Writing In Retirement Blog

The Picture Prompt II: A Story for You

Things to know about Mary Cassatt; an American that spent her adult life in Paris. She became friends with Edgar Degas, the Impressionist painter who was well known for his paintings of ballerinas and dancers. Mary either was a pupil or a collaborator with Degas.

Cassett Painting
A painting by Mary Cassatt

The Parisian Dance Moms

Madame Collette took little Maria’s hands in hers and looked at her mother. “Oh Madame, she has wonderful bone structure! Such delicate hands! She will make a fine dancer like your Fannie.” Madame Colette owned the most famous dance school in Paris for young children. She trained many a young child to become excellent ballerinas for the stage. “You must bring her to me when she is four and I will train her.”

The mother beamed as she looked adoringly at her newest little girl. Maria’s nanny, the American slave girl Penelope, was anxiously watching the Mother’s face as she knew that Madame Marchand was counting on her second daughter to follow in the footsteps of her older sister who now was taking lessons from Madame Collette.

“I must go and teach now. So busy today! Classes and Mr. Degas is coming to sketch today.” Madame Collette said as she dramatically glided away from the trio of mother, nanny, and child.

“Did you hear that Penny? Madame Collette said she would take little Maria at four! That’s even younger than she took Fannie!” Penny nodded her head feeling sorry for little Maria. Fannie had just finished a private lesson with the dance instructor and was resting before she took the group lesson. Penny knew the seven-year-old was a favorite of Madame Collette, but she paid for it by having no time to do anything else but dance and coming home each day exhausted.

The little family settled into chairs in the waiting area outside the studio. Maria begged, and fussed to be set down on the floor. To entertain her, Penny rolled a ball to Maria. She was soon happy playing there on the floor. The door to the studio opened, and the other mothers arrived carting their children behind. Each mother busily assisted their little girls into pink tutus and laced up their ballet slippers. Most happily went into the studio alone, but a few were crying at the thought of leaving their mothers and entering the domain of Madame Collette.

Penny couldn’t blame them. From behind the studio doors, they could hear the sharp voice of Madame Collette shaming a crying child and making them stand in the corner by the barre as the other children warmed up. They could hear Madame Collette thumping her cane on the floor as she kept time with the music. The mothers could also hear the thwack of her long thin cane on a child’s legs which were not correctly set as they practiced the ballet positions. Penny flinched each time she heard that noise as it reminded her of her early years before coming to Paris with her American Master.

“Mrs. Marchand, congratulations! I heard little Fannie is to have three solos in the next review. What an accomplishment!” said Madame DeBois.

Madame Marchand smiled, “Yes, yes, little Fannie is working very hard this year. Madame Collette has great faith in her.” Penny heard a trace of restraint in Fannie’s voice. “And your little girl? What is she to do in the review?”

Madame DeBois’ smile tightened, “Why I am hoping she will be in one of the trios.”

“Hmm,” Replied Madame Marchand as she nodded her head. She returned the tight smile and said. “Just today Madame Collette said that little Maria here has excellent features for dance. She said I should start her here when she is four.”

Penny had observed this before among the mothers. They vied between them for their daughters to be better than one another. The doting mothers rivaled each other to promote their child. Madame Marchand was by far the best at this game because Madame Collette favored Fannie.

Penny’s thoughts were broken by the studio door suddenly being flung open, and a child came running out scrambling among the chairs to find her mother. The child was sobbing. Penny recognized the child as Susanne DeBois. Penny couldn’t understand what the child was saying other than she “never wanted to come back.”

Madame Collette appeared at the door. “Madame DeBois, your child has not practiced properly; please don’t bring her back unless she does her work at home.” Her voice was flat and authoritative. She turned and marched back into the studio shutting the door behind her.

Penny watched as a furious Madame DeBois grabbed her daughter’s hand and drug her to the door. At the same time, a little man dressed in black struggled to come in the door. He was toting an easel and a large sketch pad. The sobbing Susanne and the easel became entwined as they each attempted to make their way in the opposite direction. Madame DeBois jerked on Susanne’s arm and freed her. She gave the little man a disgusted look and retreated down the hallway.

The little man stood watching the mother and child go. With a shrug of his shoulders, he managed to gather his equipment together and into the waiting area. He tipped his bowler hat towards the mothers and proceeded to the studio door. Without even knocking he entered Madame Collette’s classroom.

“That must be Edgar Degas.” Whispered Madame Marchand. “You know he is an accomplished artist. I wonder why he is here.”

“To paint someone?” Penny said.

“No, I think he is going to sketch the whole class.”

Penny wondered how Madame Collette would deal with that kind of interruption to her teaching. However, they heard no upraised voices coming from the classroom. The wait seemed extra-long on this day. Maria yawned and climbed into Penny’s lap. She cuddled into her shoulder as Penny softly sang to her. Soon Maria was asleep. Finally about four o’clock the little ballerinas filed out the door. They all looked exceedingly tired. Fannie was last to exit.

