Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March 2017 Poetry Challenge

The Garden Wall by Charles-François Daubigny
The National Gallery, London

Probably the best known poem about a wall is “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. I sometimes wonder if he ever regretted writing it. The most often quoted line, “Good fences make good neighbors,” has become a proverb. But if you read the whole poem (see link below), you will find that the “truth line” (to use a term I learned from Ellen Kort, first Poet Laureate of Wisconsin) is: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

Another poet who has written about walls is William Marr. Marr was born in Taiwan and came to the U.S. in the 1960s to attend graduate school. Marr writes in Chinese, and translates his own poems into English, sometimes with a little help from his friends. He has written poems about both the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall.

The Great Wall

The struggle between civilization
and barbarism
must be ferocious

See this Great Wall
it twists and turns
with no end in sight

What valor
to climb the ragged ridge
and to look long and hard
through a self-adjusting lens
at the skeleton of the dragon
that sprawls miles and miles
in the wasteland
of time

~ William Marr

“The Great Wall” was published in Eastlit, August 2013.

Berlin Wall Peddlers

History on sale
One chunk for only twenty dollars
Look at this one
it's full of bullet holes
this one is stained with deserters' blood
and see these two dark holes
they were burned by an anxious gaze
the remains of cold war on this one
still make you tremble
and what we have here
are the dancing footprints of the youth
and the shouting and clapping
when a heavy chain tore it down

Our supply is abundant
after the Berlin Wall
we'll tear down the walls
the rich and the poor
the fortunate and the unfortunate
the oppressors and the oppressed

and of course we always have
the inexhaustible walls
between the hearts
of indifference

~ William Marr

“Berlin Wall Peddlers” was published by the Compassion Education Institute in a collection of poems about the Berlin Wall. You can find a bio for William Marr on his art and poetry website at Click on Chinese or English, then on biography.

F.J. Bergmann’s prose poem, “Wall,” is as different from Marr’s poem in content as it is in form:


My neighbor said he thought he'd build a wall; wanted to know if I'd go halves on it. I asked him what he was going to make it out of and he said "Words," and I said I'd help him out as much as I could. I asked him how high he was going to make it and he said "High."

He started out with long, Latinate words, at least five syllables, carefully staggering the joints, but he ran out of his own almost right away, so I had to give up a lot of mine. He tried to maintain a structured form, but soon it degenerated into a random jumble, mostly nouns and verbs—he was saving the adjectives to decorate it when it was finished, he said, stacking them neatly against the porch. The articles and conjunctions kept falling out and accumulated in forlorn drifts at its base.

He worked on it every evening, after coming home from his regular job, until night fell, late into the autumn. Joggers would occasionally stop to offer advice and put in a word or two. It spread like a blackthorn hedge above its massive foundation, tangling tightly as the barbed serifs hooked together. The wind whistled through the small openings of the a's and e's as the larger counters of the o's, b's, d's, p's, and q's resonated at a lower pitch. He placed the sharpest words along the top of the wall. "Expect trouble," he said.

During the winter, the ascenders and descenders began to distort and twine around letters in adjoining words. Just before the solstice, I hung the most ornate plural nouns and third-person-singular verbs I could find on the north side of the wall. Dangling from each terminal s, they swung like bells, chiming as the snows fell. That spring, suffixes sprouted from the side that faced the sun.

©2002 F.J. Bergmann

"Wall" appeared in the Wis. Academy Review Vol. 50 #4. It won the 2004 Pauline Ellis Prose Poetry Prize. You can find a bio for F. J.Bergmann at

More wall and fence poems:

This list includes rhymed and metered poetry, free verse, prose poetry (and at least one “experimental poem”); serious and humorous poems; old poems and recent creations; political poems (from a Japanese internment camp poem to the Berlin Wall and even Brexit); nature poetry; poems about relationships between people and poems about relationship between peoples; and even a cowboy poem. These poems from a number of different countries and time periods will give you a sense of the breadth of possibilities for a wall or fence poem. I have starred some that were new to me that I especially like.

“Near the Wall of a House” by Yehuda Amichai -
“That Damned Fence” by Anonymous -
“A Wall” by Robert Browning -
“The Bird Fence” by JD DeHart -
“Fence of Sticks” by Deborah Diggs -
“Poem for a Hospital Wall” by Diana Hendry -
*“Where There’s a Wall” by Joy Kogawa -
“The Ambulance Down in the Valley” by Joseph Malins  - and-illustrations/ambulance_valley/
“The Fence” by Leanne Modan -
*“Wall” by Norman Nicholson -
“The Cat Who Walks Through the Wall” by Shang Qin, translated by Michelle Yeh -
“A Fence” by Carl Sandburg -
 “The Fence that Me and Shorty Built” by Red Steagall - 
“Fence” by Douglas Stewart -
*“After a Rainstorm” by Robert Wrigley -

The March Challenge:

By now, I’m sure you have figured out that the March Challenge is to submit a poem featuring a wall—a literal wall or a metaphoric wall. For this challenge we will exclude memorial walls such as The Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., because they will be appropriate to an upcoming challenge.

Title your poem unless it is haiku or another form that does not use titles. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem. Single-space and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines). Please do not indent or center your poem on the page, put it in a box or against a special (even white) background.

You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet.

The deadline is March 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 previously unpublished poem wins and 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”). Put “January Poetry Challenge Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio which can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month. Please put your name and bio under the poem in your email.

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 shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.

© Wilda Morris