Friday, July 24, 2009

Winners of the July Poetry Challenge

Thank you to all who entered the July Poetry Challenge. There are two winners this month - one is free verse; the other is a rhymed poem. In each case, the form of the poem matches the content well. There were other poems which came close, so if you didn't win this time, try again another month.

Copyright remains with the poets who submitted the poems.


I awoke feeling it
would be a writing day
but couldn’t get down the hall
I finished a book I was reading
played on the computer
phone called and fiddled around
ignored the siren of the page
the lure of my desk in its
quiet corner
I went to the grocery
came home to make chicken soup
cranked the stereo
to drown the muse
instead she danced
while I chopped and stirred
measured and mixed
she waltzed me through the soup
and Billy Collins
pushed me into a
lemon pie
at midnight I made
Strawberry Jell-O with pears
to try to shut
them up
but they woke me
in the dawn
to pin my day
to the page


I like the clever title of this poem, which uses dance as a metaphor. The layout is appropriate for the way the day went - one thing after another. Short lines fit the "hyper" avoid-dance. The poet included interesting details and used alliteration sparingly, but effectively. I can certainly identify with the experience described in this poem, and I'm sure that is true for other writers also.

Ballroom Dancing

I showed up looking sharp and clean,
Arriving for my date.
I had prepared with ample time,
So not to show up late.

All decked out in my rented suit,
Her flowers in my hand,
I had a regal evening set,
Each detail mapped and planned.

There, proud I stood, top hat and tails,
A trussed up teenaged clown,
And gazed in awe at how she looked,
In her new ballroom gown.

I held her door, she climbed inside,
We started on our way,
And headed for the concert floor
To hear the big band play.

But this would be a different date,
For more than happenstance,
Tonight we’d spread our wings and fly,
Tonight we’d ballroom dance!

We’d taken classes, practiced hard,
Gone over every step,
The time had come to take the floor,
And validate our prep.

Tango, Foxtrot, Waltz and Swing,
Spin and turn and dip,
Round and round the floor we'd glide,
At a frantic clip.

Minutes turned to passing hours,
Moments quickly spent,
Every pattern crisply cut,
Joyful and content.

When at last the night gave way,
And the band went home,
We stood on the polished floor,
Beneath a golden dome.

Here we danced the night away,
And we made our fate,
In a spinning ballroom dancing way,
On this special date.

By David Roth
© 14th January, 2005

This poem is more rhythmic, like dance. Here again we see some interesting details, including the fact that his suit is rented. Many people will be able to identify with the experience of having taken dancing lessons and finally having an opportunity to try out those steps in a ballroom - with a special date.

Congratulations to bam and to David Roth.

Check the blog again on August 1 to find out what the next poetry challenge will be.

Keep writing!

(c) 2009 Wilda W. Morris

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let's Dance - The July Challenge

Dancing in the Dark

Tonight the band blares, “Celebration!”
then stops, and plays
a set of Golden Oldies.
All the aging couples rise
as one, drawn to the Maestro’s baton
like children, to the Piper’s tune.
He stands aside, a shadowy Timekeeper,
putting us through our paces,
“Ah-1, Ah-2, Ah-1-2-3-4!”

When we were young, we danced everywhere –
weddings, ballrooms, the Chez Paree.
Or we danced at home, while
Kate Smith sang, “Shine On, Harvest Moon!”
her voice amplifying the radio,
God and America. Later, exhausted,
we fell asleep on Kate’s bosom,
full-fleshed as the moon.

In World War II you danced
in a Texas bar if your boot-camp
was lucky and got a weekend pass.
At Normandy, you danced ashore,
dodging artillery. Back home,
I went solo to the local USO.

But tonight, we dance together.
And though your expression is remote
as the Man in the Moon’s, there’s
electricity in your arms. I dangle,
like Gepetto’s Pinocchio, obeying
every dip, every curve of your body.
For this strange blue dress I am wearing
has a wicked flounce that unlocks
my resistance. Yes tonight, we hear

strains of Sammy Kaye, Kay Kyser,
Count Basie and the Duke. Tonight,
we will show our children, our
moon-begotten children, our rhythm
& blues, rock & roll children –
(“Ah-1, Ah-2, Ah-1-2-3-4!”)

how we danced.

-- Gertrude Rubin

From A Beating of Wings
(Deerfield, IL: Lake Shore Publishing, 1991), pp. 62-63. Used with permission of the author.

Dancing in the Dark:
I recommend reading this poem several times, before reading my commentary on it. It has several layers. There are undoubtedly more subtleties than I discovered!

Dance is a popular theme among poets. Sometimes the poet uses the term metaphorically, as for instance, when waves or leaves dance. In other poems, what we find is a fairly straight-forward description of a dance, or a narrative of a specific experience of dancing.

In “Dancing in the Dark,” Gertrude Rubin’s narrator addresses her life partner, cataloguing times when “we” danced, usually together, but during World War II, apart. The poem seems at first glance to be a straight-forward record of a relationship told through literal dance. But there are other things going on, too. The line, "At Normandy, you danced ashore/dodging artillery" is metaphoric and hints that there were other metaphoric dances in their lives, other dangers to be dodged. One has to wonder, for instance, why the man, who is much older now, dances with an expression “remote as the man in the moon.” Is dementia now the enemy shooting bullets they try to dodge? This is one possible reading.

In the last stanza, the narrator says that tonight they will show their children how they danced. Not only is “how we danced” on a line alone; it constitutes the entire stanza, which gives it special strength in the poem. Here again there are levels of meaning. The couple literally shows their children how they danced, but they also model a life style in which they “danced” through difficulties and now they keep dancing, despite their age. Here is a subtle way of saying that they have maintained—and still maintain—their joy, intimacy, and love through all the seasons of life.

A well-written title can add power to a poem. Ellen Kort, who was the first poet laureate of Wisconsin, has said that often when a person finishes reading a poem, he or she may go back and reread the title. That is what I did with this poem. The title, “Dancing in the Dark,” furthers my sense that the poem is a metaphor for how this couple live their life together. There is no mention of “the dark” in the poem itself. Darkness is only hinted at in the mention of Normandy and the fact that the man’s facial expression is remote as they dance. The title, however, suggests that they did not know where the dance of life would take them or what steps they would need to learn, something which is true for all of us.

With that in mind, the Maestro takes on new meaning. The literal Maestro who directs the dancers and counts time (“Ah-1, Ah-2, Ah-1-2-3-4!”) may also stand for God or a “higher power” who is also a “shadowy Timekeeper.” In my reading of the poem, it suggests that the dancers live their lives with a theological and/or ethical compass, and accept the fact that the end of their earthly life together is approaching.

In regards to the artistry of the poem, it is interesting to see the repetition of the moon throughout the poem. Note also the spare use of adjectives, which gives more strength to the few which are used. I’m still pondering the “strange blue dress” and the “wicked flounce.”

My Papa’s Waltz—Another Dance Poem: One of the most famous poems on a dance theme is “My Papa’s Waltz,” by Theodore Roethke ( Some interpreters give this waltz a positive meaning; others see it negatively. Is this a happy memory of a boy having fun with his father? Or an uncomfortable dance into which the boy is forced by his drunken father? You be the judge!

The Challenge:
The challenge for July is to write a poem somehow related to the theme of dancing. Your poem may use the concept of dance literally or figuratively. It’s up to you. To enter the challenge, use the “comment” feature below. The deadline is July 15.

(c) 2009 Wilda W. Morris