Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Winning Poem for April 2010

The consulting judge for April, Iowa poet and writer Lorene Hoover, selected “Will Write for Canapés” as the winning poem. Hoover liked the narrative approach and said she was sure “there are many people like Thurston.” Maybe you know some of them!

Will Write For Canapés

Thurston grew thin and brittle, no longer
able to hover, elbow his rivals away from
the hors d’oeuvres. Instead he lingered
hopefully in an overstuffed chair for dainty
bits—barely enough to sustain a beetle—
on a smallish plate fetched for him by young
lady poets with svelte figures and large
appetites for encouragement, whose fathers
had urged them to become secretaries.

We called him The Cleanup Man since in
his prime he never missed a writers' reception
or awards banquet where he deftly reduced
the food tray to a wasteland, vanished like a
giant chipmunk with bulging cheeks, pockets.

In his lonely room, propped up by four pillows
on his Murphy Bed, he worked on five poems
side by side, skipped meals, munched on stale
crackers, moldy cheese leftover from his last
triumph, rummaged trade invitations to the
next small press award or writers' benefit
whose notices he pasted on the wall with
rancid peanut butter.

Thurston's work had its interest and its audience,
well-crafted, if predictable, poems about winning
motorized wheelchair races at zero-to-sixty miles
per hour down the corridors of the Indy 500
Nursing Home, fights to the death with tentacled
respirators, but nothing of the poetry to be found
in a lightly sauced Lobster Newburg or a hearty
Eggs Benedict because his stomach would howl --
it was like trying to chew recipes.

His poems got him into the worst
and the best receptions in the city:
from the upscale congregation of Poetry,
to the Jiffy Peanut Butter with Gallo Jug
Wine buffet for donators to the latest
desktop collector’s issue—Friends of
the Poet, Volume One, the One and Only.

It was not that he lacked discrimination,
it was just that he had to eat. Social Security
barely covered his rent, and Thurston
was serious when he joked that he was
the only one of us who actually made
a living off his poetry.

And so he accepted The Final Invitation
with a shriveled grin in an overstuffed
wing chair, teeth clenched on a shrimp
scampi, and when the proofreader who
moonlighted as a mortician, couldn't pry
the cheese ball loose from his grip,
we gave up and buried Thurston with it,

but for a year afterwards, no one had any
appetite for canapés, and the piled up
leftovers had to be shoveled into bins
for the homeless.

-- Tom Roby

Tom Roby, who is the President of the Poets Club of Chicago, is the author ofShape Shifterand other books of poetry.

Among the phrases which boosted this poem to first place in the April challenge are “elbow his rivals” and "appetites for encouragement” in the first stanza, which help draw the reader in. The idea of attending poetry events primarily for the refreshments and thus to "made / a living off his poetry" is a clever commentary on the fact that poets are often "paid" only in copies. Hoover says that the conclusion is “yummy, satisfying.”

Students at a middle school in Batavia, Illinois, took the challenge. They were given a different deadline, one which fit their class schedule. Thus, a Junior Winner for the April Challenge will be announced soon.

NOTE: Winning poems posted on this blog are sole property of the poets who submitted them.

© 2010 Wilda Morris

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 2010 Poetry Challenge

“Animal Crackers” by Christopher Morley was one of my favorite poems when I was a child. The idea of having nothing but animal crackers and cocoa for supper appealed to me, because I was quite fond of both. I also liked the rhythm and the rhymes of the poem.

Animal Crackers

Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers, I think;
When I'm grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.

What do you choose when you're offered a treat?
When Mother says, "What would you like best to eat?"
Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
It's cocoa and animals that I love most!

The kitchen's the cosiest place that I know:
The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow,
And there in the twilight, how jolly to see
The cocoa and animals waiting for me.

Daddy and Mother dine later in state,
With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait;
But they don't have nearly as much fun as I
Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by;
And Daddy once said, he would like to be me
Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!

by Christopher Morley

At a later age, I became enamored William Carlos Williams' poem, “This Is Just To Say,” from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1: 1909-1939. The poem takes the form of a note, in which the narrator apologizes (sort of!) for having eaten the plums from the refrigerator. When I read this little imagist free-verse poem, I can almost taste the plums and feel their cold skin and flesh in my mouth.

