Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 266

If you haven’t seen it, I had a poem published over at Kind Over Matter this past weekend. Click here to read it.

For this week’s prompt, write a poem of industry. Industry sounds like a big term, but it probably carries different connotations for different folks. For instance, some people might immediately think of the music industry (or mortgage industry), others may think of smokestacks, and some may think of industrious people they know or industrial-sized containers of food. Whatever industry means to you, try capturing (or conveying) it in a poem.


Write great fiction!

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Here’s my attempt at an Industry Poem:

“industry vs. inferiority”

bob draws an elephant
& tom draws a zebra

bob draws a lot of praise
& tom draws a critique

bob draws with gray crayons
& tom draws black & white


Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer is the author of Solving the World’s Problems and Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community. His poem today was inspired by the fourth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychological development. Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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300 thoughts on “Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 266

  1. taylor graham


    That girl in hoop-shirt, auburn tresses
    under a bonnet tied with ribbons – how she tosses
    her head, talking to the serious young man
    in moustache and ditto suit. Yellow ribbons
    to set off her auburn hair.

    Here they are at the Exhibition of the Arts
    and Industries. Here’s silk-weaving machinery at work.
    The livelihood of Coventry: ribbons.
    How many generations of women have worked
    at the factory to feed their daughters?

    What does this girl in yellow ribbons care
    for work conditions, fair pay, overseas tariffs?
    Every English lady wants French
    ribbons. But watch this new machine turn out spools
    of ribbon in every color a girl could desire.

    A toss of the head, the bonnet-ties flutter. Coventry
    sharpens its wits, finds new skills
    just to keep up – to make a living profit of ribbons
    for a girl’s hair. Yellow ribbons. How she
    flirts with a world’s heart of trade.

  2. taylor graham


    The [salt]work is necessarily continuous day and night. – Elihu Burritt, Walks in the Black Country

    He wakes from brief sleep at his station
    by the drying pans. Salt needs so much watching,
    as it transforms from sea to table. Things
    can happen when you’re not looking. He’s heard
    stories. Women working beside the men,
    twenty-four hours in a day, all week. No relief
    but salt of the earth. Taste of sweat on glistening
    skin. He’s licked the inside of his arm, and
    thought of Mary at her cooking, just a pinch of
    salt to bring savor to a stew. He wakes from
    dreams of salt kisses.

  3. Marie Therese Knepper

    The Big Con

    The facade,
    standing over time,
    repaired and replenished.

    The masquerade,
    hypnotic dancing
    fuels the masses.

    The Actor,
    always one
    yet many faces.

    The watchers,
    soothed; coddled
    with warm milk.

    The players,
    clucking chaos;
    paid magicians.

    The stage,
    fixed ratings;
    captive viewers.

    The author,
    kneading strings.

    The finale:
    written, rewritten,
    and edited.

    The story,
    many sequels;
    same results.

    1. James Von Hendy

      I love the simple, powerfully repetitive structure of this poem. It seems to me you really catch your theme with “the Actor/always one/yet many faces.” The rest of the poem projects the images of the stage/ movie set well. I’d be tempted to move the stanza about the watchers to the very end, following “The story,/ many sequels,/same results” to keep the focus on the “production” until you reveal its results. At least that’s how I read the poem.

      Nicely done.

      1. Marie Therese Knepper

        Thank you for your compliments and observations.
        My poem could be interpreted as a commentary on the entertainment industry. I had something else in mind. 🙂

    2. BDP

      I love the actor stanza. Seems as if you could indeed play with stanza order. But no matter what order you choose, each stanza is self contained and tells its own message. And despite the brevity of each stanza, each message made me stop and think. I liked that.

    3. TomNeal

      This text generates a number of interesting possible readings. The title declares it “The Big Con”, and certainly invites the reader to interpret its narrative parts (stanzas) as part of a con, but perhaps the poem itself, and poets and poetry are also being indicted. (I read this poem as a variation on an Elmer Gantry theme).

      Is it significant that the “Actor” is uppercase, but “The author/omnipotent” is lowercase? Actors interpret texts, and then embody or incarnate their interpretations in performance. In this text the Actor seems to have priority over the lowercase “omnipotent” author, but perhaps this is also a con- a perception created by the “hypnotic dancing”.

      On the other hand, the author’s text and its sequels are predestined to yield the same results over and over again. This is at best a strange version of omnipotence. Perhaps the author omnipotent is dead? As T.S. Eliot observed, the poet is not a privileged interpreter of his or her own work, or as Barthes more playfully puts it, the author is dead. Barthes poet is a “scriptor”, not an authority.

