Blog, poetry, Poetry Dare

Poetry Dare: Do I Dare to Do a Dare with T.S. Eliot?


poetry dare t s eliot

One day, we dared a poetry-averse friend to read a poem a day. And we watched her, with the help of a faithful poetry buddy, move beyond poking at poetry with a sharp stick to sitting down together for tea and chocolate. Well, we’ve issued a brand new Poetry Dare to Sandra Heska King. Sandra is no complete stranger to poetry, so we had to up the ante just a bit. 


“We’d like you to read not just a poem a day but a poem from one particular poet a day. (That is, the same poet every day.) And that poet, for reasons we have yet to discover, is T.S. Eliot.

I narrowed my eyes at the email. For reasons we have yet to discover . . . I smell a fish. Or maybe a peach. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact they carry the same initials? 

“We think Tania Runyan’s new How to Read a Poem will be a great companion for you along the way, and we’ll send you a copy for your good-natured willingness to go along with the fun little things we dream up at Tweetspeak.”

Fun? I like fun.

Read a poem a day from T.S. Eliot, the Tweetspeak editor wrote (I’m paraphrasing now) and then write about the experience in whatever way unfolds naturally for you.

“So. What do you think? Double-dog dare you.”

I take some time to wonder. Do I dare? Do I dare? Do I dare to eat this peach and let the juice of embarrassment run down my chin (the same chin from which my hairdresser yanked out a stray hair the other day, and I was mortified)? Should I admit I’ve never (no, not never—just not that I can remember) read T.S. Eliot? How does T.S. Poetry know this?

But in this moment there is time, and it will be worthwhile before I grow old and wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled and before the Footman snickers.

Besides I have two dogs. And who can resist a double-dog dare?

So I say, “Yes, I’ll hang out with this guy for a month, more or less, and see what comes of it.”

T.S. slips some toast and tea and marmalade and peaches in a survival sack. And they tuck in Tania, and I think there might be cheese in the bottom somewhere.

I curl up with my cats and open my library book to the first assignment, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Is Prufrock a real name? Is there some kind of literary catch to this that I’m not catching? And dude, I thought T.S. was a Christian guy, but he’s hanging out in a red light district?

And suddenly I’m in high school English lit class, and my heart is pounding, and my palms are sweating, and I don’t have a clue. I’m sure this Tweetspeak editor has made a mistake.

I turn to Tania. “Whatever your story,” she writes, “I’m going to try to trick you into becoming a better reader of poetry by having fun.” She uses a Billy Collins poem to talk about light and sound and mice and mazes and aha moments and skiing and just letting a poem be.

I take a deep breath and begin again.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table.

An operating room. That’s part of my story. I know something about etherized (I’d say anesthetized) patients. I’ve been one, and I’ve taken care of many. I hold that image in my mind and decide it doesn’t have anything to do with an evening spread out against a sky. Or does it? Etherised patients lie very, very still. (Is this simply a still evening?) They’ve given over control so something in them can be fixed.

I ponder this for a moment, and I decide to be with this poem. To give up control and just pay attention to it and let it pay attention to me, as Tania suggests.

As I enter into this dare, I’ll vow to have some fun. And maybe, somehow, if I lie very, very still over the next 30 days, the words of this poet will fix something in me. What that could be remains to be discovered.

Photo by JuditK, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Sandra Heska King.


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Your Comments

50 Comments so far

  1. A spirited dare / we’ll wait, yes, / to see how you fare / if more not less / you’ll care / we’ll guess / Mr. Eliot’s words to bear

  2. I’ve been using Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ to create found poems. I’ve four so far.

    • I’m thinking I’ll tackle that one in sections. Maybe I’ll find a few found poems, too. I’ve only read the first two lines so far.I love lilacs, so I stopped to smell them…

      • John Daniel Thieme says:

        Section by section is probably a better ay than any. When you tackle Waste Land there’s so much to look at and discover. I’ve spent 15 years on it and there’s always something new…Eliot’s mad wife, the Fisher King, St Augustine, the pub conversation about an abortion, the Upanishad references, the first lines in which he satirizes Whitman and Chaucer in only a few words, etc. Like a mystic text that is read differently each time but still as profound.

        The lilacs and hermit thrush references, are a homage to Whitman…Eliot hated Whitman–though, ironically, Eliot later told a friend that those passages were Whitman and his best lines.

  3. L. L. Barkat says:

    “And suddenly I’m in high school English lit class, and my heart is pounding, and my palms are sweating, and I don’t have a clue. I’m sure this Tweetspeak editor has made a mistake.”

    I am thinking maybe we need to make this part of our public mission statement :) There are a few people even on the Tweetspeak Team now who thought that very last line. The rest is history.

    • “And that poet, for reasons we have yet to discover, is T.S. Eliot.”

      It could have been Whitman or dear Emily or someone I could admit I knew something about. I mean, for the longest time I had Eliot and Tolkien mixed up. Don’t ask me why.

      I’m just resting in the mud here. ;)

      • Eliot and Tolkien?! There’s gotta be a poem in that.

