Thursday, September 30, 2010

October, 2010, Poetry Challenge

In 1999, George Ella Lyon published a book entitled,Where I'm From (Writers' & Young Writers' Series #2) (Writers & Young Writers Series, #2). On her Website (see, Lyon says she wrote her poem which begins, “I am from clothespins,” after being inspired by Stories I Ain't Told Nobody Yet: Selections from the People Pieces by Jo Carson. The “prompt” has been picked up by numerous teachers and writing instructors, including those at the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) in Chicago, Illinois.

According to Carrie Spitler, publisher of the NWA’s literary journal, Journal of Ordinary Thought, the NWA invested six months on the theme of “where I am from.” As a result, they selected “Whistle Talk: JOT Writes on Where I’m From” as the theme of the Winter 2010 issue of JOT. The sample poems for the October Poetry Challenge come from that issue. As Ronne Hartfield wrote in the introduction to the issue, “the simple-seeming question ‘Where are you from?’ is, of course, not so simple after all.” I found it difficult to select only two poems from the issue to share, because so many of them were powerful.

I’m From Arkansas

I am from the land of hot sun, using lard and Vaseline to grease my ashy arms, legs, and feet.

I am from a shotgun house covered with a tin roof, newspapered walls, linoleum flooring, sheltering me from the rain and cold.

I am from hot fields of cotton, with rows of thorny white bulbs neatly planted for picking.

I am from the banks of the mighty Mississippi River watching fisherman who provided the “catch of the day” for the hungry.

I am from the “Blue Hole,” where sinners dressed in white were baptized in the name of the Lord.

I am from the ones who loved me and called me their “Sugar Baby” and taught me to say “TaTa.”

I am from the Baptist church, where Sunday preaching, Gospel singing, and shouting saved you from the Devil.

I am from Helana, Arkansas, where fried chicken, neck bones, collard greens, chitterlins, sweet potatoes, cha cha, corn bread, and biscuits were a must for breakfast, supper, or dinner.

I am from Sammie, who found and cultivated plants that produced herbal medicine to heal the sick.

I am from Fred and Ora, who watched me grow and play games such as “Ring Around the Roses,” and “Aunt Dinah Is Dead, and “Hide and Seek.”

I am from ancestors who took pictures dressed in their finest clothes, looking into the camera without a smile, silenced to the world of their “deferred dreams.”

I am that girl from the uplifting light of above goodness…where Alpha and Omega reside…No beginning, no end…

I Am.

~ Charlene K. Smith

Journal of Ordinary Thought (Winter 2010), page 45. © 2010.

I Am Their Story

I am from the descendants of slaves
That lineage that survived the horrific passage across the Atlantic
To the shores of these Americas. . .
I am the griot that will tell the tales
Of the 1,000 lashes that sliced their skins
Burned their flesh
As they labored from sunrise to sunset
I am from blood spilled upon urban streets as they walked peacefully
For justice
In unjust times
I am the daughter of a dying breed of men
That cherished and celebrated their women
With honor and respect
Protected her from the chaos of the world
Nourished her spirit
And relinquished in the sacredness of her temple
I am Daddy’s girl
And I wear that crown with honor
For my father breathed and embodied the definition of being
a Black man
And the foundation he built
The standards that he provided
Others have failed to measure up to
He exhibited a quiet strength
That I will forever admire
Though his physical presence is not here
His external essence
Continues to flow through me
He exhibited a quiet strength
That did not waver
During battles with my mother
She taught me the power of words
For she can lace words together that could penetrate the strongest
Armor of man
He stood during her season of verbal warfare
And silent
And silent
And strong
Never leaving his imprints upon the side of her face
Nor bruising the flesh of her skin
She taught me that words can wound
But her love for my father was stronger than her sporadic
temper tantrums
And she adored him
Allowed him to reign as king
I am from a union
That honored their vows, only through death they parted
A love that spanned 40 years
A love that withstood the trials, tribulations, and temptations
that life hurled in their path.
I am from this picture of family
That I have tried to recreate with my daughter
Absent her father
But loving her just as strongly
With the strength of my father’s determination
And the fire of my mother’s presence
I am their history
I am their story

~ Felicia Madlock
Journal of Ordinary Thought (Winter 2010), pages 28-29. © 2010.