      Does the poet’s intention matter? Does the poet’s intention override what is found in the poem/text? Or does the reader/interpreter have the final word? Is performance all there is? These are interesting questions posed by this text, if not by its poet.

          1. Marie Therese Knepper

            I resist the urge to…. 🙂

            I am enthralled by the many interpretations you’ve come up with in so little time. I wonder if my work is best served by withholding my inspiration, at least for now. Does my intention override the reader’s interpretation? Great questions, all.

            Thank you, Tom.

  4. BDP

    “Industrious Orange Tom”

    Our tiger hedonist commands the yard,
    forgoing pounce for calm, his afternoon
    stretched out and yawning. Scottish broom
    his choice for post-lunch snooze (that tub o’ lard!),
    he schleps to rhodie-grove at half-past three,
    right now he’s languid, high on catnip mint.
    I dare nudge him to weed. He snubs the hint,
    soon grooms again, his cat philosophy,

    and does by this intransigence request
    adoption of the attitude required
    to keep his fur so perfectly licked clean
    for me to have a silky back to pet.
    Sly dog! (Forgive the phrase, O Feline King.)
    So I submit, curl up in pause, unwired.

    –Barb Peters

  5. annell

    Forget for a Little While Through The Industry of Work
    My world like industry
    On holiday
    The wheels and gears
    Ground to a stop
    You took your last breath
    In the silence of your room
    I touched your hair
    For what I knew would be
    The last time

    Had forgotten
    You were on the way
    Picked up the white box at the Post Office
    Marked express
    Surprised it was so heavy
    Looked at the label
    It was you
    Hugged it to my breast
    Home at last

    Now where do we go from here
    It seems in this time of grief
    It is through the painstaking detail
    Of work
    I seek what is beautiful in the world
    To sooth the broken heart
    I forget
    Then I am reminded
    My heart breaks anew

    June 17, 2014

    1. TomNeal

      This is a touching poem.

      Its insight on work brought Conrad to mind:

      “I don’t like work–no man does–but I like what is in the work–the chance to find yourself. Your own reality–for yourself not for others–what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”
      ― Joseph Conrad

  6. dhaivid3

    Wrote these last Wednesday but for reasons least known to me I did not submit them. I suppose it’s because I don’t think they are poems but expressions of the reality I face when I see the developments in my field.

    Poem One Title: I am going to write about computers

    One day humans will live side by side
    – and so too will computers
    Living as neighbours on pebbled streets
    Passing each other on the way to work
    Men and computers will meet and greet.

    We will not call our neighbours robots
    For this will be a politically incorrect sentiment
    And insensitive to their feelings.
    They will not be called robots
    But relatives and best friends
    Mutual love and respect between
    Living and non-living things will never end

    Then, after some time..

    One day love would be a gift sought after
    And flesh will be a commodity rare
    One day when mankind has developed
    People will seek the ‘un-developed’ everywhere.
    One day man will seek woman
    Woman will seek man
    And computer-beings will fill the streets.

    But man will indeed seek man
    And seek woman
    Woman will indeed seek woman
    And seek man
    They will all seek human neighbours to greet.

    Then, after a time..

    All mankind will at last learn the lesson of history
    Which repeats itself yet remains a mystery
    The value of a fellow human being
    Lies not in what they own or in any material thing
    But in who they are and what they carry within.

    Poem Two Title: My shiny neighbour

    Cling! Clang! my neighbour goes
    Where he was born everyone knows.
    He passes by my window and bows
    Then he hurries off into the snow.

    I pull the blinds back in place;
    On my brain is the imprint of his face.
    Wait, his ‘face’?
    A ‘contraption’ perhaps, but a face?

    I go back and sit at my kitchen table;
    I’m tired and, increasingly I am less able.
    No work done yet tired I sit at my table.
    I glance down at my empty wooden toy cradle.

    I can hear my servant pottering about
    A tear falls and in my head I hear a shout
    My head is screaming, the words hit the back of my mouth
    But I make not one sound, I don’t let them out.

    My neighbours outside are clanging
    Functioning, they are able, they are doing.

    My ‘living’ neighbours shuffle about our town, our fortress
    Perpetually ‘blessed’ now but with the gift of unhappiness
    Their backs bowed low, souls weighed down with sadness
    Cursed by the fruits of development.

    I pull back the blinds for one more go.
    Here I sit in my beautiful ‘printed’ home
    My robot companions come and they go
    I live with companions yet feel I’m alone.

    I look outside and I long for seagulls
    I sit there and stare as another tear falls.

    The world I see is filled with creators and their mistakes.
    Man is blessed with the gift of living days on end doing nothing.

    I pull the blinds back into place.

