Poetry for Strangers is about finding inspiration in the chance encounters of everyday life. PFS suggests that every person can be the “muse” of a poem. Each week I ask a stranger for a single word and write a poem inspired by the word. I invite you to do the same.

Share your poem on this week’s word!


The word: Grandiloquent

July 10, 2013, 5:53 am

I ran to the bank in a flurry, looking for a notary public, and there I found Jonathan. We got to talking while he notarized and he told me a secret: that he keeps a book about vocabulary words in his desk drawer. Word-lovers of the world, unite! I thought. And asked for a word.

The Stranger: Jonathan more »

The word: Sweet

July 3, 2013, 6:09 am

This stranger was working at the Cambridge Post Office where I went to pick up a birthday package – she just looked happy. I asked how her day was going and she said, “Great! I got a parking spot.”

The Stranger: Joanie more »

The word: Caisson

June 26, 2013, 7:55 am

One of my writing program colleagues this summer is Peter Richards. His poems have won awards and when I looked them up, I understood why. He used the phrase “laundered Pez” to describe a taste in his poem “Sand Piper with Roofer.”

The word he gave me was one I had to look up. It means either “a chest for holding ammunition” or “a watertight chamber used in construction work under water or as a foundation.” As in, the tall things that secure bridges into the mud.

But it had another meaning: caisson disease is another word for decompression sickness or “the bends” – the reason scuba-divers cannot rush straight to the surface of the water.

The Stranger: Peter more »

The word: Humble

June 19, 2013, 9:34 am

Over a weekend in Stanley, Idaho (pop. 63) – the home of the Sawtooth Relay and also a wonderful place to write – I got into conversation with a woman who had spent two winters there.

The Stranger: Basya more »

The word: Dogma

June 12, 2013, 10:22 am

In Sonoma, where all of the vineyards look like something out of a “Much Ado About Nothing” set, we stopped by a winery called Chateau St. Jean. Around us stretched endless gardens and the thought of leaving them felt like an expulsion. It was morning, and my friend and I stayed a long time, sampling wines and talking with Kevin, who worked there.

The Stranger: Kevin

His Word: Dogma

The poem I wrote:

There will always be roads
whose endings plunge
into slate and graphite,

and roads that bloom open
like a perfect vine of grapes.

But pause: we are foolish
in pretending that we choose
just one road at a time

when (closed/open) are two
earth-poles that we have known
always – for life is a series

of wombs and we are always
being expelled from one
or another: each with its own

striated rhythm, its costume-
shops filled floor-to-ceiling
with new dogmas – and don’t

these roads knot into exquisite
reunions at each crossing: a life
of adventure, a life of safety –

like wine and cheese,
they beg for each other.


The Challenge: Do you have a poem on this word? Write one here.



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