Friday, November 1, 2019

November Challenge - Gifts

His Birthday Gift by John William Godward, 1889

John William Godward

For many people around the world, November and December are months in which to look for gifts for loved ones, and to be thankful for gifts received from God, nature, and/or others. I hope you will consider this post a gift-box of poems—I’m including five samples this time—a record!

The five all focus in some way on gifts, but the kinds of gifts referenced in the poems are very different. There is also much variety in the artistry of the five poets.

I included the poem by Eugene Field partly because it is a rhymed poem in contrast to the others, which are all written in free verse, but also because it brings a child’s perspective. Also, I admit, because it is a poem I loved as a child. My sister Dorinda and I recited it together at Christmastime for many years. It is not really in the spirit of Christmas gift-giving and –receiving, but it is fun.

I probably should have included a poem on the gifts of the Magi in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus but this post was getting long, so I’ll just provide a link to this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (my other favorite poet when I was a child):

All the poems in this post are used with the permission of the poet, except for those which are in the public domain.


From my mother:  a crystal
bowl—sleek sides
tapering to weighted base
lead-heavy, incised,
its clean design bright
on the counter.
For condiments, she said.
Her aim was to emboss
time, add pleasure to both
guest and host, of which
she’d never had enough.

To my daughter: a simple
cup—carved from the hard-
wood’s heart, hollowed
from old growth trimmed
and palmed, smelling of
sweet sap. For sorrows,
I said, her birthright’s toll.
My gesture meant to hold
the swells, contain her woes,
enclose her quicksilver soul.

~ Patrice Boyer Claeys From

From Lovely Daughter of the Shattering by Patrice Boyer Claeys (Kelsay Books, 2019).


Rising early,
Grandfather stoked the ashes
of yesterday's fire,
added fresh coal,
our first gift
on Christmas morning.

~ Wilda Morris

First published in Secret Place (Nov. 1998-Jan. 1999).

The Worst Gift I Ever Got Was a Grave

They say it’s the thought
that counts, but with graves
I say it’s the sides.
With stones, it’s what’s written.

It lies on a piney bump. My grave! Still
in the spot I left it. I was eight,
soft as a bag of kittens.
My mother holds the deed.

Everything that happens underground
is serious: so goes the story
of the water main and willow.
I’ve seen panic at the anthill,

the dug-up babies like pearly lumps.
If that was me, I’d want thousands, too.
I’d try to save them all
in my tender black jaws.

Dear grave, you have not got
mourners, a maw, me yet.
Most gifts I can’t wait to open
but not this.

Not really a plan— it’s more of a plot,
what you never think of at all
until you do: the lost mitten
found in spring mud. Its little wave.

~ Jan Bottiglieri

From Alloy: Poems by Jan Bottiglieri (Mayapple Press, 2015).

Gifts That Matter Most

It’s Christmas and the child born
in each of us watches an ornate
ball of moon dangle magically.

~ John Lehmen

From Shorts: 101 Brief Poems of Wonder and Surprise (Zelda Wilde Publishing, 2005).

Jest 'Fore Christmas

FATHER calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain't a girl---ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes curls an' things that's worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an' go swimmin' in the lake--
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
'Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain't 
               no flies on me,
But jest'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!

Got a yeller dog named Sport, sick him on the cat.
First thing she knows she doesn't know where she is at!
Got a clipper sled, an' when us kids goes out to slide,
'Long comes the grocery cart, an' we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worrited an' cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an' larrups up his hoss,
An' then I laff an' holler, "Oh, ye never teched me!"
But jest'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!

Gran'ma says she hopes that when I git to be a man,
I'll be a missionarer like her oldest brother, Dan,
As was et up by the cannibals that live in Ceylon's Isle,
Where every prospeck pleases, an' only man is vile!
But gran'ma she has never been to see a Wild West show,
Nor read the life of Daniel Boone, or else I guess she'd know
That Buff'lo Bill an' cowboys is good enough for me!
Excep' jest 'fore Christmas, when I'm as good as I kin be!

And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an' still,
His eyes they seem a-sayin': "What's the matter, little Bill?"
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an' wonders 
               what's become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am so perlite an' tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: "How improved our Willie is!"
But father, havin' been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When, jest 'fore Christmas, I'm as good as I kin be!

