Saturday, March 28, 2015


Fish and fishing turned out to be popular topics for poets. Evidently I am not the only person with good memories associated with fishing, and not the only person who likes to eat fish!

The judges, Jim Lambert and jacob erin-cilberto, selected four poems – first and second place and a tie for third. I want to thank the judges and congratulate the winners.

Some of the winning poems are fairly concrete; others are more metaphoric. I hope you will enjoy all four poems. Please remember that the poets own the copyright to their poems; do not copy them without permission.


I can sense it a shooting star, 
a glint of stellular motion inspiring 
hope to fools and children, 
a delusion, a misunderstanding 
of what is actual, what is real 
that pierces the sky

It’s like a whisper of leaves 
hanging from massive cottonwood 
trees along the Missouri River, 
investing all year to growing cotton candy 
fluff while gossiping unabashedly 
like hotel maids in the laundry

~ Jessica Lindsley


Today at market on Devon
I bought a small lake trout,
brought it home to grill 
or sauté gently in the skillet
with lemon sliced, and garlic slivered,
an evergreen sprig of parsley
as a garland for my platter.

Now as heat transforms 
the pink translucent flesh into meat
light as air, white as bone,
I give thanks for I will eat
what was yesterday a rainbow
moving through the water,
translating sunlight into matter.

- Gay Guard-Chamberlin

The second place poem is:

The Line

She came to leave
A fishing lure
Firmly embedded in my lip
To wave in the breeze
As if to say
That I was the big one
Who got away

~ Phil Rice

And finally, the first place poem:


I’ve left myself open for love.

I crave the feeling of lightness,
the sudden lift of a heart
that’s traveled on such guarded wings.

I am defenseless:

a splayed flounder
on a bed of ice
in the window of a shanty
in the middle of town.

Love makes you want to take that risk.

~ Susan Mahan

The Winning Poets:

Susan Mahan has been writing poetry since her husband died in 1997. She is a frequent reader at poetry venues and has written four chap book. Her poems have been published in a number of journals and anthologies.

Phil Rice lives and writes in Woodstock, Illinois. He has edited Canopic Jar, a literary arts journal, since 1986.

Gay Guard-Chamberlin is a Chicago-based poet and performer, as well as a visual artist. Gay is currently working on a long-term multi-disciplinary collaborative project called Collage Collage. She is a member of Poets & Patrons and ISPS. Four of her shorter poems are currently featured on Nic Sebastian's website,  

Jessica Lindsley grew up in North Dakota before the oil boom. Her work has been published in the Smoking Pot, Blackwood Press, Thirteen Myna Birds, DEAD SNAKES, cryopoetry and other publications.

The Judges:

Jim Lambert lives with is wife of 50 years and two 31 year-old desert tortoises in Southern Illinois. He has had poetry and short fiction published in several small poetry and fiction magazines. He is a past president of the Southern Illinois Writers Guild and is active in Southern Illinois community theater.

jacob erin-cilberto, originally from Bronx, NY, now resides in Carbondale, Illinois. He currently teaches at John A. Logan and Shawnee Community colleges in Southern Illinois. His work has appeared in numerous small magazines and journals including: Café Review, Skyline Magazine, Hudson View, Wind Journal, Pegasus, Parnassus and others. erin-cilberto also writes reviews of poetry books for Chiron Review, Skyline Review, Birchbrook Press and others. His previous three books an Abstract Waltz, Used Lanterns and Intersection Blues are available through Water Forest Press. His books are also available on Barnes and and as well as Goodreads. erin-cilberto has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry in 2006-2007-2008 and again in 2010. He teaches poetry workshops for Heartland Writers Guild, Southern Illinois Writers Guild and Union County Writers Guild.

Check back on April 1 for the April Poetry Challenge. You just might be a winner!

© Wilda Morris

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 2015 Poetry Challenge

There are quite a few famous poems about fish and fishing. One of the most famous is a poem by John Wolcot, who wrote under the pen name "Peter Pindar." Wolcot was born in 1738 and died in 1819. His name is not as well-known now as it once was, in part because much of his poetry was about current events and about the celebrities of his day. His poem about fishing, however, has stood the test of time.

To A Fish of the Brook

Why fliest thou away with fear?
Trust me there's naught of danger near,
     I have no wicked hook
All covered with a snaring bait,
Alas, to tempt thee to thy fate,
     And drag thee from the brook.

O harmless tenant of the flood,
I do not wish to spill thy blood,
     For nature unto thee,
Perchance hath given a tender wife,
And children dear, to charm thy life,
     As she hath done for me.

Enjoy thy stream, O harmless fish;
And when an angler for his dish,
     Through gluttony's vile sin,
Attempts, a wretch, to pull thee out,
God give thee strength, O gentle trout,
     To pull the rascal in!

~ John Wolcot (Peter Pindar)

The poem is rhymed and metered. Wolot doesn’t tell us what kind of fish the poem is addressed to until the next to last line when he needs the word “trout” to rhyme with “out.” Note how he seeks to create a sense of identification with the fish.

