April 3 Poetry Prompt – Loss and Distance

Losses are an inevitability of being alive, of being human. We experience losses constantly, simply by moving through time and space. In remembering and coming to terms with these losses we relate ourselves and our aches to the world, creating meaning for ourselves and thereby adding to the body of our personal mythology. 

As a life’s work, I would remember everything – everything, against loss. I would go through life like a plankton net. – Annie Dillard 

Loss can be described as something we had that we don’t have any more. Maybe we misplaced it, maybe it was taken from us, maybe we don’t know what happened to it. It’s sometimes marked by deprivation, sometimes bereavement. When we are “at a loss,” literally at the point of a loss, we are bewildered, rendered helpless or at a disadvantage. It’s a moment of pain around which we instinctively build stories. 

Though I don’t see it in the dictionary this way, I think we can also experience loss for a thing we never had but maybe thought we wanted, or needed. 

We can lose very concrete things: a toy, a person, a house, a beloved animal, a key. We also lose such things as dreams and aspirations, hopes, opportunities, lifestyles. We can experience single devastating losses (the death of a spouse) and also ordinary little daily losses (seeing a child off to school every morning). 


Distance has an interesting relationship with the idea of loss. Not only is it the amount of space or time between one thing and another (or between us and a lost thing) it can also be a kind of balm – such as when we experience a loss and cannot speak of it right away. We talk of “putting some distance” between ourselves and the event, of perhaps detaching ourselves somewhat from the lost thing, or from the world, until enough pain has passed that we can  return to it. Sometimes this distance arms us with wisdom, strength or some new perspective. 

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky. – Rainer Maria Rilke 

Distance can also imply remoteness or lack of warmth. Have you ever been in the room with someone who may as well have been on the moon? Alternately, have you ever needed, loved or been relieved at the distance between yourself and someone else? 


Consider the following questions for today’s poem:

* what still makes you ache to think about losing?

* when was regret greater than actual grief?

* is loss simply change, whether it turns out for the better or not?

* has distance ever paradoxically brought you closer to something?

* what did you want to be when you grew up? what didn’t you become?

* what feelings of loss seem out of proportion to you even now?

* what has come back to you, that was once lost?

* did you ever lose anything you didn’t understand the loss of until later?

* what can you speak of now that you have some distance on it?

* what has grown up in the place of a significant loss?

* what have you discovered in yourself that made up for a loss?

* in what ways have you mistaken distance for loss? 

I wish I wrote more about the world at more distance from myself. – Sharon Olds 

Remember that the blank page in front of you can hold anything you want or need to put there today, and that the words of a poem can close any distance you can imagine. Reconnect. Write today’s poem about loss, distance, or both.

Extra credit for not naming the thing explicitly. Try depicting it in terms of its effects on your life.

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3 Responses to April 3 Poetry Prompt – Loss and Distance

  1. Jennifer, can I make a thoughtfully consider piece of feedback? I feel these prompts are too long and complicated, especially for a poetry writing exercise. Can we limit the prompts perhaps to 100-200 words?

    • corvapriya says:

      Elizabeth, and others — I’ve started including a “short version” of each day’s prompts on the WOWH site for you, to accommodate this request.

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