Tuesday, December 29, 2009

December Challenge Winner

There were several good attempts at providing advice for the new year: advice to a husband, to a nephew, and to people in general. The winning poem describes life through a series of metaphors: a movie in fast-forward, musical chairs, a tunnel, and so on. The judges weren’t totally convinced by the title and end line, but nevertheless, the poem offers some good advice. Congratulations to Jason Sturner for submitting the following poem:

Trout Swimming Upstream for Nickels & Dimes

The world outside my window
moves like someone hit fast-forward
and broke off the pause button.

We race for our seats
on musical chair mornings,
jump in the ring with clocks.

But today my soul pinched me,
woke me up with a beautiful, simple idea,
and I'm here to share.

My friends,
one word
into a sword—


Like drought in a rose garden,
like sour on a sweet kiss:

We tolerate too much,
we tunnel drive through life;
each of us holding an entire world on our shoulders.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can spread our arms, ride the wind, enjoy life.
Remind ourselves that money is not air,
that computers will never hug us.

So write a list of things you love,
things that make life good for you.
And tape it to your forehead if you must.

For a daily pinch is a daily reminder
that you're NOT a fish
swimming upstream for peanuts.

Jason Sturner

The consulting judge this month was Beth Staas, President of Poets and Patrons of Chicago. There is a link to the Poets and Patrons Website on this blog (upper right).

Watch for a new poetry challenge to be posted on or near the first of January.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Poetry Challenge

According to the calendar most widely used in the Western world, a new year will begin on January 1. Traditionally New Year’s Day has been a time for celebrating and for making resolutions. The two poems below, both by Wisconsin writers, are not written as resolutions; they provide advice to others as they begin the new year.

This Year ...

Borrow from the Universe
an elixir of choice.
Interpret your dreams
as Daniel did for Nebuchadnezzar.
Startle your partner
with open mouth kisses.
Memorize poems and
think in foreign phonemes.
Shake the shoulders of silence
while you deadhead the dianthus.
Harvest forgiveness and
bundle the benefits of doubt.
Crumble purple lavender
into an alchemy.
Coax the bell of morning glories
to ring mid-afternoon.
Clap the hens from the
cool weather garden.
Feel the flesh of words
as you pray without ceasing.

Jenna Rindo

First published in Free Verse.

Jenna Rindo suggests that we have choices in how we meet the new year--why would one give advice if one did not believe that? Alliteration, assonance, interesting images and Biblical allusions enrich her poem. The juxtapositions of lines (such as moving from interpreting your dreams to startling your partner) are interesting. Beginning with the ninth line, Rindo uses a lot of gardening (or farming) imagery.

All Year Long

This year as the world comes apart…bit by bit
day after day…give your heart away
remembering that the watered-down light
of the moon is stronger than darkness

This year when the lines in your face outnumber
those in the palm of your hand or the ones
you meant to put on paper…do not have them notarized

When the lock on your door finally gives out
and everyone comes to sleep in your living room
turn over the deed for your house to the first one
willing to make coffee or a pot of soup

This year when you plant your garden…hold the seeds
carefully in the womb of your mouth…Spit them
one by one into the welcoming earth in the name
of everything you have done or failed to do

This year as the world becomes larger and you shrink
to the size of the small winter sapling in your backyard
know that the skeletons of trees still hold the breath
of your grandmother and need no disclaimer.

Ellen Kort

Wisconsin Poet’s Calendar: 1999, edited by Yvette Viets Flaten (Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, 1998), p. 125.

Ellen Kort, who was the first poet laureate of Wisconsin, generally does not use punctuation. She substitutes extra spaces where other poets might use periods, commas or dashes in the middle of a line. Unfortunately, blogspot will not print extra spaces, so Kort gave me permission to substitute the dots.

Kort’s poem seems to assume that, to some extent at least, the world will come apart. Indeed, all of us experience disappointment, loss, and even tragedy, often through no fault of our own. We have no choice about that. But Kort, like Rindo, reminds us that we can choose how to respond, and find meaning in our lives as we give our hearts away. This idea provides a central focus for the poem.

“All Year Long” has rich metaphors and images. It makes excellent use of repetition, without overdoing it (note that the third stanza – the one in the middle – does not use the repeated phrase “This year”). Kort also makes good use of comparisons: “the watered-down / light of the moon” is compared with darkness; the number of lines on your face versus those on your palm; the world growing as you shrink. There is also the juxtaposition at the end of the fourth stanza of “everything you have done” with what you have failed to do.