    1. TomNeal

      My head is screaming, the words hit the back of my mouth
      But I make not one sound, I don’t let them out.

      The rhymes and the rhythms of this poem perfectly match the its content. Indeed, if I could not make out the words, I think I would still get the message from the rhymes and rhythms.

  7. drnurit

    I recommend an article in yesterday’s (June 14th) NY Times’ Sunday Review / Opinion, by William Logan: “Poetry: Who Needs It?”
    “The way we live now is not poetic. We live prose, we breathe prose, and we drink, alas, prose…”

      1. drnurit

        Tom, your phone call − from across the big sea, your amazingly wise feedback, and your kind support touch me beyond words… My belief in the potential of cyberspace just increased exponentially. My deepest gratitude…

  8. James Von Hendy

    Fiat Lux

    If not for ants, sunlight would never reach
    The forest floor. Piece by piece they strip
    Away the canopy by a third. They clear
    Paths across the ground, long arteries
    Of clarity through litter and duff,
    The detritus of decay. It makes one think
    All industry is destruction purposed
    For survival, necessity’s narrow view.
    Does the leaf cutter think it serves new growth,
    Or merely the spawn of the larval queen?
    Does the leaf cutter think at all? Do we?

    1. TomNeal

      The detritus of decay. It makes one think
      All industry is destruction purposed

      There is so much going on in this poem that I fear my comments will hardly do it justice. Every word from “Fiat” in the title to the final “we” is working hard: there is no filler– every (verse) foot is moving (like an ant?), and the enjambment and rejet (see the lines cited above) enhances that movement in a way that prose cannot.

      “The detritus of decay” belongs to one sentence, and “It makes one think” to another, and yet unified by the line a new meaning emerges. The “detritus” becomes a type of “memento mori”. ‘It makes one think’. I feel the pull of Montaigne in this line, but the enjambment pulls me on to the rejet in the next line, ‘All industry is destruction purposed’. The movement from Montaigne to Schumpeter (creative destruction) is magnificent. Behind both lurks Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, and his “butcher”, “brewer” and “baker”.

      Is the reader witnessing intelligence in action? or blind force at work? The poem both as a whole, and also quite directly asks the reader to consider this question. Is intelligence an illusion- a supervenient property of matter? or is matter the product of intelligence? I would suggest that the question sends the reader back to the title and all that it connotes. It might also be fruitful to consider that the poem’s title is “Fiat Lux”, and not the alternative “Lux Sit”. The situation in the poem is “lux sit”, but “Fiat Lux” suggests something more– both in creation and in finance.

      James, you set a high standard for the rest of us to meet. I wish I had more time to explore other points, but unfortunately, I don’t.

      Well done!

        1. James Von Hendy

          Tom, as always your insightful, close and perceptive readings of my and others’ poems, coupled with your huge appreciation and knowledge of poetry and poets humbles me. Thank you.

          Enjambment and rejet allow us to explore multiple levels of meaning, understanding, and wonder (in all its meanings), I believe.

  9. lionetravail

    “Heavily Nuanced Streets”

    I feel like I’m standing on Mount Olympus,
    but really it’s just my office on the thirtieth floor.
    From here, the worker ants far below
    move in patterns, set by Queen they can’t ignore.

    You can watch them, like I do, rain or shine,
    through a perspective of vertiginous thrill
    that leaves you with that hollow-belly feeling
    you can’t conquer through any act of will.

    But at lunch, when I take the elevator down
    and walk outside into their bustling nest,
    it’s clear that they are not ants at all, but instead
    they’re people, going about their days with zest.

    I wander around, through heavily nuanced streets,
    watching the industrious folk live like it’s a gift.
    I’m brightly alert for a calorie opportunity of my own, when
    I glance up, thirty floors, for a vertiginous perspective shift.

      1. James Von Hendy

        Agreed. A lovely shift in perspective. “Heavily nuanced streets” adds a mystery and a weight to this poem. “‘Heavily nuanced,’ with what?” one wants to ask. “Living like it’s a gift” when it’s what, perhaps, instead? Or not. Are the folk on the street just intent on “a calorie opportunity” like the speaker of this poem, or is there really more? A nice tension here.

  10. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    Santa Left You Coal

    Black lungs
    the heartiest
    of diggers
    burrowing deep
    beneath the soil
    you dance on,
    and as the music swells
    to drown out
    your laughter,
    think not about
    the sacrificial gifts
    of bloodied sweat,
    old tears
    and time
    that your father shovels
    so you both can flirt
    with death.

