Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October 2014 Poetry Challenge

Some of us have been fortunate to grow up surrounded and encouraged by grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, even great-aunts and great-uncles, members of those generations before us who had learned a lot of life lessons and sometimes imparted their wisdom to us. I had the good fortune of growing up with my grandparents (pictured above). They were the source of much wisdom and inspiration. Aunts and uncles also contributed to my upbringing, and I learned important ideas and values from Sunday School teachers.
For many of us, members of an older generation added to whatever nurture and love we received from our parents and thus enriched our lives. Unfortunately some people learned negative lessons from members of previous generations. I heard a man say he joined a violent gang and entered the drug trade because an uncle who was a gang leader made it seem like the normal thing to do. He felt he had to do those things to prove his own worth to his family.
Mary Jo Balistreri wrote a beautiful poem about her relationship with Great-Grandmother and some of what she learned from her.
A Letter to Great-Gramma Belle
Your life stretched like the South Dakota plains
as you rode with your circuit preacher husband
through a shifting horizon.
When I knew you in your unpainted shack,
Grandpa was dead. Four of your seven children
lay beside him.
You were old and blind. I was ten.
I came to your house every day,
unraveled the strands of your long life.
On the threadbare rug in front of you,
I wrote your stories down, asked questions,
saw myself
as a writer.
When you tired you’d ask me to play the piano.
Untuned, with missing keys, it sounded awful
to my ear, but glorious to you.
             Keep playing you’d say,
so we struck a bargain: you’d continue to sift
through the past, and I’d bring music.
Sometimes, I’d come earlier to watch you
make sugar cookies, wondered how you could
bake without sight.
You taught me to see with my hands. If
the texture felt thin, it needed flour, too thick,
it needed milk. When the dough was ready
to shape you said to me
             Close your eyes. Let the dough sing to you.
You taught me how heat has different
smells as it rises. I learned to sense when the oven
was hot enough, when the cookies were done.
I was afraid to take them from the oven but you
knew your hot pads and trays, the magic
of not getting burned.
~ Mary Jo Balistreri
From Gathering the Harvest: Poems (Bellowing Ark Press, 2012), page 7. Copyright Mary Jo Balistreri.
As I read the poem, I can smell those cookies and hear the untuned piano. I sense that Great-Gramma Belle was teaching the ten-year-old Mary Jo more than just cookie-baking. Great-Gramma Belle’s advice to “Keep playing” the piano fell on fertile soil: Mary Jo became a concert pianist. And there is great wisdom in Great-Gramma Belle’s advice to a budding writer to “Let the dough sing to you.” Perhaps this is part of the seed-ground of Mary Jo’s impulse to write poetry, a craft which she took up while dealing with the loss of her grandson.  “The magic / of not getting burned” seems to me to be a strong metaphor that says more than it seems to say at first reading.
The October Poetry Challenge:
The challenge for October is to write a poem about learning from someone of an older generation. You may put your experience in a formal poem or in free verse. If you submit a formal poem, specify the form you have used in your email. An autobiographical poem is, perhaps, best in this case, but poetic license is permitted.
Submit only one poem. The deadline is October 15. Poems submitted after the October 15 deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please use “family-friendly” language.
Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet.
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 print periodical, you may submit it if you retain copyright, but please include publication data.
How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”) . Include a brief bio which can be printed with your poem, if you are a winner this month.
Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment. Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique; I sometimes do it myself. However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.
Poems shorter than 30 lines are preferred. Also, if lines are too long, they don’t fit in the blog format and have to be split, so you might prefer to use shorter lines.
© Wilda Morris