Wolcot was known for his wit and satire, so I suspect that he intended this poem to be humorous. The message has been taken more seriously by some contemporary animal rights groups, however.

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish,” which you can read at, is an entirely different kind of poem. It isn’t reproduced here, because it is not yet in the public domain.

Bishop’s poem is well-crafted free verse. She uses a number of poetic devices, including similes, vivid imagery, and alliteration. There are two very short sentences near the beginning of the poem. After that most of the poem, though consisting of short lines, is made up of long, run-on sentences. This structure, it seems to me, gives more “punch” to the six word concluding sentence.

Like Wolcot, Bishop creates in the reader a sense of identification with and sympathy for the fish, but she does it in a very different way than he did. Her detailed descriptions of the fish and the hooks in its lip are important in that regard, as is the idea of looking into the eyes of the fish. The fish and its plight may be metaphoric, suggesting the struggles which people go through in life.

While the fish in Bishop’s poem is old, ugly and described in detail, the trout William Butler Yeats wrote about was “silver.” That one word is the only description given to the fish caught by the narrator. But what a fish! Yeats made good use of his imagination in this poem:

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

 ~ William Butler Yeats

This is, of course, another rhymed and metered poem. Is it a dream poem? Aengus is the name of a got in Irish mythology, but the story told by this haunting poem doesn’t retell any of the traditional stories. Much ink has used in trying to explain all the symbolism of the poem. Do you think the main theme of the poem is obsessive or unrequited love? Human longing for what is unattainable? Essentially every object in the poem, from the moths to the “silver apples of the moon” and “golden apples of the sun” have been interpreted metaphorically.

March Poetry Challenge:

The poetry challenge for March is to write a poem about fish or fishing. Maybe you went fishing with your father or grandfather, or took your child fishing. Perhaps you love a good fish fry, or maybe you can’t stand the taste or texture of tuna.

Your submission can be a narrative poem, such as Bishop’s poem, about a realistic fish. It can be a magical fish such as the silver fish in Yeats’ poem. Or the fish or fishes or fishing can be metaphoric. Be sure your poem is about fishing or about a fish. A starfish is not a fish, despite its name (some scientists are trying to persuade us to call them sea stars), nor are sand dollars. Octopi are not fish, nor are whales.

Submit only one poem. The deadline is March 15. Poems submitted after the March 15 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 far from “family-friendly” language.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If your poem has been published in a print periodical, you may submit it if you retain copyright, but please include publication data.

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. 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 30 lines are generally preferred. Also, if lines are too long, they don’t fit in the blog format and have to be split, so you might be wise to use shorter lines.

Some Other Interesting Poems about Fish or Fishing:

David Bond, “Fishing With the Hair Of The Dead,” in American Chicken (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2007), pp. 13-17.

“Billy Collins, “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July,” in Picnic, Lightening (Pittsburg: Pittsburgh University Press, 1998), p. 7-8.

James Merrill, “The Parrot Fish,” in James Merrill, Selected Poems 1946-1985 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), p. 81.

Pablo Neuruda, “El Pescador”/”The Fisherman,” in Pablo Neruda, Five Decades: A Selection (Poems: 1925-1970) A Bilingual Edition Edited and Translated from the Spanish by Ben Belitt (New York: Grove Press, 1974), pp. 304-305.

Mary Oliver, “Gannets,” “Dogfish,” and “The Fish,” in New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), pp. 28-29, 103-105, 165. [Note: Gannet’s are birds—but they eat fish, so fish are important to the poem.]

Henriëtte Roland-Holst, “Mother of Fishermen,” in The Penguin Book of Women Poets, edited by Carol Cosman, Joan Keefeand and Kathleen Weaver (Middlesex, England and New York: Penguin Books, 1978), p. 222.

Sandy Stark, “Learning to Fish” in Counting on Birds by Sandy Stark (Fireweed Press, 2010) ; also at

For more fish poems on line, see This collection will not only take you fishing, it will also take you to a fish market.

© Wilda Morris

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Coffee Poem Winners

My American University Coffee Mug

I have long known that an individual’s response to poetry is very subjective. That is one reason that “schools” of poetry sometimes have fierce arguments about what is good poetry and what is not. It is also why a poet like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow can be highly regarded by his own generation, then fall out of favor, and then become more popular again. It is why, although some poetry journals disdain rhyme and regular meter, others specialize in publishing sonnets, villanelles and other formal verse.

I asked Mary Jo Balistreri and Karla Linn Merrifield, whose poems were used as examples of “coffee” poems in the previous post, to judge the February Poetry Challenge separately. One of the judges identified first and second place poems; the other picked first, second and third place work – but not one poem was on both lists. As a result we have two poems, tied for first place, to share this month.

Balistreri picked “Barista:” by Caroline Johnson as winner.


Henry says the Lakota called it black medicine.
I can imagine Black Elk drinking from a gourd,
huddling around a teepee with a peace pipe
sometime in July when the cherries are ripe.

Henry looks at each customer with green eyes
full of gourmet hot chocolate and caramel mochas. 
He moves his arms across the espresso machine,
steaming milk, whirling words with a smile.