  11. Marie Therese Knepper

    Churn, Churn, Churn

    For everything there is a reason;
    A profit born for every season.
    From dawn to dusk the grand cohesion
    Picks the scab of nature’s lesion.

    Churn, churn, churn.

    Once a lush and beautiful land
    Untouched by the greedy baron hand;
    No matter the time, the shore, the sand,
    Yielded treasures beyond demand.

    Churn, churn, churn.

    An idea birthed by greed, you say?
    A crusty pilgrim’s paid holiday
    Or the wanderlust of, yeah or nay,
    The inner groaning for far and away?

    Listen closely for the sound
    Of second’s hands completing its round.
    Timeless pirates and reapers abound,
    Raping the plunder they “thought” they found.

    Churn, churn, churn.

    As so it was, and so it is
    The prophet dare not be remiss,
    And asks you plainly, answer this:
    What’s the going price for eternal bliss?

    Churn, churn, churn

    1. Augie

      Seriously? How do you do this? The beat, the flow, the abyss in your rhymes! I know that we are just at the surface, what dwells beneath? Incredible!

      1. Marie Therese Knepper

        I don’t know, Aug. I had no intention of writing another poem. I was working on a melody for lyrics I finished. Different songs were running through my head. The Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn” came to mind, and a few minutes later I was posting this poem.

  12. Augie

    -Oil and Blood-

    Fills the skies
    Covers the seas
    Soils the sand

    Eye of power
    Forever watching
    The foreign land

    Riches and war

    We pump more

    The fulcrum of gold shudders
    Under the viscous shifting weight.

  13. cmariee

    Dependent on Food Industry

    Stuck in an epidemic…

    I’m looking for Low Acid, No Pulp Orange Juice
    But the first store doesn’t have it.
    So, an Iced Latte sounds pretty awesome.
    I’ll rationalize. It’s fine.
    At least I tried and I’ m thinking about it.

    Filled with Prilosec, armed with my tums,
    I’m meeting my friends and pizza’s for lunch.
    And that’s fine too because it’s before 9:00.
    And I took a Probiotic. So, I’m aware of it.
    I’m sure they’ll fix it.

    Endoscopies and IBS and I’m too young for this, I guess.
    It’s probably stress, a self-induced psychosis.
    I’m just fine. I’ll get around it.
    Organic is the way to go and I really have considered it.

    But it’s a busy time with tests and I can’t cook organic.
    The store here doesn’t carry it.
    And I’m a product of convenience.
    I was raised on those preservatives.
    And anyway, it’s not my fault The Food Industry relies on this.

    But I am their experiment.
    Now that I think on it.
    No need for gardens, plants, and fruit trees.
    Plastic bottles, cans, and jars last longer anyways,
    And everybody knows that trees don’t grow online these days.

  14. drnurit

    And in paradise –
    hovering up high
    above the clouds,
    do righteous dwellers
    still hear industrious hums
    of edenic inhabitants
    running nowhere fast?

    And in paradise –
    hanging on a thread
    far above this earth,
    do virtuous occupants
    still diligently seek
    anti-loss anti-eviction
    celestial guarantees?

    And in paradise –
    that elevated dwelling
    subject of sweet dreams,
    do commendable tenants
    still work assiduously
    to resist temptations
    and guard heavenly bliss?

    1. TomNeal

      Even seemingly straightforward poems uncover complexity that is often missed by other forms of investigation. On the surface this poem asks three simple questions, but underneath the surface there more disturbing questions silently posed.

      For example:

      And in paradise –
      hanging on a thread
      far above this earth,
      do virtuous occupants
      still diligently seek
      anti-loss anti-eviction
      celestial guarantees?

      On the surface this is a question about life in paradise, but would a state of eternal insecurity actually be a paradise? or would a state of perpetual (or even occasional) anxiety be more like hell?

      The paradise described hangs by a thread, but again doesn’t this image suggest something other than perpetual peace? One might add, it also raises the question: is paradise a place or state of mind?

      Perhaps we don’t know what we mean when we use a term like paradise, or, at least, we don’t know all that might be meant– especially the contradictions and paradoxes we smuggle in with our words. In this, a poetic investigation differs from a scientific, philosophical, or theological investigation. Poetry uncovers truths that are beyond the reach of reason alone. (The water in my kettle boils because it is at 212 degrees. It also boils because I want a cup of tea.)

      Well done

      1. drnurit

        Dear Tom,
        I am in awe of the wise, thoughtful, insightful, and generous nature of your comments to posts on this site! You read what is underneath the surface so well, and your feedback prompts me to uncover profounder layers (after all, I am a psychologist…) Yes, I am fascinated by the power of seemingly simple words to expose and process existential dilemmas (and I often use poems in my teaching – instead of elaborate essays.) Here, you uncover questions “silently posed” – looking at my words, feeling their pulse, and sending them back to me – familiar yet different – reflecting my own voice back, though a clearer version. I am deeply grateful! I don’t know who you are, but I would choose you as a mentor – if I could, and I would greatly appreciate any links to your work.

