Poetry Challenge 8: Reversion to First-Line Challenge


I keep meaning to go back and do a first-line challenge again, as we did in our first two poetry challenges. The idea of making a new poem from a classic poet’s first line was the genesis of these poetry challenges, and I think that it was the most fun. The borrowed line seems to function as a jump-start to the muse. Besides that, it’s fascinating to me to see what different things people do with the opportunity.

Here’s the line:

In winter in the woods alone

The poet is Robert Frost. I refrained from posing us the famous “Whose woods these are…” but in deference to the popular love for that poem, I found a line about a similar scene.

And what better time of year to be inspired by what we see around us? (No snow required!)

On the challenge day (February 9th, 2016) I’ll post the full Frost poem in a post, and put my version(s) in the comments. At that time, other participants may also post their own poems in the comments, and offer appreciation and suggestions on other poems.

What does everyone think about the usefulness of these challenges? As we move into our eighth challenge season, I think I am coming to a few conclusions on that question.

First, as to the workshop element. In academic workshops (I’ve been told) people are supposed to accept any criticism that comes their way with a thank you, and no explanations or defence of their creative choices. This is emphatically not the way we work here. We respect the gentle strands of reciprocity, of authentic response. As a result, I’ve noticed a pattern. The poems remain very personal. They turn out to not be very elastic, and in response to suggestions and criticisms we find ourselves able to change our work only so much and only in certain ways.

Is this a good thing or is it slowing us down? Well, they say the proof is in the pudding. And in this case, I believe the pudding is not the current poem being criticized, but rather the next poem you write, after having one criticized. That next poem seems always to be better. I say this of myself and I think I can say it of other participants as well.

I don’t think this even happens on purpose. I think we unconsciously integrate criticism into our writing, the next time we write.

So basically, our poetic minds, and their extensions (poems) are treated as living things here and we almost always better them through growth rather than through cosmetic surgery. And yes, I think that’s a good thing.

Second, I think the challenges are useful because they keep me writing poetry. I’m trying to become a career writer (along with keeping house, homeschooling two children, and spending a lot of effort and time to improve my health.) Poetry is my first love, but because I so strongly disagree with the way the poetic tradition has developed in the last hundred years, I don’t expect to make any money on it. As a result, I need to spend a lot of time developing my story-telling skills and maintaining literary connections and doing the work preparatory to founding a self-publishing cooperative.

These challenges keep me thinking and writing poetically, when otherwise I might forget to do so regularly. They give me an interactive audience for my own poems and they give me a base-line writing schedule and they have brought me minds other than my own with which to circulate ideas.

And finally, I do so much enjoy reading all of your work. As my regular readers must know, my literary approach is the search for literary virtue, with the detection of flaws coming in as only a second priority. That means that with very, very rare exceptions I experience the living soul of each poem as a fortunate meeting.

Thanks, people! And please keep coming.



  1. In case the challenge isn’t clear (for newcomers perhaps) the idea is to write a new poem (or even more than one) with Frost’s line “In winter in the woods alone” as your first line. There is no other requirement.

    We may in the future do a combination challenge, in which we both borrow a first line, and attempt the same form as the original poet.

    With these types of challenges, I often write three or four poems, and settle on the last or second-to-last.


  2. I love the challenges, especially the interactive aspect. I love how the particular group dynamics allowed to flourish here enhance the creative process from start to finish. And as far as the quality of the actual poetry goes, I agree it’s been fruitful, for the most part. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “So basically, our poetic minds, and their extensions (poems) are treated as living things here and we almost always better them through growth rather than through cosmetic surgery. And yes, I think that’s a good thing.”

    Very much agreed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Like. Like. Like. (I’m travelling. Following along when we stop for the night. Wouldn’t miss. Similar spirits, compatible souls–if I may so presume.)

    I too “experience the living soul of each poem as a fortunate meeting” and would add “am enriched by meeting such full-hearted persons here.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah. Well I think you almost have to take the rhythm (the foot, or at least the number stresses.) But there is always line length (foot number) that can be varied.


      • That is what I was thinking. The jottings I had yesterday have coalesced into the beginning of a poem, but I keep writing lines of anapests. There may be a way to work them in, but the whole thing then will have to be intentionally crafted for that effect. I am glad we still have a week.


        • I can hear how that would feel right. It’s due to the length of the first syllable in ‘winter,’ ‘in’ and ‘woods.’ You can read it in iambs, and the post wants you to, but there’s this sneaking suspicion of a gallop underlying it. Hm. Well, even in anapestic poems you usually have missing syllables so that it doesn’t become too oppressive. I suppose you could stretch a point and imagine that the line has done that. It might work better if you add a syllable or two, e.g: In winter, deep in the woods, alone. No one will cry foul.


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