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Poetry Prompt: Write about Your Town in an Unusual Way

Your town, city, village, or neighborhood has a history. Do some research (if necessary) and "map" that place in an unusual way. Nancy's poem, below, uses murders to get to know a city. There are many ways to do this--not just murders--and you can also use any place you wish and/or make up your map. Here are a few ideas, and then Nancy's poem: historic houses, natural disasters, friends who have moved away, meanings behind the street names, abandoned buildings, animals seen, or past residents. Nancy's poem focuses on memory--what will your city map poem reveal?




Learning the City by Murders

by Nancy Breen


I once knew the lay of the city by murders.

My childhood was full of them,

heavy aghast quotients, causing talk

among bus drivers, bishops, and carry-out clerks.


What newsprint maps and broadcasts

didn’t teach me, I filled in by quizzing adults.

Have I ever been there?

How close is that to the park?

Do we pass there

on the way to Aunt Gin’s?


I could give directions to Fairfax

by explaining how to find the center grocery,

the last place the butchered four-year-old

had been seen alive. I didn’t know Kemperton

by the population figure on the welcome sign,

but by the number of family fatalities

the day the outcast uncle went berserk.


I still do it sometimes, reading

freeway exit signs without need,

blind to the familiar place names,

but chanting old lady

strangled in elevator


young girl run over

by nut in park


woman and children shot

be good husband, loving father,

pillar of the community.


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