The October Poetry Challenge:

For October, write your response to the question, “Where are you from?” (or the closely-related question, “Who are you?”). Are you, like George Ella Lyon, are “from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride”? Are you, like Felicia Madlock, “the daughter of a dying breed of men”? Or like Charlene K. Smith, are you “from a shotgun house” and “hot fields of cotton”? Your story is unique, one only you can tell. Your title does not have to begin with “I’m from. . . .” or “I am. . . .” but the poem has to be a response to one of the two questions.

Poems published in books or on the Internet 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 October 15. Winning poem or poems will be published on this blog.

Dorn Septet Challenge:

The Dorn Septet Challenge is still open because there has not been a winner. The septet must reflect all the qualities of a dorn septet as described in the June Challenge, and must have a minimum of three stanzas. To find the June Challenge, scroll down and look for Blog Archive on the right-hand side of the page. Click on June.

© 2010 Wilda Morris

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 2010 Challenge Winners

John Lehman, poetry editor of Wisconsin People and Ideas (and the founder and first publisher of Rosebud), judged the poems for the September blog challenge. He selected three winners.

Firefly Summer

my fifth summer
was light rain
and heavy mosquitoes
cold sprinklers
and hot dogs on the grill

twilight brought fireflies
all the droopy-bottomed blinkers
my sticky fingers could capture
Nature’s purpose arrested
in a glowing pickle jar

when the crickets’ bedtime
signaled a new day
the lights were out
life in the jar was gone
and wonder faded to guilt

~ Judith Tullis

Of the first place poem by Judith Tullis, “Firefly Summer,” Lehman says, “I love this poem’s directness. It is the essence of summer and the end of childhood. How can someone accomplish that in three short stanzas? But this poet does. Beautifully.”

Chocó, Colombia, 2003

They like white meat, your new friends joke:
your legs are the fresh banquet bars
of biting flies, mosquitoes, ants,
and so you learn the rhythmic towel
leg-swatting that might mitigate
the map of dots and welts that throng
across your shins and ankles now,
district of angry villages, absurd
itch for friction, nail claw-sharpness,
pink profusion, seven daft demons,
you an addled magdalene.

~ Ruth Goring

Ruth Goring’s second place poem, “Stung,” gave the judge “the creepy-crawlies.” And, he said, ‘“Addled magdalene’ is a loaded term that takes the physicality of this gem to a whole different level.”

Ruth Goring is the author of Yellow Doors: Poems

An Invisible Cocoon

I dislike caterpillars.
They cling to fresh leaves, as if come
from nowhere.
Crawling or curling up,
they seldom fear my coming near.

I must confess- I envy them:
Leisurely they nibble green foliage
with an indifferent look.

I want to get rid of them,
but fear to touch their droopy bodies.
With a stick, I fling them
one after the other into the air.
Where do they land? In the bushes or on the soil?
I don’t care.
“Good bye!” I wave to the little noodles.

In the early summer, hot winds blow.
I almost forget them--
near my garden, under threads,
green and light cocoons dangle,
all wrapped inside silence.
So so they don’t bother me,
and I let them be.

On the hottest morning, the air is still.
A yellowish pouch drops and cracks.
Something trembles and unfolds.
All of a sudden, wings flutter
and take off.

I only catch a glimpse of a butterfly.
I want to call, “Wait.”
The empty crust rolls aside,
"Too late!” as if a sigh falls upon my own skin.

~ Anna Yin

Lehman liked the movement of “An Invisible Cocoon,” the third place poem, and the “payoff” at the end. He especially like the unforgettable metaphor of displaced caterpillars as “little noodles.”
Each poet retains copyright to her poem.

No one has yet submitted a winning Dorn Septet, so that category is still open. Refer to the directions given in June for more information.

The October Challenge will be posted on October 1.

© 2010 Wilda Morris

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 2010 Poetry Challenge

According to, an insect which scientists call Eopterum devonicum lived 350 million years ago—before the dinosaurs and even 349,900,000 years (give or take a week or two!) before human beings appeared on earth. The same Webpage estimates that there are 20-30 million species of insect on the earth today. In fact there are more different species of dragonflies than there are mammals. It should not be a surprise then, that poets through the ages have written about these small winged creatures.

Poets have admired, complained about and cursed insects. William Blake, a English poet who died in 1827, wrote an empathetic apostrophe to a fly:

The Fly

Little fly,
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

-- William Blake

The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake

Contemporary poet, Alice D’Alessio, has a different take on the insect she writes about, the pesky Asian Ladybeetle. Where I live, the Asian Ladybeetle hasn’t been as omnipresent as in some previous summers—for which I am grateful!

