Saturday, October 1, 2016

Two-Way Challenge for October

I spent some time at the end of September this year in Massachusetts—in Boston, Quincy, Plymouth, and New Bedford. When I arrived, few of the leaves had turned red or gold. But while I was walking the Freedom Trail, boarding the Mayflower II, and wandering down The Street in Plimouth Plantation (where they invite you to enter the 17th century), the weather chilled. Wind beat the Atlantic, waves beat the shoreline. Summer was over and fall was on the way.

If you ask people in the U.S. what their favorite season is, I suspect most would answer either spring or autumn. Or they might declare a tie between those two seasons. Christine Swanberg wrote a beautiful poem about a particular part of the fall known as Indian summer. Some people use that term to refer to especially warm days in late fall, probably coinciding with what Shakespeare referred to as “All Halloween Summer.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that a warm spell is not Indian summer unless it falls between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20. However that may be, these warm days that follow a heavy frost are usually hazy, and that fall haze is generally considered part of the definition.

Swanberg says, “My understanding of Indian Summer is warm weather after the first frost. It's a time a warmth blended with trees and foliage reaching their deepest colors, kind of the best of both worlds of summer and fall.”

There are also different explanations of the name. Some say it when the weather was cool, the native Americans put aside their bows and arrows and didn’t fight the settlers. When a warm spell came in late fall, they started attacking again. Others say that the name relates to farming practices of the native Americans. There is another hypothesis that originally the name had nothing to do with native Americans; rather it relates to shipping in the Indian Ocean. If the name comes from warring between Native Americans and settlers, it certainly qualifies as politically incorrect, and I would not want to use it. Nevertheless, I am very fond of Swanberg’s poem.                                                                                                     

Indian Summer, Come
Indian Summer, blaze through brown grass blades.
Ripple around all that is gold:
field corn drying on stalks,
all the russet maiden grass on plains,
the amber seed heads of goldenrod and aster.
Indian Summer, come.

Come burning the sun’s last hot rays.
to the red pony’s black, muddy hooves,
to the pink snouts of possums asleep behind logs,
to fuzzy fountain grasses swaying in prairies.
Slant down on blue spruce and white pine.
Indian Summer, come.

Come whispering on tabby cat whiskers,
tippling moss-coated trunks of maples,
shimmering on small, red crab apples in meadows,
landing on looping groups of cedar waxwings
as they huddle on trees near the river’s edge.
Indian Summer, come.

Arc over river bluffs and castle rocks,
over every circling bird of prey.
Glint from the eagle’s chartreuse eye
Glimmer from the red hawk’s splayed tail.
Soar wide as the vulture’s black wingspan.
Indian Summer, come.

Come in full head-dress, thundering.
Drum full color on leaves,
rattling and shaking fall’s last tassels.
Let it shout. Let it whoop and whirl.
All creatures deserve one final dance in the sun.
O, Indian Summer, come.

Christine Swanberg
Rockford, IL

First published in Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity (see

When I first read Swanberg’s poem, I immediately thought of Jane Kenyon’s beautiful poem, “Let Evening Come,” which you can read at Both poems use repetition, both move toward strong endings. And they use the word “come” in similar ways. Each of the poems may be interested literally or metaphorically.

The October Challenge:
There are two options for this challenge. You may write your own poem inviting something to come: a season, a time of day, a day of the week, a holiday or something else (but not a person or pet). Or you may write a poem about the autumn.

Title your poem unless it is haiku or another form that does not use titles. It may be free or formal verse. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem. Please single-space, and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines).

You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Note that this is a recent change in the rules.

The deadline is October 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language. No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet. If a winning poem is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”) . Include a brief bio which can be printed with your poem, if you are a winner this month.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (no pdf files, please). Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.

Christine Swanberg has published several books of poetry, including Tonight on This Late Road, Invisible String, Bread Upon the Waters and Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity. Her work appears in numerous anthologies. She has published hundreds of poems in journals such as The Beloit Poetry Journal, Spoon River Quaarterly, Amelia, Chiron, Kansas Quarterly, Creative Woman, Earth's Daughters, Mid-America Review, Powatan Review, Midnight Mind, Sow's Ear, Wind, and others.

