Monday, March 1, 2010

March 2010 Poetry Challenge

Richard Vargas, who was born and raised in Southern California, currently lives and writes in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He first gained a measure of fame by publishing and editing The Tequilla Review from 1977-1979. Since then, he has published two books of poetry, Mclife, published by Main Street Rag, and American Jesus: Poems, published by Tia Chucha Press.

His short poem, “why i feed the birds,” is an example of the challenge for March: to write a poem explaining something about yourself.

why i feed the birds

i saw my grandmother hold out
her hand cupping a small offering
of seed to one of the wild sparrows
that frequented the bird bath she
filled with fresh water everyday

she stood still
maybe stopped breathing
while the sparrow looked
at her, then the seed
then back as if he was
judging her character

he jumped into her hand
began to eat
she smiled

a woman holding a small god

---Richard Vargas
© Richard Vargas. Used by permission of the author

Vargas gives us an image we can see. I can almost hear the narrator’s grandmother’s breath stop as the sparrow eyes her. The last line is a wonderful surprise.

John Lehman, the founding editor of Rosebud, lives and writes in Wisconsin. Hi is currently the poetry editor of Wisconsin People and Ideas. Lehman has a wry sense of humor. Many of his more recent poems, including many of those in his book, Shorts: 101 Brief Poems of Wonder and Surprise, are quite short and are printed as small rectangles, reminding me of little boxes or Post-it® Notes.

In the following poem, which is longer than his “Shorts,” Lehman uses an unusual metaphor to explain his poetic habit.

Why I Write Poems

It’s like cutting grass
after dark
pivoting the old mower’s
wheel around the end
of each line
to make a pattern of
you can’t see
but sense
by the sound
(of blades)
by the feel
or the constellation
of fireflies
that dance above it
when you’re done.
I’ve experienced both
and there is
one difference,
it’s when morning comes
the lawn
a splendid
glistening present
wrapped in dew
and the other
less real than
the gift you seek.

-- John Lehman
Shrine of the Tooth Fairy(Cambridge, Wisconsin: Cambridge Book Review Press, 1998), p. 83.

Note # 1: This book was illustrated by Spencer Walts. On, Walts is erroneously listed as the author.

Note # 2: Lines 2, 4-5, 7-12, 14-16, 18-19, 21-24, and 26-27 should be indented, but the blog does not seem to provide that option.

Note # 3: If you click on an underlined book title, it will take you to that book on

Do you hear the sound of the blades (and the poet's alliteration? Do you see those fireflies dancing above the dew-wet grass?

The Challenge for March is to write a poem with a title which begins, “Why I” (or “why i”). Explain why you drive a 1957 Mustang, why you walk to the mall, why you prefer your oatmeal cold, or . . . . well, you decide what to explain about yourself! Your poem can be as serious as the one by Vargas, or it can be humorous. Follow Lehman’s example and build your poem around a metaphor, if you wish. You have poetic license, so you can explain why you boogie with the baby, even if you don't really do it.

Your poem can be free verse, or you can use a form (sonnet, villanelle, etc.), but include a note saying what form you are using. Poems of 40 or fewer lines have a better chance of being selected, but longer submissions will be read and considered.

Send your poem to wildamorris [at] ameritech[dot] net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and . for [dot], and don’t leave any spaces. Or you can access my Facebook page and send the poem in a message. Be sure to give me your e-mail address so I can respond. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog, if it is a winner.

Challenge Deadline: March 15, 2010.

© 2010 Wilda Morris