Bottled & Canned: Surprise Poetry Prompt

Have you ever opened a can only to find that what was supposed to be inside was not what you found? (If you have prankster friends who’ve changed your can labels, maybe you can answer yes: yes, I found peaches in the diced tomatoes can and onion soup in the green beans can. Regardless of your can-surprise history, perhaps you’ll be willing to try your hand at this week’s…

Poetry Prompt

We’re used to the old image of a Message in a Bottle. What if you opened a can or bottle and found something else wholly unexpected? A mermaid in a tuna can. A gold ring in your Chicken O’s Soup. A water nymph in your favorite wine. How did the item get there? What happens now that you’ve discovered it? Put the experience in a poem.

Thanks to our participants in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s a poem we enjoyed from Richard Maxson, who tried out one of our recent poetry prompts:


From out of the cockled skirts,
the heels and castanets,
you found me,
your crimson threads,
the passion of guitars.

I might have been a gypsy,
the light, ascending flames,
Paseo del Prado,
Madrid transformed,
as evening did all things mortal,
beyond the courtyard,
collecting the esplanades
of great trees into forests,
the fountains into rivers.

Flower of the fall,
with your feast of flesh,
your gentle tongue on mine,
soft and lingering kiss,
my sultry Spanish dancer.

—Richard Maxson

Photo by coda Creative Commons, via Flickr.


Sometimes we feature your poems in Every Day Poems, with your permission of course. Thanks for writing with us!

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    • L. L. Barkat says

      again, I am loving where your poetry is going these days. It’s become more essential.

      I especially like the repetition of sounds in “parted” and “tilted”—as if you were actually taking a drink in two motions.

    • Richard Maxson says

      I enjoyed this as well. When I read it aloud the pace seemed to mock the pace of commercial advertising. The sounds were very well put together.

  1. says


    Nobody goes to the dogs
    to ask them what they want

    to eat. We throw them
    a bone to make them dance

    for the crisp, pebbled rounds
    of crunchies they crave.

    Front paws prodding air,
    they never mistake the sigh

    that’s let go with the pop
    of the top of a can at three,

    the opener done teething
    its way through aluminum

    to expose that solid core
    of potato and duck and water

    sufficient for processing.
    Pavlov got their connection

    between having and want,
    simple need the greater hunger

    measured by an extra spoonful.

    • Richard Maxson says

      I’m not that sure about this one. It plays off HisFireFly’s a little, I think.

      Dernier Cri

      What if the iPod, Blackberry and Wii,
      the Razor and Xbox, or the endless
      new foods and drinks were name-neutral?
      Instead of Cinnamon Marshmallow Scooby-Doo,
      or Seattle’s Best, Newman’s Own coffees,
      the White Ice Teas, the better-made best
      stuff on Earth, made-to-order Tides and Green Mountains;
      what if all were named Dernier Cri?

      Every iteration named like Frank Wakefield
      names his mandolin tunes—
      Jesus Loves This Mandolin Player #2,
      Jesus Loves This Mandolin Player #67.
      No more delusions like Best and Healthy,
      or Classic. We would be free from the curse
      of canned and bottled adjectives confounding
      our choices. If there were Dernier Cri #5,
      Dernier Cri #183, what then?

      Which would we choose, in their illustrious
      boxes, the layers of packaging,
      each revealing a different material
      concealing the prize, as we dig like
      paleontologists for the celebrated bones,
      past gauzy Styrofoam, boxes in boxes of
      felt lined compartments, their Nalgene™ skeletons
      pressed out through a wonder of technology,
      slanted on each side to a 57.01234 degree angle
      meant to cast a slight shading between the latest
      thing and its subtly disappearing edge.

      At last, you reach the desired strata,
      the find, the presentation layer,
      framed in shadow, the User Manual
      in Vellum Bristol, nestled in a niche
      on the underside of the lid, calculated to impress.
      The thing itself covered in a unique wrap
      of bubbles, each tiny dome bearing
      a DC acronym, lying gently over your quest,
      3.003145 by 5.889 inches,
      the label in Garamond 9.5,
      Sunlight on Wicker glaze, or Blue Tsunami,
      the LED covered in smoke E-Z Peel™
      film over a Satin Brushed finish,
      the long awaited, Dernier Cri #1000.

  2. says

    the find

    What is in there?
    The voice of the small girl
    was hushed.
    The old tin can found,
    while digging for fishing worms.
    Marked with edges of rust.
    A few small holes
    poked into one end.
    Appearing to have never been opened.
    The label lost to decay.
    The boy held it in his hand.
    It felt light as if empty.
    Heavy with resolution,
    he dropped the can to the ground
    and kicked it all the way home.

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