A few years ago I was introduced to another poem focused on food – “The Showdown,” by Marilyn Taylor, who is the current Poet Laureate of Wisconsin. When I asked for permission to use "The Showdown" on this blog, Taylor told me this poem resulted from a workshop exercise. Each participant was asked to bring some kind of food to the session. Members of the group swapped food items, and Taylor was stuck with a zucchini. When I see a listing in Poet's Market which says not to submit workshop poems, I think about this poem and ponder what delights may be missed! If all workshop poems were as good as this one, editors would be begging poets to send them! Taylor’s poem instantly made my list of favorites.

The Showdown

Okay, Zucchini,
with your sleek Sicilian good looks –
I know all about you and the rest
of the Zucca family, how you start out
small, in the corner of some
respectable old giardino (nobody
eve notices) and then you spread,
don’t you, till you’ve moved in on
all the little guys, the beans
and the carrots and cukes,
and pretty soon you’re in charge
of the whole damn fattoria, right?
Well, I’ve got news for you, pal,
you’re past your prime. You’re ripe
to spend the rest of your natural life
in the cooler. Think I’m kidding?
Listen, either play along or its
Ratatouille! Ratatouille!
-- a year in the jug for you, Zuke.
And your little tomato, too.

-- Marilyn L. Taylor

Used by permission of the author. From Exit Only(Milwaukee, WS: Prelude Publishing, 2003), p. 16. The poem has been so popular that it also appears in Taylor’s Shadows Like These: Poems,and Greatest Hits, 1986 - 2000.

NOTE: The third line from the bottom of the poem should be indented.

Another food poem which appealed to me from the first time I read it is Robin Chapman’s “For Dinner We Had Potatoes.” This is both a food poem and a list poem. It reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking. Potatoes could easily be grown in the garden, or, if purchased from the grocery, were not very expensive. Having grown up on the Kansas prairie, married a rural, small-church pastor who was often paid in kind, and lived through both the depression and World War II rationing, Zam (as I called her) knew a lot about economical cooking! And it was Zam, not my mother (who worked full-time when I was a child) who taught me to cook.

For Dinner We Had Potatoes

Boiled, baked, fried, mashed,
Peppered, with onions, hashed,
Parsleyed, whipped, buttered, creamed,
Cubed, scalloped, cheesed,
Twice-baked, pancaked,
New in their skin, vinaigretted,
Moat to hold gravy---my mother
Made them in endless variety.

And I learned to peel,
Mastering the rhythm,
Long strokes of skin, not slicing
The thumb knuckle, a knife
For sunscald spots,
Dimples that could be navels
Called eyes---must be
Looking in---I dug them out,
No omphalosceptic, knowing
We wanted two each,
More for the pot.

-- Robin Chapman

Used by permission of the author and publisher. From Abundance (Winner of the 2007 Cider Press Review Book Award; Halifax PA: Cider Press, 2009), p. 7. Abundance can be purchased through www.ciderpressreview.com/bookstore/.

Note: According to www.medterms.com, “Omphalo- is a combining form that indicates a relationship to the umbilicus (the navel).”

In addition to the memories this poem elicits, I appreciate the word combinations Chapman uses, such as: “Boiled, baked,” “Peppered. . . Parsleyed,” “Cubed, scalloped, cheesed,” and best of all, “Twice-baked, pancaked.” Her play on words and ideas with eyes, dimples and navels is clever. And due to some overlap in sounds, “omphalosceptic” makes me think of the vocabulary of optometry, which brings me back to those eyes, which in the case of the potato, are, as Chapman says, “Looking in.”

Chapman is a scientist (maybe you guessed that from her use of the word "omphalosceptic") and painter as well as poet. She was given an Outstanding Achievement Poetry Award from the Wisconsin Library Association. Her gifts for science and poetry are linked in Images of a Complex World: The Art And Poetry of Chaos.

White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006by Donald Hall, includes a number of interesting food-related poems, including, "O Cheese," "Eating the Pig," "Wolf Knife," and "Beans and Franks."

Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetrycontains a wonderful variety of food poems, including "Coca-Cola and Coco Frio" by Martin Espada; "Mama" by Claire Kageyama, "Preparations for Seder" by Michael S. Glaser; "Rib Sandwich" by William J. Harris and "Chinese Hot Pot," by Wing Tek Lunn.

If you enjoy food poems, you will find more poems to chew on in the following books:

Food Fight: Poets Join the Fight Against Hunger With Poems to Favorite Foods

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Poems About Food and Drink (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets)

O Taste and See: Food Poems (Harmony (Bottom Dog Press)

The April Challenge

The challenge for April is to write a food poem. 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.

© 2010 Wilda Morris