Hide and Reveal in the Acrostic Poem
What is that relationship where you both know that something’s there, and it’s not that either of you are afraid to admit it, but it’s more fun to hint, to tease, to keep leaving clues for the other to figure out? I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s quite a rush to get as close as you can to the tantalizingly unsaid.
Never in a million years would I have compared the acrostic poem to this kind of mystery, until I read Tania Runyan’s chapter on the form in How to Write a Form Poem.
I’ve always considered the acrostic the cutie pie of poetry. It’s what you get the construction paper out for. It’s the kind of poem where you use block lettering for each first letter, and even better, include a design inside each letter that symbolizes what it is you’re writing about — you know, to really drive that point home. (As if that is what poetry is concerned about.)
But Runyan encourages us to “choose risk over cuteness,” and suddenly I am in high school again, holding a note from a boy who’s written a message in code in the margins of the paper — just outside that faint pink line where teachers tell us not to take our pens and pencils. It will take me the rest of the day to figure out the message. Forget the Pythagorean theorem! Who cares about conjugating verbs in French? Give Edgar Allan Poe his heart back! WHAT IS THIS GUY TRYING TO TELL ME HERE IN THE MARGINS?!?!
What deliciousness it was to figure out his message, but the delight was even sweeter when I could continue with a secret message of my own. Nothing was stated, except I knew, and he knew that I knew.
This is the attitude Runyan takes with acrostics, and indeed, it is risky. This is not the form for dull No. 2 pencils and Elmer’s glue. We don’t want to be told what “L” stands for. We want to feel it creeping up our back, warming our cheeks, pulling at the sides of our mouths.
underneath the science lab table
nobody can see that
she moves her hand towards his
and ever so slightly brushes his hand.
It is a gesture unreadable.
“Did she twitch?” he might
he knows, or rather he feels that
it is deliberate and he remembers that every
night, the last thing they do before
going to bed is check in with each other, long, lingering texts. He
smiles and shifts silently; intertwines his finger with hers.
This week, write an acrostic poem, but choose risk over cuteness, as Runyan encourages us to do.
Thank you to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Jillian Hughes we enjoyed:
Browse more poetry prompts
If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.
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