December Poetry Challenge

After reading these poems, I’m determined to coax those morning glory bells to ring—and to appreciate “watered-down light.” I’m also wondering what advice I might offer to others, advice that might make help 2010 a memorable year.

The December poetry challenge is to write a poem of advice for the new year. It may be advice for anyone who might read it, advice to a particular group (department store clerks; members of a sports team; poets or novelists; students at your school or those with whom you work; all the members of your church, mosque, synagogue or temple; etc.) or individual (such as your spouse or children, or a new-born). Or perhaps you could combine the New Year’s resolution idea with the advice idea, and write advice for yourself. You may use a form (other than a shaped poem, considering that blogspot doesn’t accommodate the needed spaces) or free verse. Your poem may be serious or humorous. Just make it poetic and 30 or fewer lines!

Entries must be submitted by December 15. Submitting a poem implies permission for the poem to be posted. Authors retain ownership of their own work.

Submit your poem through the comment feature below (be sure to include your name and e-mail address), through my Facebook page, or via e-mail (remove the spaces from the following address: wildamorris @ ameritech . net). At least one winning entry will be posted on “Wilda Morris’s Poetry Blog.”

© 2009 Wilda Morris

Saturday, November 28, 2009

November Challenge Winner

Larry Turner who lives and writes in Fredericksburg, Virginia, judged between the top three poems for November. Turner is author of Eden And Other Addressesand Stops on the Way to Eden and Beyond.

Here is the winning poem:


Felt fedora
soft and gray
traveled into
town each day
sheltered Dad from
snow and rain
brought my father
home again
used a stepstool
by myself
and plopped his hat
atop the shelf

My father’s gone
I kept his hat
my little boy
knows where it’s at
first day of school
we have a spat
he’ll only go
in Grampa’s hat
I watch him go
lunch in his sack
my father’s hat
will bring him back

-- Judith Tullis

One thing I like about this poem is the way the hat moves to a third generation. After a time on the shelf, it gets a "new life." The ending of the poem is a bit of a surprise. Poems about the hats of deceased fathers are sometimes maudlin; this one is upbeat. The rhyme scheme also helps keep it light.

Larry Turner, made the following comments on "My Father's Hat": “Good concrete images. Conciseness good. Good portrayal of the passing on of family tradition generation after generation. “used a stepstool / by myself” is a little awkward without the “I.” Perhaps another quatrain would give freedom to fix that and to tell both what the son did and why.”

Congratulations to Judith Tullis! And thanks to Larry Turner.

The next poetry challenge will be posted on December 1.

© 2009 Wilda Morris

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Challenge: A Poem About a Fashion Accessory

Two women may purchase and wear the same dress or pants suit—with a totally different effect. What makes the difference? The accessories, of course. One woman in a plain black dress will wear a bright red scarf and red slip-in shoes, and add a large red and black purse to her ensemble. Another will select a silver necklace with matching earrings, black pumps and clutch bag, and a black hat with a silver butterfly pin on one side. You might not even notice that their dresses are identical.

Identical male twins men may wear similar slacks and shirts, but if one wears a bolo tie, cowboy boots and a belt with a large buckle, he won’t look much like his brother who chooses black dress shoes, a belt with a subdued buckle and a bow tie.

Chaucer’s poem, “The Complaint of Chaucer To His Purse,” may be the first poem in English about a purse. Chaucer chose this light-handed way to ask his patron for more money, so it would be a stretch to consider “The Complaint” a poem about an accessory. Edgar A. Guest entertained his generation with “The Lost Purse,” a poem in which the mother is more upset on the numerous occasions when she can’t find her purse than when one of her young children wanders away. Again, the purse is not so much an accessory as a stand-in for the money it contains.

One of the most famous poems actually involving clothing accessories is “Warning: When I Am Old, I Shall Wear Purple,” by Jenny Joseph, the poem which spawned the Red Hat Society. “Warning,” which was voted Britain’s best loved poem by those who view “Bookworm” on BBC, is available as an illustrated book. See Warning: When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.