Madame Marchand stooped to help Fannie take off her ballet slippers and put on her street shoes. Penny let out a soft gasp when she saw the little girl’s feet. They were blistered, and some areas were bleeding. She saw tears forming in Fannie’s eyes, but she did not utter a complaint. Penny hoped they would go home by cab rather than make the little girl walk the five blocks to their home.

Penny was relieved to leave the stuffy waiting room. She carried Maria as Fannie and Madame Marchand walked in front of her. Fannie was limping. Not for the first time she thought Poor little girls, they are bound to suffer for being dancers. She shook her head and wondered who was more a slave, herself, or these two precious girls?

I hope you enjoyed my story. Comments are always welcome.



Writing from a Prompt: A Picture Prompt

It is always fun to stretch your creativity by designing a story from a writing prompt. Looking at a picture gives you plenty of visual clues as to what you want to include in your story. Take some time to absorb the whole picture and the details that appeal to you. Think about how the picture makes you feel. Sad? Happy? Excited? Does the picture appeal to any or all of your senses? Are there clues to the setting? Perhaps the time of year is indicated such as winter or fall? Is there any action in the scene? If there is a person or persons in the picture, study their face(s) to sense their age, mood, or interactions with other parts of the pictures.

Look for small clues as to what might be occurring in the picture. I once wrote a storyRenoir_Boy_with_a_Toy_Soldier about a portrait by Renoir:  A Boy with a Toy Soldier. I focused the story on the red toy soldier he held in his hand. It was just a tiny detail of the picture, but that is where I saw the action and motive for the child to stay still for the portrait.

Today I would like to present this picture prompt to you. This is a painting by Mary Cassatt an Impressionist painter who specialized in painting women and their children. Take in the details of the picture. Perhaps do some research on Mary Cassatt and her painting style. Do any words or phrases come to mind as you study the painting? What about the colors in the picture – does that spark some sensory feeling? See if you can develop an interesting story about what is happening in this picture.

Cassett Painting

Good Luck to you all. I would love to see the story ideas that you develop for your stories. You can leave them in the comment section below.



Poetry Month: The Erasure Poem.

The last poem format we are going to talk about this month is the erasure poem, also known as the blackout poem or the redacted poem. The erasure poem is not a new concept, but it is a form which lends itself to those who are unsure of their ability to write poetry because it limits your choice of words.

Erasure poetry is a form of “found poetry.” It is created by erasing words from a “found text” and using the leftover words to form your poem. It is akin to an artist that takes an already drawn picture and erases lines to form a whole new picture. You take a text which you have no authority over, i.e., you did not author, and then you exert your judgment as to the words that have meaning, cadence, and your voice to reform it into a poem. So out of the “found text,” you create a poem.

Working with a block of text such as a passage from your favorite book or song, or a pamphlet you received in the mail, or for that matter, an advertisement on a cereal box limits the choices of words you have to choose from to compose your poem. Therefore you must carefully select words that have substance to their meaning; that expresses a sense of beauty, and that can be used to create rhythm. Choose words that reflect your voice. Once you have chosen the words, push them around until you have created a story or word picture that pleases you.

As you work with your selected words, you are now able to control the line breaks, the punctuation, the stanzas, and the new title.


Here is an erasure poem I created  from The Star-Spangled Banner

Original text:

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


The erasure poem:

The Dawn’s Light

        By Marie Staight

O! See the dawn’s light,                   dawn

Proudly gleaming.

Whose bright stars fight?

We watched streaming,

The red, bursting the air,

Proof the night was there –

That star-spangled wave

O’er the land free and brave.


I also created a poem from the opening lines of one of my favorite books – Pride and Prejudice.

Original text:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters.”

– Opening two paragraphs of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin


The Fate of Regency Daughters

                                 By Marie Staight

A single man                                         Regency Girls

A good fortune

Want of a wife.

 Little known feelings

In the minds of families

Considered of daughters.


I hope the poem formats I have discussed over Poetry month have inspired you to try a hand at composing some poems.

All comments are welcome!

Poetry Month: A Poem Format Less Taken

Today we are going to explore a lesser-known poetry form. The Rondelet is French in origin and is the briefest form of the poetry family termed the Rondeau. The distinctive form of all the Rondeau family is they have a repeated line called a refrain. The Rondelet is a seven line, one stanza poem (septet) which has a refrain (A). The refrain line is always half the amount of syllables as the other lines. Here we have made it easy with a 4/8 format.

The format is;

Line 1: 4 syllables– the refrain (A)

Line 2: 8 syllables (b)

Line 3: 4 syllables– the refrain (A)

Line 4: 8 syllables – rhymes with line 1 (a)

Line 5: 8 syllables– rhymes with line 2 (b)

Line 6: 8 syllables – rhymes with lines 2 and 5 (b)

Line 7: 4 syllables– the refrain (A)


An example:


By Marie Staight

When I feel sad

One thing that always cheers me up

When I feel sad

I write clearly on my sketch pad

A list of blessings in my cup

Friends, family, and buttercups.

When I feel sad.


