Tuesday, June 1, 2021

June 2021 - 12th Anniversary Challenge - Road Trip Poems

Open Road -  Photo by Wilda Morris

This month is the 12th anniversary of the first Poetry Challenge on this blog. The blog was designed as a part of Poetry Camp at The Clearing in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin. At that time. there was no Internet service available on the grounds of The Clearing, so Robin Chapman and the poetry group went to the Viking Grill where Barbara Malcolm showed us how to create a blog. Not wanting to begin a blog that would require almost daily updates, I decided to begin the monthly challenge for other poets. I appreciate all the poets who have submitted poems over the past twelve years, and the poets who have served as judges. It has been a lot of work—but also a lot of fun. Through this venture, I have become friends with poets from all over the country and even some from abroad. I has also allowed me to encourage other poets in meaningful ways, a good way to honor poets who encouraged me when I got serious about writing poetry. It has been a rich journey!

Summer is coming in the Northern Hemisphere, and with pandemic restrictions being lifted (or at least lessened), a lot of people are planning literal journeys, especially road trips, so that seems like a good theme for this month’s challenge.

Sometimes on a road trip, you discover a special spot you didn’t know about. On one trip, we drove though the Palisade area along the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois, and ended up stopping for a meal in Savanna, Illinois. We had a good meal at Café Blue. Even more than the food, though, I loved the decor. When I went through the area several years later, I was saddened to learn that the restaurant was no longer there. Tony McCombie and his mother had opened Café Blue on July 1, 2002. Unfortunately, due to his mother’s illness. McCombie was forced to sell the business after only two years. This road trip poem pays honor to McCombie’s dream, and to a very special place. I’m glad I got to experience Café Blue once before it vanished.


Café Blue, Savanna, Illinois

Mirrors behind the soda fountain
reflect blue walls, blue bar stools,
blue soup bowls. Even the basement door
is blue. The restroom sports
blue walls, carpet, plumbing pipes,
soap dispenser, rattan stool, all blue.
Melancholy music from the radio
seeps into the dining room
But I can’t feel blue
on this blue-sky day when we’ve driven
between river and palisades,
up green hill crests with valleys
spread before us painted
in a cornucopia of russets and greens,
you and I together in our matching
plumb-purple pullovers.

~ Wilda Morris

This poem was published in the Rockford Review, XXIX:2 (Summer-Fall 2010).


The next poem comes from a road trip to Wisconsin, driving after dark.

Fawn at Night

You pause beside the road,
eyes glowing
like two small headlights
in the light of our larger ones.
If you run for it,
we are all doomed.
There will be no fawn,
no car, no poem.

~ Wilda Morris

“Fawn at Night” was published in The Avocet (Fall, 2018), p. 22.


Jennifer Dotson’s road trip poem is longer, more exciting, and scarier! If you have traveled in the mountains, you may identify with her. When I heard her read this poem at an open mic, it brought back memories of traveling through the Rocky Mountains in the West. It also reminded me of when I visited friends in Costa Rica. I rented a car and we drove from San Jose to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Fortunately, I was not doing the driving!

Beartooth Highway

Like no other road I’ve ridden -
A rollercoaster ride of switchbacks
and blind curves with small
guardrails – only the thinnest
protection between the asphalt
and the abyss.

At the scenic lookout I admire
the tenacious scrubby pines
that send their roots down
into the mountain rock,
bowing and bending with
the wind to keep their purchase.

Where does my fear come from?
Is it because I see so much sky,
measuring the distance from a
dangerous edge in inches?
While I clench and cling, you grow
happier with the rising elevation.

You enjoy making the turns,
negotiating passing vehicles.
Soon the trees give way to
rocks and grass and neighboring
peaks disappear from view.
We could be on a flat prairie.

With shaky knees, I celebrate
our arrival at the summit.
I feel I could be plucked off
and plummet with a breeze.
That gravity would choose
to let me go.

~ Jennifer Dotson

Jennifer Dotson retains copyright on this poem.