Two recent Poet Laureates of the United States have written poems about accessories. In Ted Kooser’s brief poem, “The Necktie,” a man stands in front of a mirror, as he finishes getting dressed. You can find the poem in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Delights & Shadows

Billy Collins has two hat poems in Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. “Candle Hat” is about the artist, Goya, who devised a hat that allowed him to paint after dark. “The Death of the Hat” describes the prevalence of hats in a previous generation, when they were an almost-mandatory part of men’s daily attire. At that time, men could make a living blocking hats for others, and there was a hat rack in every office. No man went out bare-headed on a cold night. The poem turns into a remembrance of the poet’s father, who wore a hat to work every day. At the end, the hat becomes a powerful metaphor for the earth, cloud and sky which now cover his father, and we realize that the title has a double meaning.

A brand new book, Empty Shoes: Poems on the Hungry and the Homeless, edited by Patrick T. Randolph, has several poignant poems referring to accessory. They include: “Empty Shoes,” by Patrick T. Randolph, “Feet on the Subway,” by Wilda Morris, “Designer on the Street Corner,” by Gretchen Fletcher, and “The Bracelet” by Mary Jo Balistreri.

Below are two poems about accessories. Marilyn Huntman Giese writes about a “ho-hum” interview with an editor. The hat only appears in the last stanza. Social commentary is much more blatant in William Marr’s little gem about a man’s tie.

The Editor Speaks

The editor
sipped her coffee
Stepped out, came back
sat down. . .

“Tell me about
your book—
What do you want
to say?”

My twenty-five minutes
tumble away
as I mumble incoherently
if she is thinking about
her kids as I try
to recall the vision
that inspired me.

“What is different
about your novel?”
she asks, redraping
her legs before her.

I muddle details as
hours of tireless research
becomes a molten mass
of ho-hum.

“Promising,” she says,
looking at the clock.

I lift my broad sunhat
to my head.
The jaunty wide brim sways
with a southern flavor.

At last, she gives me her
full attention.
With a burst of enthusiasm
she exclaims, “GREAT HAT!”

-- Marilyn Huntman Giese

© Marilyn Huntman Giese


Before the mirror
he carefully makes himself
a tight knot

to let the hand
of civilization
drag him

-- William Marr (Fei Ma)

Autumn Window, 2nd edition (Arbor Hill Press, 1996), p. 16. For those of you who read Chinese, Fei Ma has published the original version on his bilingual Website at http://home.comcast.net/~wmarr9/pautumnbig5.htm#Necktie. Autumn Window can be purchased through William Marr’s Website listed on the sidebar to this blog.

November Poetry Challenge

The challenge for November is to write a poem about a fashion accessory: a hat, scarf, tie, belt, pair of shoes, jewelry—whatever you pick. You can write about an accessory for a man or for a woman. You may write a formal poem or free verse. Your poem may be humorous or may involve serious social commentary. However, the accessory should actually BE an accessory, unlike the purses in Chaucer’s and Guest’s poems.

Submit your poem through the “comment” feature below, through my Facebook page, or through wildamorris(at)ameritech(dot)net by November 15. I will select one or two winners to post on this blog. Submitting a poem implies permission for the poem to be posted. Authors retain ownership of their own work.

Wilda Morris

© 2009 Wilda Morris

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October Challenge Poems

Two sonnets are winners of the October Poetry Challenge. The first is “Fancy on the Kingdom Come,” by Robert Klein Engler. It is a love poem, which fits well with the sonnet tradition. Words such as “worthy” and “purity,” not to mention “angels,” remind us of more traditional sonnets. However, the use of rhyme, which is casual, unobtrusive, and sometimes absent, marks this as a modern sonnet, as do more contemporary references, such as that to Benny Goodman. Use of enjambment (where sentences are continued on the next line, and sometimes end in the middle of a line) contributes to making the rhyme unobtrusive. The poem takes interesting turns, as it moves from Benny Goodman’s song to the references to Russia and Turgenev, and then to the Eucharist, Rome and the Pope. The ending couplet is humorous.

The second winner, “Sonnet for the Season,” by Jennifer Dotson, is less complex and more straight-forward. It is readily accessible for a generation not well schooled in the history of English poetry. It is seasonal and relevant. It is more a poem of social commentary than a love poem, though it may be motivated by a love for a more traditional and less commercial celebration of Christmas. Dotson’s sonnet follows old rules of rhyming, but most of her rhymes are fresh, not those repeated since the time of Sidney and Shakespeare. Of course they did not have TVs (flat screen or otherwise). Unlike Engler, she end stops most sentences. It is primarily the content that makes this poem a “modern” sonnet. The closing couplet is not very surprising, perhaps, but is quite appropriate.

