Sunday, December 19, 2010

December Poetry Challenge Winners

The December Poetry Challenge was to write a letter in poetry to someone who has been gone from your life for at least a decade. I sent four poems to Jared Smith and asked him to pick the winner or winners. Here is part of his response:

“These poems are so far above the normal standards of poetry--so attuned with the individual, honest and unposed nature of the authors--that they ring out with their own unique visions and nature. The images, line lengths, metrics, and tone are perfectly crafted in each of the poems. What this demonstrates--and it is very important to understanding contemporary poetry--is that if one writes with true, deeply felt intensity and the feeling that the words in a poem really do matter--then that poem finds the "craft" that it should have...what the editor of The New York Quarterly, William Packard, defined as "organic" form. With further explication, what this means is that every emotion or state of mind one goes through has its own "natural" emotion and metrics of thought: and the very best poets can find and recapture that metric of thought and put it down on paper when they write. As Ted Kooser has said, placing a poem within any standardized form may be difficult and one has to have the control over language to be able to do so, but it is like putting eggs in an egg carton. It is harder to look at the infinity of words and images one has to work with--like Michelangelo looking at an uncut slab of marble--and then draw the vision or the poem out of it.”

Jared Smith declared a four-way tie for first place. I think you will find these poems moving, too. Congratulations to Judith Tullis, Mary Cohutt, Peggy Trojan and Gail Goepfert. Their poems are presented here in the order in which they were received.

If you are a poet, and did not have time to try the December prompt, this might encourage you to give it a try one of these days!


I wanted to brush your red hair
and wish for the millionth time it were mine

to look in your dark eyes
and be glad I have them too

to have your smile land on me
and feel the warmth

to make you laugh
and be filled with the joy of it

to take your arm and help you walk
the way you did for me so long ago

to reminisce about the times good and bad
that only we have shared

to hold your hand while we compared
the thrill of romance, the ache of lost love, the loneliness of widowhood.

But I could only release you from the place that stinks of age and pain
and carry you to the hallowed ground of your family.

~ Judith Tullis

To My Brother

I remember our wagon of sun-faded red
With wheels that wobbled and bowed
We were short-shadowed seekers
On long winding lanes
Our newly found treasures in tow

I see our new bikes
Yours red, mine blue
With the store shine glint on the bars
Sunny day summers, with wind in our hair
Like birds on the wing we flew

Springs turned to summers
Summers to falls
Winters completed the turns
We lived to life’s music, high notes and low
Shoulder to shoulder through all

The darkness that came
With the fading of light
Was a shade pulled on what I’d held dear
My colors were dimmed, my music was stilled
No respite lay in sight

and I wondered…
just where…had you gone…

but then…

The sun’s on my face like warm molten gold
The wind whispers your name through the trees
A robin takes flight in a sky of deep blue
And flowers gift colors to me

Clouds roll and cast shadows
On hills painted in hues
Of purples and deepest green
My skin is caressed by an angel wing breeze
And I envision all that’s unseen

And then…I smiled…
for I knew…

You’re still pulling our wagon
You’re riding your bike
You’re holding your first born son
You’re drawing your first breath
Releasing your last
You are He
He is All
All is One

~ Mary Cohutt


After ninety-three years,
we reversed roles.
Remember? You were brought
to the table and sat waiting.
It was right before you gave up
eating all together,
putting your arm across your mouth
to make the point.
You were agreeable,
smiling and patient.
I was the one mashing the food
and feeding you cheerfully,
coaxing you to take
just one more bite.
I had assumed that I would do
the works you didn’t have time
to finish….sorting your photos,
publishing your journal,
doling out your treasures.

In a flash, I realized you were also
giving me Pa,
though we had competed
for his attention
almost seventy years.
The look on your face
I had waited for all my life,
that trust, and adoration.

~ Peggy Trojan

Dear Aunt Nernie,

I think the secrets
sprouted from good intention—
parents, grandparents, protecting.

Unease filled my plate
and followed my food down my throat
each time grandma and grandpa
rose from the table
and led you from the room
without a word
in the middle of mashed potatoes
and homemade applesauce.

Grandma saw the signs
that something was amiss
and rushed you to a backroom
while cold lumps, each one a question
congealed on the china before me.

Years later, I realize you felt shame
not knowing what happened--
during epileptic episodes
beyond your control.

I’m sorry I didn’t know more,
have the words to comfort,
but I’m sure I didn’t mind so much
that you smelled of Noxzema
that the hair on your upper lip,
half-plucked, bristled
my cheek when I kissed you goodnight.

~ Gail Goepfert

Copyright of individual poems remains with the authors.

Check back at the beginning of January for a new challenge.

© 2010 Wilda Morris

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 2010 Poetry Challenge

Many times since the death of my grandmother I have wished I could sit down with her and talk as we used to talk. There are questions I wish I had asked her, and things I would like to tell her. I’d like to discuss some of the ways she impacted my life, tell her about some of the decisions I made, and introduce her to my children and grandchildren (none of whom had the privilege of meeting her). Some day maybe I’ll write her a letter. It would be especially appropriate for me to write the letter as a poem, since my grandmother loved poetry. One of the main reasons I was attracted to poetry is that she recited poems to me from memory, and also wrote a few poems of her own.