  15. TomNeal

    Usury rusts the man and his chisel
    It destroys the craftsman, destroying craft
    (Ezra Pound, from Canto LI)

    Dear Ezra-
    The chisel and plough have been stilled,
    The family owns neither farm nor plant;
    Craft and craftsman have disappeared,
    And all capital belongs to the bank,
    But this you foresaw as a poet foresees
    (A David amongst the Philistines):
    As the white moth consumes cabbage
    Usury consumes all industry.

    Hugh Selwyn Mauberly

      1. TomNeal

        I think you are right: the closing simile, and especially the last line needs more work.

        I also think that the implications of “plant” need to be developed in a second draft. I think the organic meaning is fairly straightforward, but “plant” as factory may need a little help. Ditto the gm food ownership implications.

        Thanks for your help.

    1. James Von Hendy

      Nicely stated. Love the moth consuming cabbage bit for its slang connotations especially. I’m half-tempted to drop the parenthetical biblical reference each time I read through the poem, strangely enough. But I love “usury consumes all industry.” as the close. Wham!

  16. RuthieShev

    The reason I am so late on this one is that I am not sure I understood exactly what and industry poem was so I wrote a half dozen ones and decided on this one as my attempt at an industry poem:

    What Exactly Is Industry

    What exactly do you mean by industry
    Could it be that it’s different for you than me?
    Is it the soldiers who fight for us to be free
    Or people who teach us what we will one day be?

    For some it’s the everyday job they do
    While for others the money they accrue
    Maybe it’s inventing something new
    Or painting something with a colorful hue

    Some find importance in lives they affect
    While others in valuables that they collect
    Some care about the greenhouse effect
    Or keeping animals and children from neglect

    Could industry be the caring physician,
    Or listening to an entertaining musician
    Your car being fixed by an auto technician
    Even a mother teaching her child good nutrition

    Think of the first words that come to mind
    When trying to figure importance to mankind
    I think it’s the love and happiness you find
    From all the occupations on this earth combined

    By Ruth Crowell Shevock

  17. tz2328


    Schools of blunder continuously churn
    fodder for the masses.
    Seeping sloth forms institutions
    of Higher Learning.
    Fools once scorned adorn
    classrooms and courtrooms,
    holding justice’s scales; perpetuating
    error upon error.
    One rises. Another falls.
    Cancerous sores on the underbelly of humanity
    take center stage.
    Gold plummets to
    dross’ rapture.
    We hold these truths to be
    self evident.
    Sex sells.

    1. TomNeal

      Political poetry often (not always) is a rant written in broken lines. It is questionable poetry at best. Fortunately, you have not left the poetry out of your poem. That is no small accomplishment.

      1. tz2328

        One of the joys I find in writing is how often the finished product is completely different from my original idea. I didn’t intend to write a political poem. I had a completely different aspect of industry in mind. The title was an afterthought.
        I really appreciate your critique. I am ignorant of what constitutes good political poetry. I wonder if I should stay ignorant and just keep writing?

        1. TomNeal

          Don’t let any anxiety of influence deter you from your reading of good poets. My list of good political poets would include: Spenser, Milton, Marvell, Shelly, Pound, the early Auden, and Yeats.

          1. TomNeal

            It probably goes without saying, but Shakespeare’s history plays (especially Richard II, Henry IV (1 & 2), Henry V, and Julius Caesar) are all very good political and poetical works.

        2. PressOn

          Given that “politics” comes from polis, I think that most poetry is political anyway; it tends to concern people at some level, even “nature” poetry. Or so it seems to me, anyway. I think of poetry as a combination of sense and sound, and your poem excelled on both counts, in my opinion.

          1. TomNeal

            I would agree to a point, but not all poetry is explicitly political in the way that say Shelly is political. The problem with much explicit political poetry is that the rant replaces the poem. The best explicitly political poets leave us with poetry that lives even after the political question has been settled.

          2. James Von Hendy

            Love this discussion of “political” poetry. I agree with Tom that it’s danged hard to rant and still produce good–and frankly often interesting–poetry. On the other hand, all poetry reveals a point of view that can certainly be understood as a political stance.

        1. Augie

          tz2328, let this be heard as your fingers race across the key board and your characters blood flow through your key strokes. You are a writer! I look forward to seeing your works in the short story forum as well.


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