Here are the winners:


First, is to be worthy. That, I suppose, means purity
in love. Then, Benny Goodman plays, "Memories
of You." Suddenly, we stand together in the unity
we shared before we were soiled by the world.

The "I love you," said when I was a fool, I repeat,
but in harmony with the angels. We could be alive
in a Russian dacha. The summer garden is replete
with greenery, just like in a novel by Turgenev.

A rider comes from Moscow. Michael with his cello
joins us for the weekend. The days have new axles.
I touch light in your hair. Hunger finds the eucharist.
Meanwhile, in Rome, the Lord appears. Cardinals

pester the Pope, "What to do? It makes us dizzy."
He replies with his paternal love, "Just look busy."

Robert Klein Engler

Sonnet for the Season

Appearing just seconds post Halloween
were the jingle bells and Kris Kringle elves.
Thanksgiving got lost somewhere in between
as merchants eagerly stocked up their shelves
with holiday gear and bargains galore.
Customers greedy for flat screen TVs
and video games lined outside the store,
shoving and pushing without saying please.
Folks feel compelled to consume to excess
in this time of little sun and cold chills.
We think more stuff will buy us happiness
but the hangover comes with January's bills.
This is my prayer for such chaos to cease.
Light the heart candle and hope for world peace.

Jennifer Dotson

The November Poetry Challenge will be posted on November 1.

Susan T. Moss helped to judge the September Poetry Challenge. Barbara Eaton helped to judge the Challenge for October. Thanks to both of them.

Poets whose work appears on this blog retain copyright to their own poems.

© 2009 Wilda Morris.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Challenge: A Contemporary Sonnet

Tony Barnstone begins his essay, “A Manifesto On The Contemporary Sonnet: A Personal Aesthetics,” published in The Cortland Review,* by quoting Ezra Pound, “Make it new.” The sonnet is an old form (or perhaps I should say “forms,” since there are differences between Petrarchan (or Italian), Spenserian and Shakespearean sonnets. One major difference is in the rhyme scheme (including whether the sonnet is composed of an octave and a sestet, as in the Petrarchan sonnet, or four quatrains and a couplet as in Spenserian and Shakespearean sonnets. Another is the location in the sonnet where the volta or turn takes place.

Possibly as a result of the chaos created by World War I, many poets writing in English forsook formal poetry, including the sonnet, to write mostly free verse. Barnstone believes that the sonnet has a future—if it is modernized. Updating may involve both writing about contemporary subjects and bending some of the rules. In 2005, Barnstone published Sad Jazz: Sonnets. This book begins in the marriage bed and proceeds through separation, divorce and its aftermath, and ends with hope that one can make a new life for him- or herself. Here is a sonnet from Sad Jazz: Sonnets:

Zero at the Bone

And now she takes her chance and blows like wind
out through the door she’s ripped out of his life.
And now his spirit clamps around the wound
and seizes up like flesh around a knife.
And now he feels an anger that could crush
the bones of planets, hates his worried face,
his roll of fat, the strands of hair his brush
picks up from his scalp. And now she’s gone. No force
can fetch her back like Lazarus from death.
She’s in the undiscovered country where
she’s free of him. And now there’s only love
to love, invisible as God, as breath
siphoning from a hole. What’s left of her
for him? An absence in which to believe.

Tony Barnstone
© Tony Barnstone, Used by permission.

Three of the first five lines and two sentences later in the sonnet begin with the words “and now.” This is something I normally would eschew in poetry, but here, it works well. The words “and now” seem to me to serve two functions. First, “and now” announces this sonnet as a continuation of the “plot” of Sad Jazz. More than that, however, the repetition of these words emphasizes the narrator’s feeling that everything (even his own anger) is happening to him, and is beyond his control. He is incapable of stopping the tsunami turning his life upside down.

Another characteristic of the poems is the use of strong images. Because of its subject and language, the poem seems “modern,” even with the biblical reference Lazarus).

Barnstone suggests in his Cortland Review article that, in making the sonnet new, the poet should use rhyme to “open the poem to wildness,” instead of allowing rhyme to make it predictable. English does not have the wealth of rhyme found in French, Spanish or Italian, so the same rhymes have been used over and over through the centuries. In “Zero at the Bone,” Barnstone uses true rhyme (life/knife; crush/brush and death/breath) and slant rhyme (where/her). But he also uses what he calls “full consonance” rhyme, in which the consonants are the same but the vowels are different (wind/wound; face/force; love/lieve [in “believe”]). In Sad Jazz, Barnstone uses a number of other variations which are not “true rhyme.” These forms make the sonnet less predictable, while creating a “poetic” sound.