Jared Smith has authored at least six books of poetry, and has had his work adapted for the stage at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, as well as in the Chicago Suburbs. He has served as a screener, board member, and advisory board member of The New York Quarterly and as poetry editor of Trail & Timberline.

Smith says it took him thirty years to find the right words and the time to write the following poem, addressed to his father. The lines do not appear quite as they do in Smith’s book, because he writes in longer lines than this blog permits. Consequently, I have double spaced the lines and let the longer lines fold into the next line. Those spaces thus are the line breaks. Where Smith put a stanza break, I’ve put two blank spaces, to distinguish it from a line break. Also, in the published version, the title appears farther to the left on the page than the rest of the poem.


your grandson is struck sterile

among choices you have left behind.

The compass that carried you through Eagle Scouts is gone;

the badges worn across your chest, dust like the degree from Harvard.

I am a cold point beneath the winter sky,

a dust mote upon a string played obbligato between galaxies,

and soon enough there will be no mountain meadows

for your descendents to walk among.

Darkness burns away on the wings of a moth

flaring itself into a place you have come to know.

The maples I climbed on have gone,

with no more power in their roots to shade your window.

The driveway I carried your suitcase along that last day

has been blacktopped three times that I know

and the weeping cherry you never knew was planted

by my son whom you never knew

and dwarfs a house on the other side of town.

You knew the lady slippers and May apples,

showed me where tiger salamanders lay beneath logs,

called ground cover by all its varied names

spoke 16 languages and read from the books of the dead,

strode with an urgency through urban forests

and took the train to work each day. Tickets, getting

tickets please. Sandwiches in paper bags.

The aurora borealis blows through the cells of my bone,

igniting them so that they are torn apart and scattered in the solar wind.

What was it that you wanted to achieve? Why

did we wear our tight shirt collars to expensive hotels

or spend long years sweating our fears into foreign sheets?

I am older now than you were on that day

when you lay down in a blueberry patch and died

on vacation beneath a Minnesota sky.

After the stroke, we had three days before you rose,

and the light in your eyes seemed to go on forever without finding words.

In listening ever since among the stars, I have been paralyzed

and have raised flawed children who are as wise as you

with no desire to pass it on.

~ Jared Smith

© Jared Smith. From pages 4-5,

You can purchase Jared Smith’s latest book, Grassroots, from

There is a review of Grassroots at

Other books by Jared Smith:

Lake Michigan And Other Poems

Looking Into The Machinery: The Selected Longer Poems Of Jared Smith

Walking the Perimeters of the Plate Glass Factory

The Graves Grow Bigger Between Generations

The December 2010 Poetry Challenge

The challenge for December is to write a poem as a letter to someone who has been physically gone from your life for at least a decade, but still impacts your life. You may write in free verse or in form. If you use a form,specify the form you are using.

The deadline is December 15, 2010.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If you poem has been published in a periodical, please include publication data.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send your poem to wildamorris [at] ameritech [dot] net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot], and don’t leave any spaces). Or you can access my Facebook page and send the poem in a message. Be sure provide your e-mail address. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog, if it is a winner. The deadline is December 15. Copyright on poems is retained by their authors.

© 2010 Wilda Morris

November Challenge Winners

It was difficult to judge the November poems - there were a number of excellent submissions. The two winners are both free verse, but written in very different styles. Congratulations to Mary Cohutt and Jean Waggoner! Mary took a scientific concept with which most people are familiar and lets us view some ways it plays out through the seasons. There may not be anything in the poem we did not already know, but her images help us see gravity in new ways. Jean's poem, on the other hand, may teach many of us something as we read about two related trees.


A single plump raindrop
Gathering its friends
As it travels the curve of an umbrella
Then hangs like a tear on a lash
Before its watery free-fall

Late blooming tulips
Of red and yellow
Drop petals
One by one
Weaving a carpet of color
For daisies to come

Mini-bomb acorns
And leaves of umber and gold
Travel to land
In their singular style
Coming to rest in fragrant beds of pine

Crystals of white
In their slow silent dance
From a steel-washed sky
Blanket the ground
With a casual grace

And I....?
I wander and witness
Each step firmly fixed
For earth calls each of us to her

~ Mary Cohutt

Two Fabaceae

Asia Minor’s acacia is praised in song,
Akasya Kolulu Sabahlarlinda,
“Acacia-Perfumed Mornings.”
Taller than Bosporus roofs, bristling
and swooshing in high summer winds,
It drinks modestly of autumn rains,
thriving in earth starved of nutrients,
yet graciously hosting the bulbul’s nest
amid a sweet pea scent
so redolent of green Byzantium.

Its cousin, Southwest mesquite,
so much smaller in leaf and twig,
sequesters debris from its windy terrain,
and savors a crush of agave at its roots.
A dusty vaquero of high chaparral,
it repels avian histrionics with a forbidding
scratch of thorns and cook-fire brush,
while the flavor it imparts to barbecue
insinuates a deadly carcinogen
into biped carnivores’ meals.

Both arbors are Fabaceae,
subfamily Mimosoideae --
Fabaceae, Mimosoideae,
Mimosoideae, Fabaceae --
and here’s the rub: while
both engender beans;
one is host to the nightingale,
the other a repellent shrub.

~ Jean Waggoner