Friday, September 1, 2017

September Poetry Challenge - Horse Poems

Dusk Horseback Ride, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico

A Lover of Horses

She drew horses and colored them:
black, chestnut, pinto, palomino….
Her horse book showed everything
from tiny prehistoric Equus to giant Belgian Draft.
Once, she jumped on the back of an untamed horse
on Uncle’s farm, got dumped in the dust.
She trotted and galloped herself, loved to run hard
until she dropped panting on the grass.
She rode horses in her dreams,
flew horses into the sky.

She read Black Beauty, felt his suffering,
saw the sweat stains on a work horse, the deep moist eyes,
saw horse flies make tail swish, head shake, withers quiver,
felt their terrible sting. Cried when the neighbors killed
their colt because they couldn’t train him.
“Too wild,” they said.
They sold him for dog food.

The landlord’s son had a horse named Rusty.
Mother held the reins while Daddy snapped a shot
of three sisters sitting snug on Rusty’s back.
She vowed she’d have a horse of her own
or run away. But they moved to the city
and she never ran away. Settled instead

for crushes on boys, feeling awkward
in a way she never did with horses.
In secret, she kissed her own hand
pretending to be kissing a he,
he kissing her, he carrying her in his arms like
Rory Calhoun did Marilyn Monroe
dripping wet from The River of No Return.
Not knowing someday she’d ride oh she’d ride
with a partner, that being bound together for the long haul
would be a purpose greater than being
a lover of horses.

~ Marilyn Churchill

“A Lover of Horses” was published and received Honorable Mention in the 2016 Contest Edition of Peninsula Poets.


Late October and the wind spells winter
on my neck. Faint scent of burning leaves
and the dog barking in the pasture,
where my old horse tears the grass
ferociously, munching with all her heart.

She eyes me by the gate but won’t admit
I’m there: I’m trouble.
For twenty years she’s taken my snaffle
cold and hard on the roof of her mouth,
the saddle that left an outline of sweat,

my heels pounding her rib cage,
my commanding thighs, and my weight.
She rips the grass faster in bigger bunches,
a binge before I tear her
from her beloved earth, where every scrap

and tittle of clover is a dream-come-true.
The dog starts a game, barking and skidding
into her face so she’ll chase him.
He wants the pure surge of reckless,
canine joy. But she won’t play.

She’s old and likes what she likes: Clover.
So I return the bridle to its rusty nail
and decide to let her be happy there
in the pasture. I walk out to her
with only an apple, the sun in my eyes,

and the scar on my left leg
that matches hers. A sparrow hawk spirals
bright against the blue sky,
and I’m no filly either. Maybe
getting old is a picnic I’m thinking

driving home, the dog galloping his heart out,
his tongue hanging loose, frothing
and urgent in my sideview mirror.

~ Christine Swanberg

“Pasture,” from The Tenderness of Memory by Christine Swanberg (Plain View Press, 1994).

Many people love horses. Some are fortunate enough to have horses of their own. As a child, I often wished I lived on a farm and had a horse I could ride every day. Maybe that is one reason why I like horse poems.

The example poems above are both free verse, but they are different in tone, imagery and narrative. Marilyn Churchill’s poem could be called a coming-of-age poem. The focus of the poem is on the lover of horses, not the horses themselves. The horses, which hold the protagonist’s attention in the first three stanzas turn out not to be of as much significance as the reader expects. The exhilarating ride is, in the end, a metaphor.

In Swanberg’s poem, focus is on the relationship between the narrator who wants to ride and her aging horse who would rather not be ridden any more. The dog is something of a foil to both of them. There is mystery in the poem, too—the scar on the narrator’s left leg matches a scar on the horse’s, suggesting there is much more to the story than we are told outright.

When I think of horses, I think of Dixie, the first horse I rode on my in-law's Kansas farm, and of the horse I rode at dusk in San Miguel de Allende (see the photo above). When I think of horses in poems, the first one that comes to my mind is always "A Blessing" by James Wright, which you can read at Blessing. There are two others I often think of. "Lasca" by Frank Desprez, is a narrative cowboy poem which my grandmother recited from heart, with great feeling (See Lasca). I'm convinced that if she were alive and young today, she could compete on the spoken word circuit with her rendition of "Lasca." And there is "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a poem most people of my generation heard many times in elementary school (Paul Revere's Ride). I attended Longfellow school, so maybe my classmates and I heard it more often than children in other schools.

Three Additional Interesting Horse Poems:

Edwin Muir, “The Horses,” The Horses.

Jaswinder Bolina, “Portrait of a Horse,” Portrait of a Horse (An adult poem reflecting on multiple metaphoric roles that can be played by a horse).

Larry Lewis, "Anastasia and Sandman," Anastasia and Sandman (A lengthy political poem)
Your Internet search engine will locate enough horse poems for you to binge on them if you wish.

The September Challenge:

The September Challenge is to submit a poem featuring a horse or horses. The horses may be literal or figurative. The poem may focus primarily on the horse, on the relationship between a horse and human being or other creature, on a historical horse, or . . . . The examples given above suggest something of the breadth of possibilities.

Title your poem unless it is a 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 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 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 “September Poetry Challenge Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that 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 multiple 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.


Marilyn Churchill’s book of poems, Memory Stones, includes her own cover art and illustrations. Her writing has appeared in various periodicals including Current Magazine, Third Wednesday, and Peninsula Poets (Poetry Society of Michigan). A former college instructor and bookseller, Marilyn continues to be involved with bookselling as part owner with her husband, Jay Platt, of the West Side Book Shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  
Christine Swanberg has published a number of volumes of poetry: Tonight on this Late Road, Invisible String, Bread Upon the Waters, Slow Miracle, The Tenderness of Mercy, The Red Lacquer Room, Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity, and The Alleluia Tree, Her most recent book, this summer, is Wild Fruition: Sonnets, Spells and Other Incantations. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies. She is a popular leader of poetry workshops in Wisconsin and Illinois.

© Wilda Morris