Another poet whose sonnets are contemporary is Marilyn L. Taylor. The following poem, from Subject to Change, is part of a seven-sonnet cycle, in which the last line of one sonnet morphs into the first line of the following sonnet. The last line of the last sonnet is almost the same as the first line of the first sonnet. The cycle, called “Notes from The Good-Girl Chronicles, 1963,” narrates events from the time “when the friendly skies were full of virgins.”

Celebrity’s Mother

I’ve slapped myself three times across the face,
so I know it’s not a dream, I swear—
my babygirl has really won first place
in the beauty pageant at State Fair.
Look how she slinks on those high heels,
cranks her little hips just like a pro
down that runway—honey, she’s on wheels,
she’s headed for the Johnny Carson show.
Come on, sweetheart, talk a little louder,
bat those lashes, lick your lips a lot;
make your poor old mama even prouder—
grab for what your mama never got.
Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Maidenform!
Just watch my baby take the world by storm.

Marilyn L. Taylor
© Marilyn L. Taylor, Used by permission.

This sonnet is accessible. The subject is modern. The language is conversational—especially “honey,”“babygirl” and “mama”. The reference to Jesus may elicit memory of more classic sonnets, but it's use is contemporary, and is paralleled in an ironic way with the Maidenform bra. References to popular culture (of 1963) abound: “the beauty pageant at State Fair,” “the Johnny Carson show” and “Maidenform.” Taylor sticks to true rhyme in this poem (though she doesn’t always do so), and there is a turn after the second quatrain, but she takes liberties with iambic pentameter (some lines have only eight or nine syllables).

Sonnets which break the traditional rules, as by adding a line, changing the rhyme scheme or abandoning iambic pentameter, come under criticism from purists. But Barnstone and Taylor are not alone in bending the rules. In her book, Nomina (American Poets Continuum), Karen Volkman has a “sonnet” of fourteen iambic lines, but there is only one foot in each line. If one is entering a sonnet contest, some judges would throw such poems out without reading them.

In Nomina, labeled “poems” on the front cover but “sonnets” on the title page, Volkman’s almost seems to be writing in a different genre than Barnstone and Taylor. Despite the fact that Barnstone deals with sadness, anger, even bitterness, most of his sonnets, like Taylor's, are accessible, and have a playfulness about them. Volkman’s are elusive and full of obscurities. Often after reading one of her sonnets, I an unable to say what it is about. There are no titles to provide clues. On the other hand, Volkman’s poems are full of word-play, assonance and alliteration. Volkman is much more likely than Barnstone or Taylor to stick faithfully to iambic rhythm (though not necessarily to pentameter) throughout a poem (Barnstone argues for including some non-iambic feet so the sonnet doesn’t become sing-song). Reading Nomina aloud is a good way to get iambic pentameter into your head. If you enjoy poems for their sound, totally apart from their meaning, you may find Nomina very enjoyable.


For October, write a sonnet which follows most (or all) of the rules of the Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnet, but sounds contemporary because of the subject matter, language, etc. Bend a rule or two if you wish, but don't break them - your poem should be recognizable as a sonnet. If you don’t know the traditional rules, borrow a book on poetry from your public library, or Google “sonnet forms.” Read Barnstone’s article for additional ideas, if you wish. Please, no pornography or objectionable language. Submit your poem by October 15 by clicking on “Comments” below. If you are using Foxfire and have trouble posting, try Internet Explorer (or vise versa), or send me a message through my Facebook page. Winner or winners will be posted by the end of October.

Poems posted on blogs are considered published and can be included in your resume.

* www.cortlandreview.com/features/06/december/barnstone_e.html

© 2009.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September Challenge Poem

The winning poem of the September Challenge is dedicated to Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), and written in her style. Most of Dickinson's poems were brief and compact. Many deal with nature, especially her garden; many deal with physical, spiritual and/or psychological realities. Dickinson used a lot of dashes (many of which were removed by editors of early editions of her work). She used end rhyme much of the time, but often used off- or slant-rhyme, as in the poem which begins, "His mansion in the pool" in which "chagrin" and "green" are the rhyme words of the last stanza. Dickinson titled only a few of her poems.

Congratulations to Wisconsin poet, Robin Chapman, for winning the September Poetry Challenge.


