Sunday, September 1, 2019

September 2019 Poetry Challenge - Storm

Storm-Tossed Ships Wrecked on a Rocky Coast
Johann Christoph Dietzsch
German, 1710-1769
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

I write this challenge post as thousands of Floridians and Carolinians await Dorian’s decision on where to make landfall as a category 4 (or worse?) storm. It seems appropriate that the September challenge be related to storms.

Some storms are devastating. What the winds don’t destroy, subsequent flooding may take. Other storms are milder or shorter in length. A sudden burst of thunder, lightning and rain may cool off a hot afternoon, even as it fixes needed nitrogen in the soil.

William Cullen Bryant, an American poet who lived from 1794-1878, wrote about a hurricane:

The Hurricane

LORD of the winds! I feel thee nigh,
I know thy breath in the burning sky!
And I wait, with a thrill in every vein,
For the coming of the hurricane!

And lo! on the wing of the heavy gales,
Through the boundless arch of heaven he sails;
Silent, and slow, and terribly strong,
The mighty shadow is borne along,
Like the dark eternity to come;
While the world below, dismayed and dumb,
Through the calm of the thick hot atmosphere
Looks up at its gloomy folds with fear.

They darken fast—and the golden blaze
Of the sun is quenched in the lurid haze,
And he sends through the shade a funeral ray—
A glare that is neither night nor day,
A beam that touches, with hues of death,
The clouds above and the earth beneath.
To its covert glides the silent bird,
While the hurricane's distant voice is heard,
Uplifted among the mountains round,
And the forests hear and answer the sound.

He is come! he is come! do ye not behold
His ample robes on the wind unrolled?
Giant of air! we bid thee hail!—
How his gray skirts toss in the whirling gale;
How his huge and writhing arms are bent,
To clasp the zone of the firmament,
And fold, at length, in their dark embrace,
From mountain to mountain the visible space.

Darker—still darker! the whirlwinds bear
The dust of the plains to the middle air:
And hark to the crashing, long and loud,
Of the chariot of God in the thunder-cloud!
You may trace its path by the flashes that start
From the rapid wheels where'er they dart,
As the fire-bolts leap to the world below,
And flood the skies with a lurid glow.

What roar is that?—'tis the rain that breaks,
In torrents away from the airy lakes,
Heavily poured on the shuddering ground,
And shedding a nameless horror round,
Ah! well-known woods, and mountains, and skies,
With the very clouds!—ye are lost to my eyes.
I seek ye vainly, and see in your place
The shadowy tempest that sweeps through space,
A whirling ocean that fills the wall
Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.
And I, cut off from the world, remain
Alone with the terrible hurricane.

~ William Cullen Bryant

Another American poet, one who was born when Bryant was about 36 years old and preceded him in death, wrote several poems regarding storms. Here is one:


There came a wind like a bugle;
It quivered through the grass,
And a green chill upon the heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the windows and the doors
As from an emerald ghost;
The doom's electric moccason
That very instant passed.
On a strange mob of panting trees,
And fences fled away,
And rivers where the houses ran
The living looked that day.
The bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings whirled.
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the world!

~ Emily Dickinson

NOTE: This poem was set to music by Aaron Copeland. Also, Dickinson did not title her poems; she only numbered them.

The following poem is from my collection:

A Pequod Sailor Speaks   

The Atlantic rolling onto the sandy shores
of Nantucket, piping plovers and screeching gulls,
oysters and crabs in the inlets,
rising sun painting pastel wrinkles
on ever-moving water—
this was nature as I loved it
in my boyhood.

Broken masts, bereft wives
and fatherless children
tell another story of the sea.
Still, I can’t resist the challenge
to prove my manhood
and test my nature against
the earth’s salty liquid overcoat.

At first it is easy.
We float through languid days
on indolent trade winds under skies
blue as Nantucket violets.
When I watch the sun set, coloring
the infinite spread of fluid ribbons,
I drift into meditative silence.

Sudden winds bellow, curdle foam.
Sword-sharp, they rip the sails, shriek
and break the mast. Lightning stabs
billowing water. The ocean I love bares its teeth,
opens its jaws, eager to swallow ship and crew.
The turncoat sea leaps over the bulwarks,
Judas, kissing the captain.

~ Wilda Morris

From Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2019). Available for purchase at

You can read other storm poems at:

The September Challenge:

Write about a storm. It might be a monsoon, a hurricane, or one of those little outbursts (such as those that inspired the storm music in the “Grand Canyon Suite” by Ferde Grofé). It could be a metaphor. Be creative; take the prompt in a unique direction if you can.

Your poem may be free verse or formal. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem.

Title your poem unless it is a form that does not use titles (don’t follow Emily Dickinson's practice on that!). Single-space. Note that the blog format does not accommodate long lines; if they are used, they have to be broken in two, with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the November 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.

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.

The deadline is September 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 (some children and teens read this blog). No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.

If the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “September Poetry Challenge Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month. Please put your name and bio UNDER the poem in your email. If the poem has been published before, please put that information UNDER the poem also. NOTE: If you sent your poem to my other email address, or do not use the correct subject line, the poem may get lost and not be considered for publication.

If you submitted a poem on this theme in July, you may revise and resubmit your poem, or submit another poem, if you wish.

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 (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; 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 multiple 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.

© Wilda Morris

Sunday, August 25, 2019

August 2019 Poetry Challenge Winners - Return

Karla Linn Merrifield at Age Seven

The first place winner this month used a Japanese form, haibun, which begins with prose and ends with a haiku-like poem.

Land’s Edge

We had to cross the Monongahela at the First Street Bridge to reach the eastside state road, the far side from home in my child-mind—way over there to reach the Pettigrews’ summer camp a dozen miles downriver on the East Fork. Twice each year for three years—I was 7, 8, 9—our Aunt Gertie’s friend Dottie P. let my brother Robin and me come too.