For Christmas, with its lots an' lots of candies, cakes an' toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids an' not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an' bresh yer hair, an' mind yer p's and q's,
And don't bust out yer pantaloons, and don't wear out 
               yer shoes;
Say "Yessum" to the ladies, and "Yessur" to the men,
An' when they's company, don'a pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin' of the things yer'd like to see upon that tree,
Jest 'fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!

~ Eugene Field

This poem is in the public domain.


Jan Bottiglieri lives and writes in suburban Chicago. She is a managing editor for the poetry annual RHINO and holds an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. Jan’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in more than 40 journals and anthologies including december, Rattle, DIAGRAM, Willow Springs and New Poetry from the Midwest. Jan is the author of two chapbooks, A Place Beyond Luck and Where Gravity Pools the Sugar; and two full-length poetry collections: Alloy (Mayapple Press, 2015) and Everything Seems Significant: The Blade Runner Poems (BlazeVOX [books], 2019). 

Patrice Boyer Claeys graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Manchester, U.K., and completed a Certificate in Poetry from the Writer’s Studio of the University of Chicago. She joined Plumb Line Poets of Evanston, IL, and published her first collection, Lovely Daughter of the Shattering (Kelsay Books, 2019). She has published widely ad was anthologized in Aeolian Harp Series, 5. Work is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Pirene’s Fountain, Original Poetry Project, and The Passed Note. Patrice’s second collection, The Machinery of Grace, is due from Kelsay Books in 2020. She was twice nominated for Best of the Net. Find her at  

Eugene Field (1850-1895), did not complete college, but became an editor for the Denver Tribune, for which he wrote a column, “Odds and Ends.” He later moved to the Chicago Tribune. His prose, poetry and translations have been collected in 10 volumes, published posthumously. He is best known today for his poetry, especially his poems for children, including “Little Boy Blue: and “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” and “Jest ‘Fore Christmas.”

John (Jack) Lehman is the founder of Rosebud Magazine. He is literary editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas as well as editor of Lit Noir (a digital magazines). A nationally published writer and poet with decades of experience teaching creative writing and as a creative director/senior copywriter for advertising agencies, he has presented seminars throughout the country (including, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Monterey, Cape Cod, Scottsdale, Saint Petersburg, San Diego and St. Louis). John has had seven books of poetry, four of short stories and two nonfiction books published. His four plays have been performed in Madison, Milwaukee and Saint Petersburg, Florida. He originated the Wisconsin Academy Review annual prize for poetry. John is a graduate of Notre Dame University and has a MA from the University of Michigan. He lives with his wife, Talia Schorr, and their three dogs and multiple cats in Rockdale, the smallest incorporated village in Wisconsin.

Wilda Morris is Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and a past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society. She has led poetry shops in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. Her poems have found homes in numerous anthologies, webzines, and print publications, including The Kerf, The Ocotillo Review, Pangolin Review, Tuck Magazine, Quill & Parchment, Voices on the Wind, and Journal of Modern Poetry. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku. Her second poetry book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick, was published in 2019. She was honored to read from this book in numerous places, including at Arrowhead, the estate where Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick. Wilda moderates a monthly poetry reading at Brewed Awakening Coffee Shop in Westmont, Illinois.

The November Challenge:

Write a portrait poem about a gift, gifts, gift-giving or gift-receiving. It might be about Christmas or Hanukah gifts (or gifts connected with other times of religious or cultural significance), birthday gifts, or of less tangible gifts.

Your poem may be free verse or formal. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem.

Title your poem unless it is a form that does not use titles (don’t follow Emily Dickenson’s practice on that!). Single-space. Note that the blog format does not accommodate long lines; if they are used, they have to be broken in two, with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the November 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.

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. However, poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win this month, but the poets may submit a different poem.

The deadline is November 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 (some children and teens read this blog). No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.

If the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.

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 “November 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. If the poem has been published before, please put that information UNDER the poem also. NOTE: If you sent your poem to my other email address, or do not use the correct subject line, the poem may get lost and not be considered for publication. Do not submit poems as PdF files.

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 (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; 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.

© Wilda Morris