Now if I were to modernize this format slightly, my third and/or last line would rhyme, but not be exactly the same, such as: “If I were sad”; “No longer sad”; or “Now I am glad.” Although the traditional format is strict in its pattern, some poetic license is allowed. Try one and see how you do.

Please share your poems in the comments below.


Poetry Month: Hyping the Haiku


This Haiku Poem was written by Matsuo Bashō in the 17th century

We are one more week into poetry month. I hope you have been having some fun writing and reading poems this month. I certainly have been! The Haiku poem is a popular poetry format that is short, creates a picture in the reader’s mind, and is usually read in one breath. It has been part of Japanese literature since the 9th century. It has a specific structure of three lines; the first and third lines have five syllables and the second line has seven syllables. The poems’ lines do not usually rhyme. There are no rigid rules about capitalization or punctuation. Traditionally the Haiku’s subject is nature; a small window of time that sites details that show the why emotion is evoked rather than the emotion itself. The modern interpretation of Haiku does not have to be about nature, and there can be more freedom in the number of syllables per line, but it still tries to create a significant picture that illuminates the moment.


Here are some examples I have written:

Springtime Mating

Little brown lizard

An orange dewlap bulges

Enticing the girls.


Here is an example of a riddle Haiku. I have written a description of something, and the reader is asked to guess what that something is. Children love this game.

What am I?

Walking atop bushes

Eying my dinner for one

My orange beak snaps


[Can you guess? (Egret!)]


The process of writing a Haiku can be rewarding. Once you have chosen a subject, think about words that describe that moment in time. Be descriptive and explore the emotions that surround that moment. Consider that the last line usually observes the relationship between the first two lines and the last. Can you find something that is unexpected?

I would love to see your efforts in writing a Haiku poem. Comments are welcome – see below.

Poetry Month: A Salute to Acrostic Poems

I hope you have had some fun writing poems this month. Did you try your hand at M is for Motherlimericks? Today I am going to discuss another type of poem called the Acrostic Style Poem. I’m sure you have seen such poems – this is when the first, middle or last letter of the lines spell out a word or phrase vertically. The most often used format is the first letter of the lines vertically spells out the word or phrase. The M is for Mother poem is an acrostic poem.

Because the poem focuses not only on what the words mean but also on how they are placed, the poem is not only fun to write but also to read. To start, pick out a word, a person’s name, or a short phrase you are interested in exploring – that will be your vertical word. The first word of each line is usually capitalized and sometimes even written in bold or fancy script so that the reader can keep track of the subject of the poem. I suggest you write out the vertical word or phrase first and then write each line.


An Acrostic Poem

A jolly good way to write a poem.

Challenging your creativity.

Relatable words with a theme.

Oh, so merry a poem!

Springing words across the page

To tell a story about the vertical.

Infinitely better than trying to rhyme.

Cherishing each word of the poem.


Acrostic poems take some thinking, but they are fun to write. Try one; you might like the style!

I’d love to see what you write. Comments are welcome!

Let’s celebrate! National Poetry Month.

April Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Let’s celebrate!

Poetry is one of those things every writer should try to tackle.  Whether you enjoy Rap, James W. Riley, Shakespeare, Frost, or Angelu, there is always some part of poetry that touches a person’s heart. Since April is set aside to be the month we celebrate Poetry, I thought we could explore some of the types of poetry.

My favorite type of poem to write is the Limerick (see my March 3, 2019 post). A Limerick is a short, comical poem that often borders on the nonsensical or obscene. They are fun to write and to read, as they are meant to make your readers laugh.

The Limerick consists of five lines that rhyme in an AABBA pattern. That is: The first, second, and fifth lines’ last words (A) should rhyme with each other. The third and fourth lines’ last word also rhyme but with a different word (B) than the other three lines. In addition the Limerick has a specific meter to it. The meter refers to the number of beats, or stressed syllables, in each line.  (You can also use “da” for unstressed syllables and “DUM” for stressed syllables.) The meter will look like:

  • Line 1: Three stressed syllables (da DUM da da DUM da da DUM)
  • Line 2: Three stressed syllables (da DUM da da DUM da da DUM)
  • Line 3: Two stressed syllables (da DUM da da DUM)
  • Line 4: Two stressed syllables (da DUM da da DUM)
  • Line 5: Three stressed syllables (da DUM da da DUM da da DUM)


Limericks to write are such fun!

(da DUM da da DUM da da DUM)

You’ll smile like eating a cinnamon bun.

(da DUM da da DUM da da DUM)

AA BB A is the trail.

(da DUM da da DUM)

With that you’ll never fail.

(da DUM da da DUM)

Do try your hand at rhyming one.

(da DUM da da DUM da da DUM)


 Here’s one I did just for April Fools’ Day.

April Fool Limerick

There once was a girl who said with dismay

I swear I saw an elephant today.

It was walking down by the railroad track

A lion, a giraffe and a bear in a pack.

“April Fool”! Said she. As they rushed to see the display.

Apri 1st


I’d love to see your efforts at trying to write a Limerick. Comment Below.