His eyes sail through you like a windjammer,
as if you’ve been caught by a cool island breeze.
He hums as he scrubs stubborn stains off of soup
kettles, stocks the pantry, or pours steamed milk.

He shakes his head and his braids rustle round him. 
I work the register, exchanging money for drinks.
The smell of French Roast perfumes the air.
You can hear the crackle of beans as they grind.

The line is long:  a mother with a stroller, a boy
in a wheelchair, two ladies with Gucci bags. 
Two wealthy ladies talk of sconces in their new
living rooms, a young couple orders hot chocolate,

and a lone man with dark black hair stands at the back
of the café wearing a T-shirt, his arms exposed to reveal
a green tattoo:  “I-R-A-Q” neatly printed across his skin.
Henry talks to them all as they huddle around, waiting

for their black medicine.  Henry makes everything look easy. 
He can do three things at once.  Yet Henry’s not easy. 
He’s just trying to figure life out before it passes him by.

~ Caroline Johnson

In discussing why she picked this poem, Balistreri said

Barista” is as much about Henry as it is about coffee, as much as it is about two distinct groups of society. The black medicine winds through the entire poem, from Black Elk huddled around his teepee with a peace pipe to the customers that huddle around waiting--and the contrast is clear.  Henry's eyes might really be green, but green is also a sign of envy as he watches these people with money to spend on coffee, while he works behind the bar. "His eyes sail through you like a windjammer," and he gives his customers individual attention as well as the "feeling of a cool island breeze."

The poet gives an accurate and poetic description of a cafe--I smell the French roast, see him wiping the machines, hear the crackle of the grinding bean. The small portraits of the long line are interesting, too—a microcosm of society. IRAQ is another symbol of gaps in our culture.The ending of the poem makes the reader ponder other baristas she's seen--and people in general. Our outward appearance often has little to do with what's going on. The last line keeps the poem open--we don't know what he's trying to figure out either. 
Craft: The poem has seven stanzas, all except the ultimate one with 4 lines. Good diction, and wonderful use of rhyme, slant rhyme, assonance and alliteration. I like the way the stanzas give a firm container for Henry who is most likely firmly contained. He doesn't give much of himself away. Form and content complement each other.

Caroline Johnson enjoys watching movies with her father, especially James Bond movies.  She has published two poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork.  In 2012 she won 1st Place in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Poetry Contest. She has published poetry and fiction in DuPage Valley Review, Prairie Light Review, Encore, Chicago Tribune, New Scriptor, The Quotable, Uproot, Rambunctious Review, and others.  She teaches community college English in the Chicago area, and leads poetry workshops for veterans.  Currently president of Poets and Patrons of Chicago, she has a blog at  

Copyright on this poem is retained by Caroline Johnson.

Unfortunately the way this blog is laid out, it will not accept lines as long as those in the winning poem, so I had to use indentation.

An Early Morning Hymn

The air is heavy, still and silent, disturbed only by the rasp of the cup
in protest of being pulled  from its cabinet slumber
as the dawn chorus of warblers and goldfinches greets the start
      of the new day.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the soft sighs of the coffee pot
      on the countertop
as it whispers “Good Morning” to the dust motes whorling
on an invisible current like the fae Queen’s glamour, or snowflake
      s in Autumn.

As the skies slowly bleed from black to purple to pink, it reminds
      me of a Romanichal spell
being cast, which bids me stay reticent and lend ear, as the day
      slowly awakens
to the strains of an early morning hymn that slowly fades away
      as I savor my last sip.

The charms of the morning dissolve as swiftly as they had
      appeared, and the birds are mute
until the morrow, when the sweet refrains can be heard again
and the runes are restored once more with the divine communion
      of decoction and cream.

~ Christy Cole Quast

Merrifield’s response to “An Early Morning Hymn was “WINNER! On theme.  Lovely language. Narrator’s lofty diction (appropriate to a hymn) sustained throughout. I am charmed.  Great control over form and line, too.” She used fewer words to explain her choice, but her enthusiasm for this poem is clear!

Merrifield remarked separately that “Romanichal” is a “great word.” It is a word which may send some readers to the dictionary – but unless you have a very unusual dictionary, you won’t find it there. Wikipedia explains that the Romanichals belong to a group of Romani (the group that used to be referred to as gypsies) who settled in England in the 16th Century. Sometimes an unusual word detracts from a poem; other times it is just what the poem needs.

Copyright for this poem is retained by Christy Cole Quast.

Christy Cole Quast is an avid reader of the written word, and has a B.A. in English Literature.  She hasn’t written any poetry since college, but has recently dusted off her beloved notebook to jot down some verse here and there, inspired by her 12-year-old daughter who writes poems and short stories “just for fun.”

Congratulations to Caroline and Christy for winning the February Poetry Challenge, and thank you to Mary Jo and Karla Linn for serving as judges. Bios of the judges can be found in the previous post on this blog.

Check back early in March for a new poetry challenge.

© Wilda Morris