Thursday, September 1, 2016

September 2016 Poetry Challenge

Photo by Jim Barton

"Hometown” is a word filled with emotional meaning, negative, positive or both, depending on one’s experience. It may be used to refer to the town in which we grew up, in which case it may bring to mind the cliché, “You can’t go home again.” “You Can’t Go Home Again” was the title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe, and later, of an episode of Battlestar Galactica, a Chet Baker album, and a variety of songs (including those performed by D. J. Shadow or Lari White, Nanci Griffith, Rita McNeil, to name a few). How we remember our hometowns is impacted by family life as we grew up, and by neighbors, friends, teachers and others. A happy childhood can cause memories of that hometown to shine, whereas a miserable childhood can make the best of towns or cities seem like sad places where no one would want to live.

Your “hometown” can also be the city or town where you live now, at least if you have lived there long enough to begin to feel that it is “home.” The longer you have lived there, the deeper the emotional resonance of the place is likely to be.

The title poem in Jim Barton’s chapbook, Dirty Little Town, is his description of or tribute to Huttig, Arkansas (pictured above), where he has lived for 22 years. “It is,” he told me, “a sawmill town founded just after the turn of the 20th century by a German mill owner, Charles Huttig, of Chicago, to capitalize on the old-growth forests of the Ouachita River bottoms in South Arkansas. It is still kept alive by the mill, with its jobs and replanting of pine, and the streets are kept dirty by the many log trucks coming in and out.” Here is Barton’s poetic portrait of Huttig:

Dirty Little Town

It’s a dirty little town,
from the mill pond in the curve,
to the STOP sign by the shuttered bank—
clods of mud in winter,
dust and clay in summer’s heat.

It’s a dirty little town,
from the gas pumps by the car wash
to Toby’s Auto Parts and Hardware—
pine bark, always pine bark,
the occasional clump of green.

This dirty little town runs on dirty trucks
hauling logs from woodlands
to be sawed and shipped as lumber.
From the scales beside the giant cranes
to the lumber yard and docks.

Boys walk in the front gate,
work with the logs and saws and chains,
planing and stacking and loading,
turning tree to board, youth to retirement,
trudge out again as old men.

It’s a dirty little town,
but it’s my dirty little town.
Long may it stay that way.

From Dirty Little Town (Finishing Line Press, 2013). This book can be purchased at

Diana Anhalt’s childhood hometowns were very different than Barton’s.  Her parents were expatriates who left the Bronx during the McCarthy era and moved to Mexico City when Anhalt was a child. She lived in Mexico for 60 years. In “Nostalgia’s Map,” she thinks about the Mexican hometown of her childhood.

Nostalgia’s Map

Añoro esas calles, I yearn for those streets which snake
through Mexico City like the lines on my hand, the ones I
skated, walked and drove on and the ones I didn’t,
those I knew only by name but never found: Tulancingo,
Cañada and those I found but couldn’t pronounce
Quetzalcohuatl, Itztapalapa, Ahuehuetes.

Come, sigame.  Follow me down streets named for mountains:
Aconcagua, Monte Libano, Ararat. They knew my feet well.
I skirted their puddles and potholes, felt their gravel crunch
beneath my sandals as I avoided sidewalks buckling around tree
roots, dislodged by earthquakes––kicked up dust in their gutters,
inhaled their newly spread tar.

Te llevaré, I will take you to the cobblestoned streets of San Angel,
to its Little Street of Bitterness, Callejón de la Amargura— which
opens onto a large stone cross, a hitching post without a horse--
and to the Calle de Almas Perdidas, Lane of Lost Souls, flanked
by funeral parlors and Bleeding Judas trees, narrowing into
a footpath, ending in a ravine.

Recorro. I pass over traffic clogged arteries and the lost streets,
too narrow to name, scribbled across the city’s face—or limping
their way from corner to corner, going nowhere—and the drunken
alleyways, unknown to maps, to finally reach the road out of town,
my dead-end street.

~ Diana Anhalt

Previously published in: Border Senses, Summer 2012; Diana Anhalt, Second Skin, (Chapbook), Future Cycle Press, Mineral Bluff, GA, 2012; Second Prize 21st Annual Artists Embassy International’s Dancing Poetry Contest, September, 2014 and Diana Anhalt, Because There Is No Return, Passager Books, 2015

Minnesota poet, LeRoy N. Sorenson, in contrast, grew up in a Midwestern blue-collar town where

            The exhaust from the hog plant
            soured lawns.

A town
            . . . where the jail
            filled each night with volunteers. . . .

he says in “Pastoral.” In his bed at night, he says in “Forecast,”

            . . . I could hear the failed cry
            Of a locomotive replay the last train

A different kind of hometown, leaving different memories.  (Excerpts are from Forty Miles North of Nowhere (Mainstreet Rag Publishing Company, 2016). At you can find a link to three poems from the book, another link from which you can purchase it, and a bio of the poet.

September Poetry Challenge: A Poem about Your Hometown

The September Poetry Challenge is to write a poem about your hometown – the town you grew up in or the town you live in now.

Title your poem. It may be free or formal verse. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem. Please single-space, and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines).

You may submit a published if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Note that this is a recent change in the rules.

The deadline is September 15. Poems submitted after the 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 too far from “family-friendly” language. No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet. If a winning poem is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog.

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 (no pdf files, please). 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 with long lines have to be published in smaller print, due to the format of this blog.
Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.

Diana Anhalt, a former resident of Mexico City, Mexico—her parents moved there in 1950 in order to escape the McCarthy era—made that country her home for sixty years.  She married a Mexican, had two children, taught and served on the board of the American School Foundation, and subsequently edited their newsletter, “Focus,”for eight years. She resided in Mexico City until 2010. During that time, her work, which has included essays, book reviews, poetry and a book, A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 (Archer Books) has appeared in both English and Spanish. She subsequently moved to Atlanta, GA with her late husband, Mauricio, in order to be closer to family.

Jim Barton’s poetry has won nearly 400 awards since 2006, including two Sybil Nash Abrams Awards and the Langston Hughes Award. He is author of one full-length collection, For the Animals Who Missed the Ark (Plain View Press, 2008), and three chapbooks. His chapbook, At the Bird Museum (New Dawn Unlimited, 2009) won the Morris Memorial Award. Barton is a member of Poets Roundtable of Arkansas and the Poets of the Pines. He was recently elected President of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.

© Wilda Morris