Saturday, November 1, 2014

November 2014 Poetry Challenge

A swell guy in the 1940s (my dad)

Maureen Tolman Flannery’s new book of poems, Navigating by Expectant Stars, was inspired by the contents of a box discovered after the deaths of her parents. The box contained old photos—and letters her parents wrote to each other in 1944 and 1945, while her father was in the military. The material in the letters and Flannery’s poetic imagination make for an interesting book.

Here is one of the poems:


The slang descriptor of their times is swell.
Africans he is meeting are swell,
the guys in his flight crew are swell, as well.
The receipt of her letters, swell.

Her doctor’s assessment is everything’s swell.
Swell baby gifts are coming in the mail.
A gab-session with her friend is swell
and their talked-through hours do,
since she feels like a swell with the swell
of her belly telling her joy to the world.

And all the while she swells
with life she wants to tell him about,
swells with feelings of well-being
with love for the care of those there with her,
with the pride of a pregnant new wife
awaiting his next tour stateside.

~ Maureen Tolman Flannery

Flannery has used several poetic devices in this poem, including repetition, internal rhyme, alliteration and assonance. The word “swell” is not only the title; it is the heart and soul of the poem. Flannery has taken advantage of the fact that the word “swell” has several meanings. It was the most popular slang word of the time period in which the poem takes place, as well as an appropriate description for the life swelling within the “pregnant new wife."

Flannery also published what I call a “word” poem in a 1999 anthology, Intimate Kisses, edited by Wendy Maltz.

You loved me well
well into the night
and I awoke,
still tangled up in you,
well into the morning
with the well-deep contentment
of a woman
well loved,
well rested,
well ready.

~ Maureen Tolman Flannery

In this poem of 34 words (not counting the title) the word “well” occurs eight times – it is almost ¼ of the poem. It doesn’t have eight different meanings, but it is used with at least four different definitions. There is, in my reading, another “well” suggested but not mentioned, adding to the subtlety of the poem.

You can read a brief biography of Flannery at

Another poem centered on one word is "Crib" by Kay Ryan, which you can read on-line at


The November Challenge:

Pick a word that has several meanings. You may (or may not) want to use it as the title. Use the word in different ways in your poem.

Here are some possible words to consider: fall, simple, spring, sound, peach, pitch, hide, light, train, run, hand, play, order.

This being the day after Halloween and The Day of the Dead, I also thought of “grave.” The dictionaries will tell you that “grave” meaning “a burial place” comes from Indo-European via Old English. “Grave” meaning somber, on the other hand, is a Latinate word which came into English through the French language. Hence they are not actually the same word; they are two different words. For purposes of this challenge, that doesn’t matter. They sound the same and have somewhat different meanings, so poetically they would function like other multi-definition words.

In fact, if you prefer, pick a set of homophones, such as “byte,” “bite;” pear and pair;  or “do,” “dew,” and “due.” Although these are different words and are even spelled differently, they sound the same. Thus they provide the same possibility for repeating sounds and variety of meanings.

Submit only one poem. The deadline is November 15. Poems submitted after the November 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 don’t stray far from “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 your 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 generally preferred. Also, if lines are too long, they don’t fit in the blog format and have to be split, so you might be wise to use shorter lines.


© Wilda Morris