A Few Road Trip Poems from the Internet:
-Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken.
-Andrea Cohen, “Road Trip,” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/18/road-trip.
-Jamie Miller, “An American Road Trip,” https://literaryyard.com/2017/11/08/poem-an-american-road-trip/.
-“Road Trip,” https://powerpoetry.org/poems/road-trip-4.
-Sheenagh Pugh , “What If This Road,” http://www2.open.ac.uk/openlearn/poetryprescription/what-if-this-road.html.
-Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road,” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48859/song-of-the-open-road


The June Challenge:


Please follow the guidelines carefully. If your name is at the top of the page or under the title instead of at the bottom, I might accidentally miss it when preparing to send the poems to the judge, and your poem could be disqualified as a result, since judging should be done blind. 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.

The challenge for this month is a road trip poem. No poems about airline or rail travel. No cruise ships. Wikipedia says a road trip is “a long-distance journey on the road. Typically, road trips are long distances traveled by automobile.” I once dreamed that I walked from Iowa City to Fairfield, Iowa, to visit my Aunt Hattie. A trip of that distance by foot, horseback, camel, cart, covered wagon, or bicycle would count as a road trip! Just after posting this challenge, I discovered this article about a woman who walked around the world. See http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20210527-the-woman-who-walked-around-the-world?utm_source=pocket-newtab&referer=https%3A%2F%2Fgetpocket.com%2Frecommendations.

Your poem may be serious or humorous. The poem may be metaphoric, or literal. It could be a historical poem or a dream. 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 a brief third-person 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 June 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 wildamorris4[at]gmail[dot]com (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “June 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. Please excuse repetition in stating the rules. You might be surprised how many poets do not adhere carefully to the guidelines.

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 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.


Jennifer Dotson is author of Late Night Talk Show Fantasy & Other Poems (Kelsay Books, 2020) and Clever Gretel (Chicago Poetry Press, 2013). A recent finalist in the 2021 Mary Blinn Poetry Contest, Jennifer's work has been published in After Hours, East on Central, Grand Little Things, and The Macguffin, among others. She is the creative engine behind www.HighlandParkPoetry.org, which she founded in 2007.

Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair, Poets and Patrons of Chicago and past President, Illinois State Poetry Society, has published in numerous anthologies, webzines, and print publications, and has let poetry workshops for children and adults in several states. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku, including the 2019 Founders’ Award from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her second poetry book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick was published in 2019 (available from Kelsay Books and amazon.com). She loves to travel.



© Wilda Morris




Tuesday, May 25, 2021


Photo by Lynn West


The May Poetry Challenge was for poems about fishing or whaling. Unsurprisingly, most of the poems were about fishing. There are still whalers today, but whaling is not the big industry it was when Herman Melville published Moby-Dick. New ways of lighting homes and streets doubtless saved several species of whales from extinction.


Phyllis Wax and Michael Escoubas, whose poems were used as examples this month, both agreed to serve as judges. I have said before that there is much subjectivity involved in judging poetry. Having two judges judge independently generally provides evidence for that. Each judge picked a first, second, and third place poem (Wax actually picked two poems as tied for third place), but none of the poems selected by either judge was picked as a winner by the other judge. The result is that there are seven winning poems this month. There were other excellent poems submitted, so it was not easy for either judge to make their decisions.



Here is Elaine Sorrentino’s first place poem:

Imitation Fisherman 

Shirtless, barefoot, slathered in sun block
he stands, rod in hand, at the end of the dock,
drinking in the pine smell, reminiscent
of carefree summer days at Boy Scout camp,
hypnotically casting and reeling, casting and reeling
thinking of nothing… and everything. 

Tiny ripples from a lone kayaker
glide silently toward the shore,
dissipating before they reach their destination,
overhead a worthy winged competitor
casts his giant shadow across the water
scanning it for a good fish dinner.

Sweet contemplative time,
rudely interrupted by the snagging of a fish;
the fisherman carefully removes
the offending hook,
and with reverence and apology
sets his slippery intruder free.

Liberating himself from further interruption,
he searches his clunky metal fishing box
for a lure devoid of hooks,
and, securing it to the pole
continues what he considers fishing−
casting and reeling, casting and reeling.

~ Elaine Sorrentino 

Wax commented, “I loved this poem! The wonderful visual details took me to the dock, made me see the fisherman. Every word seemed carefully chosen for the poet’s purpose. Examples in the 3rd stanza: “rudely interrupted,” “offending hook,” “slippery intruder,” not phrases usually used to describe catching (or snagging) a fish. This was a quiet, leisurely read with a surprising ending. I felt like I was relaxing there with him, casting and reeling.”



