Friday, May 1, 2015

May Poetry Challenge

What I Do

What do you do? the woman asks,
her question implying that I must do something,
something of value, something
which would surely define my existence.
I consider telling her
that I keep my husband warm
in the lengthening winter nights,
feed him lost words, nourish his hope.
I sew quilts for distant grandchildren,
hoping for remembrance.
Through the turning seasons
I watch the deer, the squirrels,
the wild turkeys which come to browse
in the forest outside our windows,
all the while grateful
for what is and for what has been.
And I write of joys and griefs,
of loves and losses.
I am a poet, I tell her.
Remembering and remarking are what I do.

~ Judy Roy

From Now and Then: Collected Poems by Judy Roy (Baileys Harbor, WS: Off Q Press, 1914), page 1. Used by permission of the author.

What do you do? What roles do you play in life? The narrator in Judy Roy’s poem (who might be the poet herself, though it is never safe to assume that), mentions her role as the supportive wife to a presumably elderly husband, her role as a geographically distant grandmother, her attention to nature, and her role of poet, remembering and writing. The word “remarking” in the last line is interesting—it suggests that, as a poet, she is doing more than just describing what she remembers and what she sees outside her windows.

She might have focused her poem on just one of her roles, such as her role as wife. Another poem might describe someone’s role as a young mother, a teacher, a police officer or member of the armed services, clerk in a drugstore, gang-leader, a person cleaning his or her home or cooking for the family. A role may be something you do for a living, or it may be your role in your family (peacekeeper, older sibling helping to care for the younger ones, father who helps with homework, Mother who advocates for her child with a teacher, etc.).

The narrator in Christine Swanberg’s poem, “Night Shift,” describes the role of someone addressed as “you.” The character described (or possibly created) in this poem works in a factory.

Night Shift

You cannot get the metal shavings out.
You really have to wash behind your ears.
Even after showering, you taste factory,
acquire a strong desire to spit

A man with bad teeth might hustle you,
and when you say you are not interested,
he says, “Who do you think you are?
Everyone can see the dirt in your nails.”

One night you count the holes. 1100.
You become the machine, letting
one hand think as the other holds a book
to your knee. Try to read
in that dim fluorescence with one eye

as the other stalks the foreman, who
doesn’t exactly catch you but says
the next night, “You scraped a bunch.
Holes on wrong side.” He’s nice,
pats you, says, “Never mind.
Everyone does that sometimes.”

You feel guilt and in the morning
welcome an honest humidity and real light,
but your dreams are muffled
in gray and grind. Even the birds
sound metallic. One night you dream
a mammoth woodpecker, steel
with riveted joints and holes for eyes.

You wake and want to know
what you make all night at drill press.
The foreman tells you, “War parts.”
You take off your goggles and go home.

~ Christine Swanberg

From Invisible String by Christine Swanberg (Oak Park IL: The Erie Street Press, 1990), page 41. Used by permission of the author.

The “you” in this poem finds his or her whole life impacted by working the drill press at night. At first I assumed the worker was a man, probably because of the gender stereotypes with which I was raised, but on further reading I began to suspect it is a woman. The poem is ambiguous on this point. It might be a woman hustled by a man in stanza two, but it could also be a man.

Whatever the gender of the worker (I’ll use feminine pronouns), she is bored with the job, feels guilty when her attempt to assuage her boredom leads to errors in her work. The ending is somewhat ambiguous too. Did she quit the job because she didn’t want to make “war parts” or because she didn’t want her mistakes to put service personnel at risk? I find this intriguing because it made me stop and wonder. In the context of the collection, the answer might be more clear than in the poem by itself.

Another kind of role

The May Challenge: The Roles I Play

The Challenge for May is to write a poem about a role or roles that you play. They might be roles in your family; your church, synagogue, temple or mosque; your community; your your neighborhood; your school; place of employment; your friendship group. Or might you write about a role played by someone else, as Swanberg did. Your poem may be free verse or formal (if you write in a form, please designate the form).

Submit only one poem. The deadline is May 15. Poems submitted after the May 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. No simultaneous submissions, please. You will know before the month is over whether or not your poem will be published on this blog.

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.


Judy Roy studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and with noted Wisconsin poets Marilyn Taylor, Robin Chapman and Ellen Kort. Her poetry has been published in a number of venues, including Free Verse, Wisconsin People and Ideas, and The Peninsula Pulse. Her books include Slightly Off Q (co-authored with June Nirschl and Nancy Rafal) and Two Off Q, a conversation in poetry (co-authored with Nirschl). Roy retired from teaching French and psychology in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and now lives in Door County.

Christine Swanberg’s books include Tonight on This Late Road, Invisible String, Bread upon the Waters, Slow Miracle, The Tenderness of Memory, The Red Lacquer Room, Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity and The Alleluia Tree. Her work appears in anthologies. Hundreds of her poems  have been published in journals such as The Beloit Poetry Journal, Spoon River Quarterly, Amelia, Chiron, Kansas Quarterly, Creative Woman, Earth's Daughters, Mid-America Review, Powatan Review, Midnight Mind, Sow's Ear, Wind, and others. Swanberg has facilitated poetry workshops in several states. Her column, “Literary Hook,” has appeared for many years in the Rock River Times. A retired teacher, she lives in Illinois.

© Wilda Morris