Poetry Week #002: Writing the Cascade Poem

color weapon


          First, in order for me to discuss what a cascade poem is, let me show you one. “Woman on a Swing: Lions Park” is one of three poems that helped me win the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) poetry prize in 2012. It’s one I quickly showed poet Patricia Young over dinner at another conference, and she told me to change the title (it was originally called “The Swing of Things”) and one part of the imagery. . . and it worked! Here it is; pay attention to what happens to the first four lines later on in the poem:


Clutching cold rusted chains, she’s breathing

in perfume of lilacs and honeysuckle,

standing far enough back to drop into memories.

Momentum can plunge her forward, drive her back,

but it starts with letting go.


When she does, a breeze kisses bare skin,

elastic limbs stretching forward, snapping back,

soaring for skies ever higher, heart pumping

faster than her legs, tense fingers

clutching cold rusted chains. She’s breathing


again, shoes stepping between the stars.

The backwards pull takes her by surprise,

and the locket flies, opens butterfly wings,

the memory suspended—herself, her daughter bathed

in perfume of lilacs and honeysuckle—


how she looked that summer: heaven’s child,

long blonde tresses trailing a comet’s path,

one of her own making. Her mother’s not there.

She’s racing out, camera in hand, capturing it all,

standing far enough back to drop into memories,


that scene, a moment waiting for a mother,

her daughter sky high, smiling wide, on top

of a world she is no longer in touch with.

Transformation, rebirth, like motherhood, the

momentum can plunge her forward, drive her back,


lead her forward to…a second child? She stares down

and all she sees is dirt and rock, the hardness of life

cut short. Heels dig in, earth erupts around her, and

she knows that she can escape the grime, rise above it,

but it starts with letting go.


Clutching a cold silver chain, she’s breathing. It starts with letting go.

          Notice that what happens with those first five lines in the first stanza is that they become ENDING lines for the next five stanzas. The lines “cascade” down, like a waterfall. It’s a beautiful effect if you can find the right images to do it with. While I’m not a huge fan of “form” poetry, this is one that produces an effect I like. I’m glad the judges liked it too.

Try this:

          Write a cascade poem of any length. Just be sure that you focus on the lines of your first stanza, since those are the ones that will “drop down” to the ends of later stanzas. (Also, connected to yesterday’s idea, notice how I’ve played with how the lines mirror the swing movement–not a huge shift, but a gentle swing back and forth. Remember that you can show things on paper that you can’t when reading a poem aloud.)

Coming tomorrow: It’s all about the SOUND…poetry week #003!


I’d like to try this out, and have a look at #001 and #003 too! I hope you don’t mind if I add your blog to my links on creative outlets, with the hopes that others will also enjoy having a go. :)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *