and inserted four words (in parentheses) to round it out. The names of the poets appear below, in the order I used their titles.


Cracking the Spine

spine and hip bones

wood engraving (Wikipedia) spine and hip bones

Sailing the Forest
On Glassy Wings,
The Eternal Ones of Dream,
Coping with Emotions and Otters  (play)
Hide & Seek.

Stowaways (go)
Sprinting from the Graveyard.

Some bones and a story (make)
(A) Satisfying Clicking Sound.

Just Saying.

Carol A. Stephen
April 10, 2016

English: Skeleton animation


In order, titles from Ariel Gordon, Goran Simić, Robin Robertson, Anne Szumigalski, James Tate, Dina Del Bucchia, Susan Glickman, Charles Wright, Alice Major, Jason Guriel, Rae Armantrout

My First Driving Lesson Was Almost My Last, poem by Carol A. Stephen (LEARNING TO DRIVE Poetry and Prose Series)Save



























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