“How to Write a Poem,” chapter 2

The second chapter of Tania Runyan’s book “How to Write a Poem,” titled “Color It In: Imagery,” opens with the beginning lines from Billy Collins’ poem “introduction to poetry”:

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

Tania Runyan asks us to re-examine our use lazy use of adjectives. She quotes from an essay titled “Three Quick Studies of the Image” by Tony Hoagland:

“In the way that a noun is more solid than a verb or an adjective, the image anchors a poem, holds it in place. And mind of a reader almost always latches onto an image more strongly than an idea.”

Then Runyan provides two poems as examples, except one is not an actual poem—it’s lifted from a travel site. My favorite part of the chapter is when she provides sentences from rest stop brochures and asks us to rewrite them with an eye toward poetry.

Here is my second draft of the poem. My first was so bad—I literally just added line breaks to the freewriting. I was not particularly in a poem-y mood and couldn’t think of anything else to do. This second draft, based on this chapter, is going for more imagery. My title, taken from Runyan’s prompt, has never changed.


Roadside Oddity (#2)

There’s nothing odd

about a short white cross beside a Texas highway

although this cross

is not nestled in some Dead Man’s Curve.

This cross–not white but brown,

entwined grapevines–just past mile marker 95

rising out of pasture

so flat you can see the earth curve.


“Careful, there could be snakes,”

he says, but there’s no water in what is

literally a dry county.


“How can you crash when there’s nothing to run into?”

I ask. He shrugs. 

Tire tracks lead nowhere.


“Do not cross” says the words on the yellow tape.

We cross prairie grass, bleached white

by drought, stare at the empty cross under a vast white sky

wind knocks us to our knees. 



  1. Beautiful poem

  2. So far, so beautiful…

  3. Oooo. Love where this is going. I assume you’ll keep revising as you go along in the book?

  4. I’m doing this in your comments (do you mind?) because (1) you already did it, so it’s a convenient place for me, and (2) it feels noncommital to do it here instead of on my own blog. Even though I plan to continue, this way it feels OK not to finish working through the book on this particular poem.

    Okay, here’s my chapter 2 result:

    My mother used to get Lillian Vernon catalogues
    selling inventions to streamline life, like slitted toothpaste caps
    you don’t have to unscrew. No mess, it claimed.
    Also for tooth-brushing: tube squeezers forcing
    everyone to squeeze from the bottom.

    Mom favored the fireplace. She bought sprinkles to make
    the flames burn in different colors. (Glossy newspaper ads
    also burned in those colors.)

    When Mom bought the newspaper log roller (‘No need
    to cut down trees!” No need to recycle your papers!”)
    an imposing contraption, all black, we’d insert
    sheet after sheet from the newspaper pile, crank
    the handle, and make our own logs.

    But they didn’t ignite well. Flames didn’t take.
    The roller was too efficient, leaving no space
    for fire to breathe and burn. The papers were altogether
    too miserly, being rolled all tight, and the flames
    choked out after every layer of newsprint. Nothing
    burned. The happenings of weeks and months
    of yesterdays don’t easily burn away in ashes.


  1. […] between reading chapter 7 the first time and reading it again to blog about it. I printed the first draft of my poem, the one some folks had liked the best, and laid it next to this most recent draft. I […]