Before launching into this week’s Reverie, I want to discuss this prompt series. I think it’s gone well, and I’ve enjoyed doing them, but I don’t know how much more I can dredge up from the idea wells in the coming year. I’m wondering if I should change tack a little bit, still doing weekly prompts but with a different tone. What do you all think? I know that sometimes these move between too complicated and somewhat interesting, but if you have any ideas for what works/what doesn’t, and what you might like to see (and whether you’ve benefited from these prompts), I’d be happy to hear them.
Also, if you have suggestions for what shape the last prompt of the year should take next week, please drop them in the comments, as my brain will be in slumber mode, and I will be happy for some input.
This week: “personal holiday“
Between Hanukkah, Yule, the end of the world, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and all the other holidays crammed into the few weeks at the year’s finish, it can feel as though there is simply one special festive occasion after another to attend to. In a sense, when every day is a holiday, can there be said to be any holidays at all? (There’s a brain-teaser for you.) I do find that some of these holidays become a bit tired after a while, and I start looking for new traditions to follow.
So, this is a prompt that has been used elsewhere before, which I will now appropriate. On the subject of holidays, you have two options for this prompt. The first one is to take a pre-existing holiday (it doesn’t have to be one of the winter ones) and give it a new spin. You can discuss some kind of existential issue that’s been bugging you about Arbor Day for years; or share some rare and unique tradition from rural Romania that takes place the first week of Advent; or you might even find a holiday that’s only celebrated in one part of the world which you want to research. However it goes, you ought then to think about how to describe it poetically. A couple of pointers:
- think about the season where the holiday falls, and use that as a backdrop to juxtapose the images of the celebration: if, during Italian Easter, they carry big torches around the countryside, focus on the colors of Tuscany in April at least as much as the color of the flames
- decide whether you want to zoom in on the trappings of the celebration or the overarching purpose of it, but don’t try to do both, as it might be too much at once
- dig up some photos, music, items, stories, or other artifacts about the holiday, and do a bit of free-writing to see what they summon up in you: do you get particular stories or emotions that you can name out of them?
Then, choose what form you want to use for your poem and begin writing. Tantalize your reader: don’t give away everything about the holiday, just leave enough traces of its spirit to get the reader interested. If you had to describe Christmas for the first time in thirty seconds to make it appealing, how would you do it? Stick to powerful, rich images that pique the reader’s interest.
The other option (which I prefer) is simply to invent your own holiday. A word of caution: I suggest not using a personal anniversary that will not have a universal appeal. (I know, the title of this Reverie is “personal holiday”, but bear with me.) Pick something from the natural world, or an abstract concept to celebrate (in the way that Valentine’s Day has transitioned from a saint’s day into a generic festival of love, more or less). I’ve often said that two of my favorite holidays are First Snow and First Thunder, which demand their own particular kinds of pomp and ceremony (and are moveable feasts as well). And as with the first option for the prompt, zoom in on the particulars of time/place to give some specificity to the piece. A few more tips, this time for the second option:
- if you choose a natural moment/event, pick apart why it summons up emotion X or Y in you; try to draw some symbolic associations between the literal, elemental parts of what you’re celebrating and the emotional, figurative ones
- alternatively, if you’re more concerned with a place or thing in the world (if you have Grand Canyon Day, for example) rather than a particular time, how will you decide when your holiday should be?
- get diverse with the descriptions: First Snow is not just about seeing the white stuff on the ground, it’s about the peculiar bite in the air, the colors of the sky, the silence over the trees, etc.
- because you’re creating this holiday yourself, come up with some celebratory aspects; do you go on a picnic, or see friends, or say a chant, or dance madly on the roof, or what?
When you write, it’s up to you how you want to frame this, to invite the reader in. The first option can be considered a little more educational, for lack of a better word, especially if you take a familiar occasion to explore: you and the reader are jumping off on this journey of discovering the wiggly backstage of Christmas, or July 4th, or whatever, together. The second option is simpler for the brain, but perhaps more open to the heart. It doesn’t take a wild logical leap to understand “first snow”, and there’s not much you can teach about the event itself, but the challenge is to draw the reader in to understand why this celebration you’re doing is important to you, in the emotional sense. Of course, if you can manage to both educate and enchant your reader at once, you’ve been doubly successful; maybe you can have the first snow happen on Christmas, and get those two sides of the celebratory coin in at once. In any case, allow yourself to go deep and pensive with this one, and really think about what the celebration does for you, more than what it just “means”. And then get meta, and think about that day against the backdrop of a year that is (largely) drab and shallow by comparison.
Time for a nap, but I hope this is enough to get you started. (And I know people are busy this week, but if you have a chance, do come back and share!) Hoping to see what ideas you have, and any suggestions for the final Reverie of the year…!