Thursday, October 1, 2020

October Poetry Challenge - Tool Poems

Toolbox Photo by Sandy Stark


What tools have you used this week? A hammer, a spade, a saw, a can opener? We all use tools. Wisconsin poet Sandy Stark published whole book of poems about tools – The Toolbox Poems. The poems are not just about implements like wrenches, screw drivers and drills. They are also poems about life. Here are two of them:


Jim Dandy

My carpenter tells me it’s a finish hammer,
tack hammer, something like that. I just know
I use it for picture hangers with those gizmos
that have tiny nails and even tinier heads to hit,
or setting staples in signs for my prairie work,
to pound the stakes in the ground. Each spring
I wrap the handle with strips of new tape,
make it easier to find and reclaim.

It’s the first hammer I got from my father’s
tool kit when he cleaned it out one year.
That one’s too small, he said, to drive
a big nail. But it’ll come in handy one day.

I like its small size. Reminds me I don’t have
to throw my weight around to get things done.
I tried to hammer a leaky kitchen faucet once.
That was before I read the rest of the writing
on the Jim Dandy’s well-worn shaft:
Bonded by True Temper, U.S.A.

~ Sandy Stark


A variety of tools turn up in Stark’s book. Here is one you might not have expected:


Hair Dryer

My father tells me how my mother
put everything—the fresh fruit salad,
a platter of veggies with dip, and the
pre-baked tin of lasagna—in the freezer
the night before; so when their guests
arrived, my mother greeted them at
the door while my father waved a
hair dryer over half the frozen meal.
Bob’s thawing dinner now, she said,
completely unfazed.

He pauses, pleased he’s made a joke
of it, just like he does later, when he
counts how many times he and my
mother rock back and forth before
they can launch themselves up
and off their low leather couch.

~ Sandy Stark

Both poems are from The Toolbox Poems by Sandy Stark (Finishing Line Press, 2015). You can purchase the book from the publisher at or on


Herman Melville is one of many writers who have used the word “tool” is a somewhat more metaphoric way, as in the epigram to the poem below.



            To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools;
            and of all tools used in the shadow of the moon,
            men are most apt to get out of order.
                         ~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Here is an important truth: I am a tool or potential tool
of someone—a ship captain, politician, CEO,
the neighborhood bully, my boss. I can be played
like a violin or a kettle drum. I can be
the screwdriver turning someone else’s screw,
the hammer pounding someone’s nail.
It takes courage to refuse the task, resign
the commission, miss the promotion
because of protest. Too easy to be a sailor
buying into the vengeance of Ahab.
Too easy even to be the first mate, knowing
right from wrong and the risk to the whole crew,
resisting only cautiously now and then,
afraid to stand unmoving and take the consequences.
Sometimes there are only two options: to go along with evil
or get out of order.

~ Wilda Morris

“Tools” from Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2019). It was first published in Lilipoh. You can purchase Pequod Poems from the publisher at or from


The October 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 tool or tools. You may use the tool or tools literally or metaphorically. The poem doesn’t have to center on the tool; for instance, it could be a poem about a person who uses a tool. 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 and do not use a header or footer.

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 October 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 “October 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.


Sandy Stark retired from teaching literature and communication skills to adults in favor of serious birdwatching, native plant restoration, and writing more poems. She has three published collections: Counting on Birds (2010), The Toolbox Poems (2015), and Home Base (2019).

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, 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