I love birds, especially the first robins I see in the spring, the red-wing blackbirds flitting around the Gateway Wetlands, my first awe-inspiring sight of flamingos in the wild, the flicker and rose-breasted grosbeak who made surprise appearances in our yard, the eagles and osprey we saw while taking a boat ride at The Gates of the Mountains in Montana, the magnificent motmot our host in Costa Rica whistled into his garden, the drab bird with the beautiful song in the rain forest, the cormorants catching fish for their owners on the Li River in China. I could go on and on. Birds are a great source of enjoyment, and a wonderful subject for poetry.
Bird poems can be as dark as “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” as romantic as Shelley’s “To a Skylark” and Keats “Ode to a Nightingale,” or as theological as “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. They can be nursery rhymes, like “Time to Rise” by Robert Louis Stevenson, or as thought-provoking as “Pigeons” by the late Lisel Mueller and can reflect directly or obliquely on social issues, as in “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poem from which Maya Angelo took the title of her book, I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings.
Back in 2017, I read “A Prayer for Ducks,” by Ethan Joella, a poem published by Rattle. The poem was read and discussed in one of my small poetry groups (we call ourselves “Poetic Lights”). Then we got quiet, took out pens or pencils and each drafted a poem inspired by either the poem or the discussion. Here is the poem that developed out of the draft I wrote that day.
A Prayer for Red-Winged Blackbirds
After Ethan Joella
Jesus, look after
the birds who
protect their territory
in the wetlands, the red-winged ones who
ruffle their epaulets, color
brightening cloudy days,
and their sparrow-like spouses.
Bless all the feathered fauna who
sway atop cattails and sedge, who
click and chatter and scold
as sun rises, who
quiet themselves into sleep at sundown, who
sit for hours, for days
on a nest full of eggs, those
shelled possibilities. Jesus make me
a red-winged blackbird when I die
so my daughters will come
looking for me at dusk while
I guard my nest as I guarded them.
Let them listen to my voice and
whistle back their love and longing.
Let me soar and swoop, feathers
fluffed by wind. Jesus, let my legacy hatch
into hope. Let my chicks fledge
as my daughters have fledged. Let them
spread their wings and find
their own nests by nourishing water.
Let them look and listen for you.
~ Wilda Morris
“A Prayer for Red-Winged Blackbirds,” Echoes: Prize Poems, ed. Kathy Lohrum Cotton (National Federation of State Poetry Societies, 2018), p. 32. © Wilda Morris.
Phyllis Wax often reflects on contemporary issues in her poetry. I found her pandemic poem, “Ignoring the Rules,” featured at yourdailypoem.com.
Ignoring the Rules
No “distancing” for them.
Travel bans don’t apply.
They fly first-class from the South
or maybe take the red-eye.
Learning of this party through constant tweeting,
they congregate unmasked
in chattering clusters on the grass,
or animated tête-à-têtes in the trees—
robins, red-winged blackbirds,
~ Phyllis Wax
© by Phyllis Wax. First published at . Used with the author’s permission.
This poem is as good as any poem
I’ve read reflecting on the Pandemic! If you read it on yourdailypoem.com, instead of in a post on bird poems, the ending probably would have come as a surprise as it did to me.
More bird poems:
https://www.writerswrite.com/poetry/birds/, a good list of famous bird poems, with links
https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/10-of-the-best-poems-about-birds/, often with links to analyses of the poems
https://reelyredd.com/famous-bird-poems.htm, Audio versions of bird poems
https://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php%3Fdate=2001%252F09%252F29.html, “Pigeons” by Lisel Mueller
The September Challenge:
PLEASE FOLLOW GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. For example, if your name is at the top of the page or under the title, I might accidentally miss it when preparing to send the poems to the judge, and it could be disqualified as a result. If it isn’t under your poem, I might mistype it. Also, if you don’t follow the directions in how to write the subject line of your email, your poem might be missed.
Write a poem that features a bird. It might be a “nature poem” about the bird or birds. Or birds might be used to encourage the reader to think about something else (life, death, a social issue, etc.). Use your creativity. You may use free verse or a form. If you use a form, please include a note identifying the form.
Title your poem unless it is in a form that discourages titles. 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 May 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print. Put your name and bio under your poem. Please keep the poem on the left margin (standard 1” margin). Do not put any part of your submission on a colored background. Do not use a fancy font.
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. Poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win, but the poets may submit a different poem, unless the poet has been a winner the last three months.
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 (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: NOTE SLIGHT RECENT CHANGES IN
Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “September Poetry Challenge Submission” FOLLOWED BY YOUR NAME 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 and/or attachment. 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. Pease excuse repetition in stating the rules. You might be surprised how many poets do not adhere carefully to the rules.
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). or both. 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.
Phyllis Wax writes in Milwaukee on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. From her office window she observes the birds and butterflies in their seasonal migrations. Social issues are a focus of her work. Among the anthologies and journals in which her poetry has appeared are: Rhino, The Widows’ Handbook, Birdsong, Spillway, Peacock Journal, Surreal Poetics, Naugatuck River Review, New Verse News, Portside, Star 82 Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wilda Morris Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and a past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, has been published in numerous anthologies, webzines, and print publications, including The Ocotillo Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Li Poetry, Puffin Circus, and Journal of Modern Poetry. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku. She was given the Founders’ Award by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies in 2019. Much of the work on her second poetry book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (published in 2019), was written during a Writer’s Residency on Martha’s Vineyard. Pequod Poems can be ordered from the publisher or amazon.com, or, if you would like an autographed copy, email the author at wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”).
© Wilda Morris