Peggy Trojan also won a first place with this poem:

Fishing Lesson

One morning, in my early twenties
and suffering an emotional disaster,
my father invited me to go fishing.

He rowed us to the middle of the lake
and baited our hooks. He did not say
"I told you so", or utter advice.
Without a word, he offered me,
a secret smoker, a cigarette.

We floated and fished in silence.
By noon, my anger and sadness
had slithered into the water
and lake calm had taken its place.

I learned, on a good day, with luck,
one can come home with a catch
more valuable than fish. 

~ Peggy Trojan

Previously published in Thunderbird Review

Escoubas commented, “I appreciated the love, wisdom and gentle pathos of this poem; it speaks redemptively of a turning point in a young person's life set against the backdrop of a simple experience that carried far beyond "just" going fishing.”


For second place, Michael selected:

A Fisherman

Is both a monk and warrior.
Standing between sea and sky,
belonging to neither,
he casts his line into deep water
watches waves laced with white foam
as seaweed green and golden
floats by in streams,
sometimes catching in his line,
heavy as a fish might be.
He stares into the ink black water
but can’t see far beneath the surface
where the sun glints back at him
from waves that never stop
rising and falling.

He learns to balance,
to hold himself in stillness
as the boat rocks beneath him
with a rhythm never completely
regular, the odd wave coming
fast or deeper, slow or more shallow,
in random changes that make music
by their deviation from the beat.

He waits with perfect patience
for the invisible fish
to take his bait,
first step in a struggle
much like a dance
full of hope and desperation
that could end with nothing
or the prize pulled up
into bright air
glittering and gasping
at his feet.

~ Mary McCarthy

Escoubas said, “This poet has done a fine job with the device of "resemblances" in this composition as "warrior" and "monk" are skillfully woven into the theme.”


The Dordogne River Valley in France is known as “a fisherman’s paradise” or, more appropriately, for this second-place poem, “a fisherman’s dream.”


I am squatting on the riverbank,
catching you fish for rainbow trout.
Six years old.

Handling the line like a violinist,
you pluck away with each vibration,
picturing the surface of the water.

as a composition unraveling
each note and quaver. Your daughters

are downstream, catching minnows in jam
jars. Shrinking like Hughes' pike, soon

they will be part of the river while you
are lost among the grasses, feeling

the riverbed for signs of a sure footing
even though it's 2020 and Dordogne 

has been reduced to something that slips
out while trying to remember a familiar 

tune to distract from the shaking teacup
and spilt sugar.

~Christian Ward

Wax commented that "Dordogne" is a subtle poem, covering a long span of years using skillfully selected details. I liked the unique comparison of the fisher to a violinist, and the emotional punch at the end.


One of the third place poems brought humor to the contest:

Catch of the Day

She wriggles into
her most alluring outfit
fishes through her closet for
striking heels to
accentuate her legs
fastens padded underwires that
lift perky bobbers
pulls on Spanx to
tackle slack figure
casts a side eye
at her reflection
checks all lines
from every angle
dances a little jig

He reels when he sees her
gulps the bait
heart flip flops
memories of
the first time

she hooked him
a half century earlier
thankful she strung him along
never released him
for a bigger catch

They drive into town
for the Friday night special--
fish fry at the local tavern

~ Christy Schwan

Wax, who selected this poem, said, “‘Catch of the Day’ hooked me with the first line. The use of fishing terms throughout kept me chuckling. It was a lot of fun to read. “


The third place poem selected by Escoubas is more serious:


Tiny Birds, Salmon, an Old Man & His Rivers

he's old now
still dreams of salmon and rivers
the woman he loved
what seems forever ago
he thinks they really were so similar
but today he sits wheelchair still
stares out the nursing home window
waiting and watching
like his days in the drift boat
and how those fish
& now these tiny birds
fill him with recognition
of kin
a reason to breathe in
breathe out


~ Maryann Hurtt

“Innovation and love are standout features in this poem where simple words blend skillfully paint a portrait of an old man's treasured relationships and memories,” according to Escoubas.


Last, but not least, is the second third-place poem selected by Wax:

Great Blue

Neither Brian nor I were ever chosen
as anyone’s buddy, even after becoming
First Class Scouts, so we paired up
by default, whatever the adventure.

