April 13 Poetry Prompt – The Talisman

The talisman, the totem, the lucky charm – usually an object, maybe a tune or an image, sometimes an idea we carry with us that confers some sort of power.

Talismans can be quite elaborate in nature. It was once a common practice to create a special object under specific observances of heavenly configurations, such as certain phases of the moon, sun and other planetary alignments. Going back even further, we suspect that early carvings and cave paintings had significance of some kind beyond the merely artistic – they quite possibly had magical, totemic or other purpose. But a talisman in the true, distilled sense of the word is not limited to the astrological, the magical or the ritual.

Think back over the times in your life when you’ve put something on or carried something with you “for luck,” or just because having it with you made you feel a little better. Maybe it’s a special piece of jewelry or other adornment. A tumbled gemstone you tuck into your pocket once in a while. Maybe you carry a letter someone wrote to you because it inspires or comforts. Maybe you have a lucky pen you sign contracts or write poems with, or maybe you wear a pair of lucky underwear (or tie, or other article of clothing) to job interviews.

That dollar bill you sometimes see framed and kept in view of the cash register in places of business is also a talisman – probably the first dollar that store made, kept in celebration and anticipation of profitability. That first sale is lucky, and the business owner wants to keep the prosperous energy close by.

Sometimes, the most powerful talisman is simply a found object that spoke to us, or that we picked up in a significant place at a significant time. The memories and feelings it evokes can provide comfort or sustain us in difficulty.


A talisman is simply something that we keep near us because it has a special energy, a feeling of luck, symbolism, abundance or protection – in other times, because they repelled evil or averted accident and disease. Its function in your personal mythology is to make you feel protected, to bring you strength from somewhere outside yourself. Its relationship to you makes it a mythic object.

An idea can also be a talisman – some people “carry” a virtue or an ideal (such as honesty, love, strength, or What Would Jesus Do?) that they bring to mind in challenging situations. A mascot is a talisman, so is a totem animal. Oral or written charms, mantras or sayings can also serve a talismanic function: think of automobile bumper stickers, or motivational quotes people hang on their walls.

Give to each word the power of a charm. – Jennifer Page 

Write today’s poem about something talismanic that has sustained you, and therefore figures in the mythic structure of your life. 

Also, because we are celebrating Poetry Month: 

Choose a poem that you like for whatever reason – whether its sound, sense or imagery seem poetically powerful to you – and commit yourself to memorize it before the end of April. Challenge yourself to ten, twenty lines – something you can absorb yourself in reciting for a full minute or two. 

If the idea of memorizing a poem is daunting, do it anyway! We used to make schoolchildren memorize poems regularly, you can do it too. Also, consider your reputation as a poet – the ability to recite poetry at dinner parties is not only impressive, it is easy to cultivate with practice. 

Whatever its length, pick something that stops you in your tracks every time you read it and make it yours. Know that it was written just for you. Then write it in yourself and carry it with you always. 

I’ll be memorizing Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” a sonnet in translation by Stephen Mitchell. What about you?

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8 Responses to April 13 Poetry Prompt – The Talisman

  1. This prompt showed me how I used to use certain songs as talisman. My tanka on that here: http://kirstencliffwrites.blogspot.com/2011/04/april-pad-challenge-personal-mythology_13.html

    Thanks, Jennie.

  2. margo roby says:

    I love it. I shall memorise Ted Kooser’s Pocket Poem, which is short, but I did my share of memorising poems in my youth, to include Chaucer’s Prologue in Middle English!

    • corvapriya says:

      Margo, I’d never seen this one before until you mentioned it — what a beautiful choice.
      “Midnight says / the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped / by nervous fingers. ”
      And Chaucer, wow. I was never required to memorize poetry but I frequently committed stuff to memory because I liked the sound of it. I sometimes wake up with bits of “Kubla Khan” in my head.

  3. lychee13 says:

    wild geese by Mary Oliver

  4. Pingback: Friday Freeforall: Prompts Roundup « Margo Roby: Wordgathering

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