The visits smelled of sulfur water from the well, musty cots, cigarette smoke. You could hear mice afoot. Mosquitoes’ mean drone meaning the after-bites scent of calamine lotion. Stepping outdoors, after dark, when speedboats’ marine gasoline fumes have floated away? All I could smell was green river, green trees.

From the end of the dock I saw stars, abundant fireflies, a bare yellow bulb outside the screened room door, my night’s dim lights. Black against black, silently, bats gleaned humid August air. I heard  frogs, crickets, cicadas and a pair of great-barred owls—an evensong, its melody the flow lapping at the bank on the best night of childhood before we woke up to learn that Dot’s mom, Maggie, recently released again from the asylum in Weston, supposedly in a manic phase, went and drowned herself in a puddle.

Bathing suit mildewed
in a pastel pink suitcase
days of ruining

~ Karla Linn Merrifield

The August judge, Diana Anhalt, said, “the use of strong imagery is very effective: ‘...far side from home in my child-mind,’ ‘Mosquitoes' mean drone...,’ ‘after-bites scent of calamine lotion,’” among others. She also liked the three images in the closing haiku, and complicated the poet on her ability to “show rather than just tell” in this “compelling—and very moving—narrative.”

The second place poem is very different in many ways.

Dry Months

I'm on a morning hike to exhume
something arcane and precious from soil,
rich or putrefied -
—mushroom, helleborine, maybe
an aboriginal axe blade -
but the ground's as hard as bad luck.
One good look around me
and the treasure map in my head crumples.
The woods are corrosion in withered green.
Sun's a viper coiled around the throat
and biting fierce.
Failure points are everywhere,
in the stillness, the painted dry,
the heart-worn droop of branches.
And there's the stories
scratched plain as dust in the river bed,
no rain, no cooling, no current,
just stains head high to a floundering river trout.
It all makes sense.
The long drought has bumped all living
into the background.
What the weather couldn't steal,
it broke.
Coarse, raw, brown, baked...
no surface is its own.
I will return with nothing.
And I believe that's everything.

~ John Grey

Anhalt spoke of the poet’s “ability to convey meaning through the use of effective images such as: ‘ground's as hard as bad luck,’ ‘sun's viper coiled around the throat.”’ She also commented on the interesting use of language, as in "What the weather couldn't steal, it broke."

In counterpoint to these serious poems, Anhalt picked a humorous work for third place.

August returns

August is back, those dog days of summer,
I already feel like it’s a bummer.
It’s summertime, I got the blues,
Whatever happened to barbecues?

When was summer ever a grand picnic?
How did I get so old, so quick?
People are constantly moving away,
solitude is my summer so gray.

The fall is a ball when school starts,
I am a student of the visual arts.
But summertime has lost its luster,
doomed to die alone like Custer.

Nobody knows how to communicate,
smart phones dumber than a primate.
If telemarketers didn’t bother to call,
I wouldn’t get any phone calls at all.

Everybody’s having fun at their summer home,
here I sit alone writing this poem.
Everybody’s taking a fun vacation,
I don’t even have a TV to watch a station.

But I better be grateful, in God I trust,
even in the midst of the long month August.
If I feel grateful, if I feel weary,
wait till the return of January!

~ Mark Hudson

Perhaps the weather in Atlanta, Georgia, when Anhalt was judging the poems, enhanced her view of Hudson’s poem—it was 90 degrees. Anhalt liked the humor of the poem, Hudson’t use of couplets, and his rhyming, especially the unusual combination of “luster” and “Custer.”

Anhalt also gave an honorable mention.

Penniless Denni

gives lovely little gifts
a pebble, a painted paper clip
on random occasions
you never expect
asking only 
Please return the wrap.

Don’t waste.
Spread joy 
not crap and 
return the wrap.

~ Joe Cottonwood

My daughters laugh at me for reusing gift wrap, so they may suspect that I wrote this poem, but I didn't. Anhalt enjoyed the humor, as well as the use of rhythm and rhyme. She also commented on “how the writer conveys the message central to the title, i.e. “penniless,” by illustrating (rather than telling) with the last line in each of the 2 stanzas: "Please return the wrap."

Thank you to Diana Anhalt for judging, and congratulations to the four winning poets. They retain copyright on their poems.

Another challenge will be posted on September first. Maybe it will be your turn to win.


Diana Anhalt, a former resident of Mexico City, Mexico—her parents moved there in 1950 in order to escape the McCarthy era—made that country her home for sixty years.  She married a Mexican, had two children, taught and served on the board of the American School Foundation, and subsequently edited their newsletter, “Focus,”for eight years. She resided in Mexico City until 2010. During that time, her work, which has included essays, book reviews, poetry and a book, A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 (Archer Books) has appeared in both English and Spanish. She subsequently moved to Atlanta, GA with her late husband, Mauricio, in order to be closer to family.

Joe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life and is also the award-winning author of nine published novels, two books of poetry, and a memoir. He lives in the coastal mountains of California where he built a house and raised a family under (and at the mercy of) giant redwood trees. His most recent book is Foggy Dog: Poems of the Pacific Coast.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and failbetter.

Mark Hudson is a poet, writer, artist, and ceramicist. He appears on Evanston Cable TV, and he had a hidden track on the first local 101 CD. He has designed art for a front cover on a one-time run of a magazine called Puffy Fruit. He has an ancestry of artists going back in history to Europe including Charles Lucy, who has paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 700+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the newly released full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. Her Godwit:  Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is a frequent contributor to The Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, and assistant editor and poetry book reviewer emerita for The Centrifugal Eye.

© Wilda Morris