Loners by nature, we paddled past
the rest of the troop, around Arrow Point,
to an inlet on the north side of Catalina.
Fins fastened and snorkels cleared,
we glided into the sapphire pool
noiselessly as seals. Far below,
red and yellow starfish clung to rocks
sabled with algae. Golden kelp
rose like trees from the blue-black depths.
Garibaldi damselfish
drifted above purple hydrocorals,
each a setting sun in an amethyst sky.

“It’s another world down there!”
laughed Brian when we broke the surface.

Fearless, we dove for the bottom.
A rippling octopus scoured the rocks
for copepods and crabs. A giant sea snail
combed the bottom for decomposing
detritus of sea life. A jellyfish
drifted upwards, translucent as glass.
I turned to show Brian, but saw only 
a pale blue wall, twice my height,
and a single dark eye fixed on mine.

A nameless terror held me in thrall,
though I needed air, and soon.
I couldn’t move. It was as if
the world and everything in it
was peering out from that lashless eye,
plumbing my depths. For what?

I kicked my fins and clawed for the surface,
bubbles streaming from my mouth.

Rising past the monster’s side, I saw
a great white predator
swimming straight toward me.
I would fight, of course,
but I would lose, that much I knew.
I would never reach the surface, never
draw another breath. As I raised my legs
to give my attacker one good kick
before it took my life, I felt
the whole ocean rise up beneath me
and shoot me into the air,
the great blue’s flukes tossing me clear
before crashing down
on the white shark’s fin.

“Shark, shark,” called Brian from shore.

I swam for safety, swam
as fast as I could,
all the time knowing
I had already been saved.

~ Bradley Steffens

Wax explained her choice of this poem: “Vivid descriptions of colorful exotic underwater life were a highlight of “Great Blue.” I especially liked “rocks sabled with algae” and “purple hydrocorals, each a setting sun in an amethyst sky.” As the diver went deeper I could feel his terror at the danger that he encountered.” 

Each poet retains rights to his or her own poem.

Congratulations to the seven winners! Check back on June 1 for a new Poetry Challenge.



Michael Escoubas is the author of a chapbook, Light Comes Softly, two full-length ekphrastic collections, Monet in Poetry and Paint, and Steve Henderson in Poetry and Paint. His most recent book is entitled, "Little Book of Devotions: Poems that Connect Nature, God and Man," which reflects on 2020, the year of the Coronavirus. Escoubas is Editor and Staff Book Reviewer for the highly regarded literary and cultural arts online poetry journal, Quill and Parchment.

Now retired after thirty years working as a hospice RN, Maryann Hurtt lives in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine where she hikes, bikes, reads, and writes. Once Upon a Tar Creek: Mining for Voices will be out later this year. Tar Creek's water is orange and she is passionate that its story be told.

Mary McCarthy is a retired Registered Nurse with a lifelong love of writing and art. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, most lately “The Plague Papers” edited by Robbi Nester, and “The Ekphrastic World,” edited by Lorette Luzajic, as well as the latest issues of Earth’s Daughters and Verse-Virtual.

Christy Schwan is a native Hoosier, rockhound, wild berry picker, and wildflower seeker. She is pursuing her “encore” career as a poet/writer. She lives in Wisconsin where she enjoyed quiet sports: snowshoeing, kayaking, canoeing, and loon spotting.

Elaine Sorrentino is Communications Director at South Shore Conservatory in Hingham, MA.  Her work has been published in Minerva Rising, Willawaw Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, Writing in a Women’s Voice, The Writers' Magazine, Global Poemic, ONE ART: a journal of poetry, Haiku Universe, Failed Haiku, and has won the monthly poetry challenge at wildamorris.blogspot.com

Bradley Steffens is a poet, novelist, and award-winning author of more than sixty nonfiction books for children and young adults.

Peggy Trojan's recent release, River, recently won 2nd place in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook Contest in 2021. River follows her marriage and her family's journey through her husband's Lewy Body Dementia. Peggy Trojan's poetry books are available on Amazon.

Christian Ward is a UK based writer who can be currently found in One Hand Clapping, The Crank, Sein Und Werden and The Pangolin Review

Phyllis Wax writes in Milwaukee on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. She loves to walk on the nearby breakwater, to be surrounded by the lake yet have wonderful views of the city. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies, both in print and online, with subjects ranging from social issues to nature to jazz. Three of her poems are included in the recently released Lullabies & Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan (University Professors Press).


© Wilda Morris