Wisdom-- is knowing what comes after--
The point in every run--
When the Body says-- let's quit--
And the Will-- move-- on--

Robin Chapman

-from Distance,Rate,Time (Fireweed Press).

Copyright remains with the poet.

The next Poetry Challenge will be posted October 1.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September Challenge: Poems in Honor of Poets

Poems in Honor of Poets

Sometimes poets write poems in memory of—or in honor of---other poets. One of the best known examples is “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” by W. H. Auden www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15544). This poem is interesting not only for its content but also its style. The first section has neither rhyme nor regular meter. The second section has rhyme and near-rhyme, but not in an easily recognized pattern. Section II, unlike the others, is addressed to Yeats himself. The last section is in quatrains composed of much shorter lines than those in the previous two sections. The rhyme scheme is easily recognizable as aabb. The rhythm is regular (iambic, except that the first syllable of each line is accented, so there are seven syllables in each line). Undoubtedly Auden picked this form for the last section because Yeats often wrote in metric quatrains.

Yeats died at age 73, a fairly advanced age for a man of his time. One might think a celebration of his life and work would be more appropriate than an elegy lamenting his passing. Part of the darkness of the first section of the poem is probably due less to the death of the poet than to the conflict about to engulf Europe at the time (1939). Europe had been so devastated by World War I that the threat of another major conflagration could not help but influence poets sensitive to world events. This socio-political situation likely impacted Auden’s poem and helped to determine its direction.

Phyllis Wax has written a more up-beat and celebratory poem in memory—and in honor—of a poet she admires. Stanley Kunitz, one of the leading English-language poets of the 20th century, was 95 when he was appointed Poet Laureate of the US, a post in which he served for one year. His last book,The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden(by Stanley Kunitz with Genine Lentine), was published by W. W. Norton in 2005, to celebrate his one hundredth birthday. Instead of an elegy, Wax has written what she terms “A Love Poem.”

A Love Poem
Stanley Kunitz, 1905-2006

Every night I go to bed with Stanley.

I enfold his frail bones
in my arms and am warmed
by his breath in my ear.

The cool pima we lie on
is transformed by his whispered words
to a wooden boat bobbing at sea.
I lick the brine from his face.

Some nights the flowers of his garden
surround us. Lavender suffuses the air.
Seashells crunch as we shift
and the light shining in the window
is the moon tugging the tide
the way we tug the sheets wrapped about us.

The linens wrinkle like the wind-swept beach,
like the wave-furrowed sand, like the rhythmic
grooving on the shells he loved to collect.

Even though the poet has thrown off
his own worn-out shell
he joins me every night
and I fall asleep with his words
lapping the shore of my mind.

Night after night with Stanley.

--Phyllis Wax

From Wisconsin Poets' Calendar 2009, ed. Kathy Dodd Miner and Nancy F. Rafal Published by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, 2009), p. 60.

Kunitz was known for his exquisite gardens. On his Wormwood Hill farm, Kunitz created a garden surrounded by woods. He fashioned a different kind of garden on flat, fertile soil in New Hope, Pennsylvania. At Provincetown, near the tip of Cape Cod, Kunitz tamed a sand dune as he poured his energy and creativity into fashioning a garden near the water. Kunitz designed his beach garden to reflect many elements of the sea, including its fluidity. Kunitz routinely spent summers at his beach home, and had an enduring love of the sea.

Wax’s tribute to Kunitz is an extended metaphor of two people (the narrator and Kunitz) sleeping together on cool pima sheets which become transformed into a wooden vessel (presumably “The Long Boat” [www.americanpoems.com/poets/Stanley-Jasspon-Kunitz/18275] of Kunitz’s poem).

There is a paradox in Wax’s poem, for the narrator tells us she is “warmed / by his [Kunitz’s] breath in my ear.” Later in the poem, we are told that he has “thrown off / his own worn-out shell.” How can both be true? Is Kunitz alive or dead? In this paradox, Wax reflects a central theme of Kunitz, namely that life and death are simultaneous and interrelated. In The Wild Braid, Kunitz says, “. . . death is absolutely essential for the survival of life on the planet” (p. 121). He also said that “Every time we read a poem from the past we resurrect the poet, so that he or she is a presence just as much as anyone living. . . .” (p. 100). Kunitz would be pleased that the narrator of this poem “resurrects” him night after night by reading his poems, and thus hearing “his whispered words.”