        • Are you going to run with it, Megan? Because – shhh – I don’t remember (key word – remember) reading Tolkien, either. Except last year I read Leaf by Niggle and saw one of the Hobbit movies.

          I did just look him up, though, and discovered he had a thing for Beowulf. I remember writing a paper on Beowulf in a college lit class. The instructor thought I over-spiritualized it. I set it on fire in that burn barrel.

  4. Lane Arnold says:

    “To give up control and just pay attention to it and let it pay attention to me, as Tania suggests.

    “As I enter into this dare, I’ll vow to have some fun. And maybe, somehow, if I lie very, very still over the next 30 days, the words of this poet will fix something in me. What that could be remains to be discovered.”

    I’m planning on stopping by now and then, to join you at the table of awakening, as the evening spreads out, as the dawn nudges me to watch and wait..

    Hurray for you for daring the double-dogs …(‘ course most anything is better with tea and toast and marmalade!)

  5. Will look forward to hearing how this double-dog dare turns out, Sandra. You’ve made me want to go back and read some Elliot for myself. :)

  6. HisFireFly says:

    it will be a delight to watch things unfold
    step boldly into whatever waits ahead for you

  7. Those Tweetspeak people. They trick some of the most unsuspecting people into doing some of the most unlikely things, don’t they?

    And they always seem to bait us with the fun :)

    Good for you, Sandra. And I think Tania’s book is going to be good for a lot of people who endured high school English with sweaty palms.

  8. Sandy, such fun! Love the way you’re simply sitting with the words, letting them find their own way, imbued with meaning yet to discover. I love T.S. Eliot! One of my favorite poets. Think I’ll grab an anthology off the shelf today and read a few lines.

    • Oh, do come back and tell what you read. I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to do some research to see if I can figure out some of the stuff he refers to in order to make a little more sense of his words–but only if it feels like fun. ;)

  9. Your dare is much harder than mine was, Sandy! I wish you well.

    P.S. Just ordered Tania’s book so I can play along.

    • Did you have a dare? I don’t remember a dare. I remember you were a companion–a mentor. Holding Nancy’s hand.

      You’ll love that book. Wesley does, too. He hasn’t even eaten it yet, although I did take 1776 away from him and Susanna this morning. My husband’s library book. Oops. ;)

  10. Dang! Y’all are having too much fun over here – and wearing down my defenses.

    I’ve got your back, Sandra…just in case this poetry potion leads you astray. =)

  11. Oh! I love to write poetry, but sometimes struggle to understand poetry of others, including some of the greats! Hmmm, do I dare?
    not sure but the book suggestion, How to Read…looks good!

  12. you don’t even wanna know how long it took me to figure out whose initials you were comparing…



  13. What a magnet these poetry dares are. Is it the dare or the poetry, drawing us like moths to the flame, the challenge. I love how this brings everyone around, circling the wagons, cheering you one, learning more of TS through TS. And I have the book so I can sit in my little box seat here in the warmth of my home by the glow of my screen and say RAH RAH go Sandy!!

    There is a poem in here. I am going to work on one. And I love the double dog dare metaphor existed in natural/physical realm too.

    How perfect is that. Off to research my poem.

  14. Circling the wagons to learn more of TS through TS. Too sweet! I’ll be over here by the fire with a cup of tea and some marmalade-topped toast waiting for your words. :)

  15. Dea says:

    When I want you to do something for me, I am going to remember that you can’t resist the double dog dare. Love this fun post. I needed it today. Maybe I should order the book and sit with a poem or two…

  16. Sandy, as I believe we share near the same birthday year, I’d venture to say we endured/enjoyed similar English classes. I majored in English Lit and Composition and loved every minute of it.
    However, as a grown up, I’m terrified around people who talk about poetry as if they know what it means….’cause I SO don’t. I can identify with your sweaty palms. I enjoy certain poets-Geo Herbert, E., Dickinson–but the mystifying ones are well, mystifying, and I’m hesitant to admit my doofus-ness about just not ‘getting them.’ I applaud you for your bravery and hereby challenge TS Poetry to come up with a suitable Florence Nightingale Award in Poetry (a propos, yes?).

  17. Hmmmm. . . not sure this is exactly my idea of fun. But you are making it so, Sandy. Eliot is a tough nut – great one-liners, but overall? Dense and murky. At least to the likes of me. Glad you’re tackling it and who could resist a double-dog dare? Especially an owner of two dogs!

    • Tania says I don’t have to crack him open all the way. Just peek in his shell a little. And yeah… it’s pretty hard to resist a double-dog dare when there are dogs and cats and tea and toast and marmalade and cheese (and a mouse or two) involved…

  18. Marcy Terwilliger says:

    This was a hoot to read, just made me smile out loud. I do love T.S. & really love T.S. Poetry. After all this talk, if it gets above freezing I’m off to the attic to pull out every poetry book I own. The best are the small collection my Grandmother left me. I love a dare but I really like it when there’s something new to do with you guys. Let’s just have some fun. Are you up for it?


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