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!


At a luncheon recently, I sat with several doctoral students. One of them, Rowan, had used the word “banishing” in the title of his dissertation and I commented at the delicious punch of verbs ending in –ish. An entire conversation flourished on the subject.

The Stranger: Rowan

His Word: Tarnish

The poem I wrote:

There is fear at the root
of any good plan. I see no
other channel to go
from cry to no-cry,
the oblivion of adulthood
into knowing things.
Being afraid
is an island-maker,
though maps alone
won’t tarnish the point
where the world
spills off flat, where
any direction means
a swim to the earth’s edge.
Who can devise
such a trick? There is no
silver lining except life.

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