That Wax herself reads the poetry of Stanley Kunitz is clear from the metaphors, similes and images she uses in the poem. Most of these reflect the role of gardens and the sea (and beach) in his life and poetry. Light and windows also appear in many of his poems. The moon also plays a significant role in some of Kunitz’s poems, most notably in “Father and Son,” where night is “nailed like an orange to my brow” (On the moon in this poem, see Gregory Orr, Stanley Kunitz: an Introduction to the Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1985), pp. 96ff).

The erotic element in the poem is also appropriate, in light of Kunitz’s declaration that “So much of the creative life has its source in the erotic” (The Wild Braid, p. 105). He goes on to say that “There is always an element of the erotic in a poem about death,” and that to at least some extent, there is an elegy for the erotic in poems about age and death (Ibid.).

Wax has resisted the temptation to bring too many details of the poet’s life into her poem. The last line of “A Love Poem” is a repetition of the first, in slightly different words, forming an envelope for the poem. This is also appropriate in a tribute to the poet who said that repetition, if not overdone, “can unify an experience. . . .” (The Wild Braid, page 74).

For more poems written in honor of other poets see the April 2008, edition of Quill and Parchment at archives.quillandparchment.com/vol82.html.

The Challenge for September: Write a poem in honor of another poet whose work you appreciate. Your poem can be an elegy, an ode, a love poem, or whatever seems appropriate. It can be in honor of a poet who is still living or to one who has died; a contemporary poet or a poet from another era. Use rhymed and metered verse or free verse; the form is up to you. Submit your poem through “comments” (below), by September 15. Winner or winners will be posted by the end of September. Poems posted on blogs are considered published and can be included in your resume. If you have trouble posting using Foxfire, try Internet Explorer (and vise versa).

© 2009.

Friday, August 21, 2009

August Challenge Poems

This month, I have selected two poems on the theme of memory. Remember that the poets still own copyright on their poems, so these works of art cannot be used without permission of the writers. The September challenge will be posted on September 1.


Mother in May

Amid forests of prescriptions she rests,
past knowing the purpose of any,
propped up by bed crank and pillows, and
wrapped in linens of estranged belonging.

On a rolling table a pitcher waits
water for thirst, and musak T.V.
Pink roses crowd her life’s haul of vases
with the bounty of her third daughter’s yard.

Awash in flotsam of photographs,
she sees faces and scenes lost to time.
All talking’s too late to reclaim “the boy,”
her ministering son, or to moor her.

At youth’s bloom she was Queen of the May
in an old crown-the-virgin church rite.
Dare we pray? Dear Mother of Mercy, recall
her the visions and sounds of that day.

-- Jean Waggoner c. 8/2/2009

Jean Waggoner speaks in the voice of a son or daughter (or perhaps, daughter-in-law) whose mother is aged, fragile physically, and “beyond knowing.” This mother, who was once the Queen of May, is again surrounded by flowers. Is it “too late” to reclaim “the boy,” because mentally she has gone backward in time, already passing through the years when she was a young mother and her son was a child? If so, maybe it isn’t yet too late to pray for her to have the pleasure of once again seeing herself as Queen of the May. This is a poignant end-of-life poem.

Perhaps You Forgot

When I was alone and the days were endless,
perhaps you forgot
the feverish, sleepless nights I held you close.

When you said you were coming that day but didn’t,
perhaps you forgot
how you scanned the bleachers ‘til you saw me always there.

When I needed a familiar voice and you screened calls,
perhaps you forgot
that I always answered and gave what I could.

When the day comes that I have forgotten everything,
perhaps you’ll help me remember.

--Judith Tullis

In this piece by Judith Tullis, the narrator speaks as parent (probably the mother) to her adult child who has grown distant. In this poem, it is the son or daughter who has forgotten – forgotten what the mother did for him or her over the years: cuddling on sleepless nights during childhood; showing up to cheer at her child's games; and always doing what she could to meet his or her needs. This mother, who is feeling neglected, wonders if, when her memory is gone, her child will finally remember all this. The conclusion to this poem is a bit of a surprise, however. She doesn't say, when I'm gone, you'll remember and be sorry you didn't take better care of me in my old age. Rather, she says, when I have forgotten, perhaps you will help me remember.

Tullis has made excellent use of repetition in this poem. Addressing the grown child as "you," instead of using a less personal format, gives this poem emotional punch.