Swanberg's awards include a featured reading at Seattle’s Frye Museum through Poetswest, first and second place in Peninsula Pulse, first place in Midwest Poetry Review and the Womanspirit Award from Womanspace. She received a merit scholarship to attend the post-graduate seminar at Vermont College, where she worked with the late Lynda Hull.  In addition, several of her poems were selected by the Poetry Center of Chicago for a juried readings.  She has edited Korone; Confluence: A Legacy of Rock River Valley; Land Connections: Writers of North Central Illinois. She founded the  Rock River Poetry Contest and has judged many contests including  Pen Women and Illinois Emerging Writers. She has been a teacher for over thirty years.


© Wilda Morris

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September 2016 Poetry Challenge Winners

Both judges, Diana Anhalt and Jim Barton, selected the same two poems as winners in the September Poetry Challenge. Congratulations to Timothy Cheeseman and Maura Snell. These two poems are about as different as Anhalt’s and Barton’s poems in the previous post, but both show excellent craft.

McDonalds Comes to Milford City

An inky buggy sulks down Maple Street,
the clap of iron horseshoes mingling
with a backhoe’s groans. This morning,
workers lay brick like bees stuffing hives;
Eli hitches his mare at Yoder’s Hardware.
A tin bell jingles as he steps inside;
waxed hardwood screeches under his Red Wings.

Gliding through the aisles, he’s a shadow
scratching his beard over the bin of 10
penny nails. Hooded bulbs drizzle misty
light on the feast of metal aroma:
unbruised hammers, dusty new pipes. He rolls
a dowel between his fingers, recalling
the pasture’s tired posts and sagging barbed wire.

Perry bags staples as Eli fishes
in his coin purse. Like empty Friday pews,
they nod in a hymn of silence. Between
the brass register’s key clacks, Perry cleans
his pipe and thumbs brittle bills. A storm
of swallows flees the window sill as Eli
rests inside his thin suspenders.

Outside, Eli stashes the staples under
the buggy’s clapboard seat and glances
where Lovejoy’s Dollar Store stood last week.
The sun ignites a massive M leaning
against stacked cinder block. He remembers
dead Joe Souder, who flipped his John Deere off
Price Road, and how Joe loved cheeseburgers.

~ Timothy Cheeseman
Originally published in The Evansville Review, 2001


It’s been so many times I forget the way.
I forget the smoothness
of route 89, the car hitching
into cruise control as green
mountains slip up over the dash.

You sleep in the passenger seat, my story
on speakers, windshield splattered
with moth wings. Silver lights
on Main say hello as if the moon hasn’t
set ten times since we left,     
the sun hasn’t risen, hasn’t burned.

At the house you troll the property
checking for water. We sit
next to the bonfire, stoke in the dark.
Your mouth is full of intentions.

Your hands are the river’s stones—
smooth, round, warm.

The Army Corps of Engineers
had to dredge it after Irene,
the bartender had said. His t-shirt
is from a bin bag at the Salvation Army.   
He watched his house go under.

For our hike we buy peaches at the fruit stand.
The farmer squeezes our cash in his palm.    
It disappears.

From the top of Mount Tom we see
everything. You feed me
because my hands are dirty.
I eat because I can.     

We come with the intention of new settlers.
We come stomping our feet in the dirt.
~ Maura Snell

Timothy Cheeseman is currently a guidance counselor at Shawnee High School in Lima, Ohio where he previously taught literature and theatre. He has a B.S. from The Ohio State University and a M.F.A. from Bowling Green State University and studied under Allen Ginsberg at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. A former Sacramento Poetry Prize Winner and Ciardi prize finalist, he last placed work in the Evansville Review and Facets Poetry Magazine. Prior to teaching he worked as a professional social worker, college professor, naturalist, cook, and janitor. He was raised in the predominately Mennonite town of Plain City, Ohio. He resides in Lima, Ohio with wife Kellie Armey and two sons Tristam and Charley.

Maura Snell is co-founder and Poetry Editor at The Tishman Review, and is a freelance editor, having worked on such projects as the forthcoming anthology The Golden Shovel Anthology honoring Gwendolyn Brooks (University of Arkansas Press, 2017). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bennington Review, Red Paint Hill Quarterly, MomEgg Review, Brain Child Magazine, and in the anthology Our Last Walk: Using Poetry for Grieving and Remembering Our Pets (University Professors Press, 2016). She splits her time between Massachusetts and Vermont.