Uninvited Guests

For instance, the Asian Ladybeetle
smug as an orange pearl

in its vinyl exoskeleton
dotted, determined, has come to stage

a wild reunion, bringing myriad friends.
They swarm out of window casings, motor

about the floor, climb the walls,
linedance along the bookshelves; take

a quick dip in dishwater and scotch;
make side trips along the couch, inside

my collar and book, wander through hair,
dive in eyes and mouth. It’s a road race

with mini VW’s, a plague, an invasion,
a terrorist plot, a bad dream.

Nature slyly lifts the lid and looses
Pandora’s hordes to teach

humility. We who imagine ourselves
just slightly lower than the gods, cower

before this orange revelry, huddle
in corners, stinking of bugspray.

~ Alice D’Alessio

From Woodlands and Prairie Magazine

Though many people despise flies, mosquitoes, ants, Asian Ladybeetles—and many other insects, the dragonfly is often the object of admiration and fascination, as is evident from John Lehman’s poem:


It anchors to the sail of our skiff,
clasps a world of detachable wings
and the scent of almonds and coconut
oil dancing in the sun.

It is ancient, the iron rod of a distant
weather vane, leaves of a book
riffling in the wind.

Gulliver borne on one more voyage
it asks, what is the governing body here
that pulls these lines and hums
to the hum of the wind and glides
yellow and white so low
between the mirrors of lake and sky?

I am real and you are not, it spins
as we turn about —
the snap of our sail recalls the flap
of Pteranodon wings.

~ John Lehman

Shrine of the Tooth Fairy (Poems by John Lehman; Illustrations by Spencer Walts)

The cricket is one insect that is better received in some cultures than in others. This is reflected in my poem:

The Cricket

I didn’t mind sleeping
on a cot in the basement
until the cricket moved in,
made his home under
the water heater. How
could anyone sleep
when that cricket shrieked
all night, notes reverberating
off the tile floor and the metal
above his small back?
I kept throwing my shoe
at him, missing again and again.

Now I know Chinese families
buy small cages, keep crickets
as pets to hear them sing.
How long would I have to live
in China before I understood this,
before I’d harmonize
with their night music?
How long before I’d learn
to distinguish the chirps
of the yellow bell cricket,
from the broad-faced and bespeckled,
till I heard in their songs the loneliness
of the emperor’s concubines?
How long till I internalized
the cycle of their lives,
from nymph to white maggot
to singer of soft summer songs,
to the high pitched cheep
of autumn, the laying of eggs
and death before spring?

~ Wilda Morris

Rockford Review, XXV:2 (Summer-Fall 2006), p. 57.

September Challenge

One thing each of these poems has in common is that they reflect on some aspect of insect-human interaction. The challenge for September is to write a poem reflecting on some kind of interaction between a human being (or human beings in general) and an insect (or insects). Your poem can be free verse or formal, serious or humorous.

Poems published in books or on the Internet 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 September 15. Winning poems are published on the blog.

Dorn Septet Challenge:

The Dorn Septet Challenge is open until September 15. The septet must reflect all the qualities of a dorn septet as described in the June Challenge, and must have a minimum of three stanzas. To find the June Challenge, scroll down and look for Blog Archive on the right-hand side of the page. Click on June.

A Few More Insect Poems and Where to Find Them

Anne Sexton, "Hornet," "Cockroach" and "June Bug" in The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

Ted Kooser, "Grasshoppers," in Delights & Shadows

Emily Dickinson, #677 ("Least Bee that brew"); #1224 ("LIke Trains of Cars on Tracks of Plush"); #1405 ("Bees are Black, with Gilt Surcingles")

Richard Wilbur, "A Grasshopper," in Collected Poems 1943-2004

Jean de la Fontaine, "The Grasshopper and the Ant," translated by Richard Wilbur, in Collected Poems 1943-2004

Stanley Kunitz, "The Dragonfly," in The Collected Poems

Yusuf Al-Sa'igh, "Ants," translated by Diana Der Hovanessian with Salma Khadr Jayyusi in Modern Arabic Poetry

Khalil Khouri, "Ants and the Sun," translated by Sharif Elmusa and Christopher Middleton, in Modern Arabic Poetry

William Butler Yeats, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," (Several insects play a role in this poem, but the poem doesn't center on insects inthe way expected of poems in the September challenge. See The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

Don Marquis has a number of insect-related poems in his Archy and Mehitable books (Actually, Archy is a cockroach). See: Archy and Mehitabel or The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel (Penguin Classics)


© 2010 Wilda Morris