Re-Visioning History: Lesson Plans for Incorporating The Cave into a Poetry Writing Workshop Course

The Cave is a long series of poems that examines not only the art of the Paleolithic era, but, more closely, it also focuses on the artists and the community of people from the Paleolithic era. It aims to understand how they thought and interacted with each other and the relationships they had with art, living, and death. It also explores origins, such as the origin of music, painting, sewing, burials, etc.

Obviously, you could structure a class or a set of classes on ekphrastic poetry, but there are other uncommon alternatives that The Cave could help students with, and one of those might be re-visioning history. Below are some ideas to help your class examine how history can be an inspiration for poems and as a creative way to reexamine history.

THE CAVE - the whole cover

Reimagine History

One function of The Cave is its examination of a time period that has not been creatively examined in order to understand that time period and to help us understand our current place in time. For this assignment, the student could reflect on any time period of interest to them and write a series of poems about that time period. Here, a focus will be necessary, such using as an imagined character, a famous person, or a known person but not too famous (such as one of King Henry VIII’s wives), or through the lens of an object or device (such as viewing history through the car, baseball, electricity, an art movement, etc.) If using a character, then one could even try writing dramatic monologue. For examples, see the opening poem “Paleolithic Person Explains Why He Paints in the Cave,” or “The First Potter’s Advice,” or many of the poems from the opening section of The Cave.

Create a History or Write Invention Poems

For this, a student looks at a historical moment that has never been examined or that has been under examined. Or, with the same strategy in mind, the student can write a poem about how a taken-for-granted item was invented. Here, the student can reference “The Needle,” “The Invention of the Doll,” “The Invention of the Ellipsis,” or any of the many invention poems in The Cave. For this, the student can write an invention poem or create a history for an event that needs one.

Bone Needle

Rewrite History

Here, the student takes on a period in history and rewrites it with a twist, such as King Henry VIII finds a happy marriage in his seventh wife (a wife who never existed). This could also be a good exercise for the student who wants to write a long poem.

Challenge the History in the Textbook

Cover of textbook on Western SocietyMartín Espada – “One of a poet’s duties is to challenge the official history.”

Using this prompt, a person could write a political poem that challenges the status quo of history. It might investigate the omissions of history or it might take on a character from a moment in history to reevaluate a politically charged time period. Here you might think of African, Latino, Asian, Native American, and immigrant poets who have insisted on a more complex telling or examination of American history.

From The Cave, you can consider how Holmes avoids the clichés of interpreting the cave paintings as magico-religious animating powers to facilitate a successful hunt. Instead, he reimagines why the painters painted so Holmes could better understand those painters, and so he could help us better understand humanity today, especially when it comes to the creative processes. The challenge for the student is to write a poem that connects the past with today, especially if it is political.


Examining history through a different lens (such as examining the origin of a common item or using a marginalized or new point of view) creates defamiliarization, which, of course, is a goal of writing. This defamiliarization then helps us make history present to us by forcing us to make associations and connections that we don’t do with the characters and objects that are already familiar to us and that have become empty of meaning.


The Cave by Tom Holmes
80 pp. paper $12.00
ISBN # 978-0-9883525-6-8

Available from
The Bitter Oleander Press
4983 Tall Oaks Drive
Fayetteville, NY 13066-9776
Small Press Distribution and Amazon.com

For more ideas on how to incorporate this book into your writing poetry workshop,
please contact the author from the Contact tab.


To download a PDF version of these lesson plans, click Lesson Plans for The Cave.//

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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

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Poems for an Empty Church

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The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

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