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

Share your poem on this week’s word!


When I teach in the summer, I walk daily beneath a gate with the etched words: “Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.” It is kind of a big charge. The word for this week, from a stranger who I met several weeks ago at a conference of playwrights, seems to relate to the charge of these words. She gave her word because someone had believed in the play she was writing and had given her a gift, enabling her to work well on it. To do good work.

The Stranger: Deborah

Her Word: Benefactor

The poem I wrote:

Our shrapnel is this: we have heard
the words, “you’re not brilliant”
and at least once believed them.
We don’t trust those who say,
It is a pleasure to feed you, for
we have not earned those words.
We are still too close to the versions
our mothers first saw. We aren’t
pretty. We didn’t do it right.
We are skunked and broke, we shiver
under the charges made to us.
The distance between here
and brilliant, here and worth
our food, requires better work.
We must make good.
We must find those who say,
it is a pleasure to feed you. Then we will
make good. Just a little good
is fine. Yes, this is about pulling down
the fables where we must
earn our peace, putting the cart
before the horse, the benefactor
before the one who receives.
Good work makes good work and we rise
to give brilliant answers. To say,
Thank you. It is a pleasure to be fed.

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