(c) 2009 Wilda W. Morris

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August Challenge

Memory loss is not a new subject for poetry. Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) wrote that “You cannot make remembrance grow / when it has lost its root.” She went on to indicate that when you don’t want to remember something it keeps popping up in your mind. You can read her poem at www.americanpoems.com/poets/emilydickinson/11460.

Katie Kingston deals with memory loss in a unique way in the first stanza of her poem, “When I Clap.”

When I Clap (Excerpt)

My right hand reaches for the feather of memory
that fell from my mother’s hat as she bent to get out
of the car, down-tugged away on wind, not unlike
the pigeon, roosting now above the church door, satisfied
with alcove. Everything I touch is the texture of oven bread,
round like my mother’s voice as I teach her conversation again.
The scent of empaňadas lingers in the blue opal earthstone
of her earring when she leans to say Goodnight, God bless,
until morning, but now, I say the words first because she
has forgotten even the sound fire trucks make outside our window.
What’s that? she asks, her palms pressed to her ears.

-- Katie Kingston

From In My Dreams Neruda (Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Choice Chapbook Series; Charlotte NC: Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2005), p. 12. © 2005 Katie Kingston. Used with permission of the author.

Katie Kingston uses interesting details and metaphors to turn the mother’s memory loss into poetry. There is special—and unexpected---poignancy, when the narrator says her mother “leans to say Good Night, God bless,” and only afterwards tells us that she (the narrator) had to say it first, so her mother could repeat it. Her mother is like a child, having to be taught again and again. Like the pigeon, the mother has to be satisfied with little. There are hints her mother once liked to cook and bake bread, and perhaps that she was an elegant woman (note that blue opal earring).

The late Judith Strasser also had a unique take on forgetfulness.

Memory Lapse
For an older friend

I am prepared, when you don’t show up. For three days
and three nights, I have been watching
the War in the Gulf. I baked a cake while we bombed
Baghdad. I set the table; they shelled Tel Aviv.
You are like one of the casualties. All fall,
during the build-up, panic rattled the telephone lines.
You boiled pots dry, missed appointments, lost
your wallet, your checkbook, your keys. You made
company meals for guests you did not invite.
We worried the facts to shreds: drug interactions,
Jack Daniel’s blackouts, Alzheimer’s disease.

The commercials come back. I run to the kitchen
to turn off the coffee pot. The calendar on the wall
targets your visit in red: 1:00 P.M. Saturday, next week.
I see the error is mine. I didn’t expect the shock
of war. I didn’t think of battle fatigue.
I never considered grief.

-- Judith Strasser

From A Chorus for Peace: A Global Anthology of Poetry by Women
ed. by Marilyn Arnold, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill and Kristen Tracy (Iowa City IA: University of Iowa Press, 2002), p. 39.
© 2009 by The Estate of Judith Strasser. Limited Warranty mss. will be posted at http://www.judithstrasser.com/.

Judith Strasser relates incidents at the start of the first Gulf War. The narrator’s life goes on more or less as usual, except that she is constantly watching the war on television. It is obvious that the news of the war interests her, but we can almost believe she is unmoved by it. She bakes a cake during the bombing of Baghdad, sets the table while Tel Aviv is shelled. Meanwhile, her older friend, who exhibits the ravages of memory loss, is like a war casualty. She misses appointments, loses things, forgets to invite the guests for whom she cooks---her life has become chaotic. The narrator and her friend have worried over possible reasons for her memory loss, all plausible. We are no more surprised than the narrator that this older friend has not come as scheduled. But wait---the narrator suddenly sees the calendar, and it tells her something unexpected. Their appointment wasn’t this week, but next. She has been so upset and grief-stricken over the start of the war, that she got confused. Now we don’t know for sure if the panic on the telephone lines had more to do with lost property and pots burned dry or bombing. Looking back, we see that Strasser says “we bombed Baghdad,” which suggests that, as a citizen of the U.S., she has to take some responsibility for what the government does; likely is one source of “battle fatigue” and grief for her.

August Challenge

The August Challenge is to write a poem concerning memory loss (or take a clue from the end of Emily Dickinson’s poem and write about unsuccessfully trying to forget something). Submit your poem by clicking on “comment” (below this posting). Only poems sent in that way by August 15, 2009, will be considered. At least one poem will be chosen for posting on this blog. Posting on a Website or blog constitutes publication.

Keep writing,
Wilda Morris

(c) 2009 Wilda W. Morris

Friday, July 24, 2009

Winners of the July Poetry Challenge

Thank you to all who entered the July Poetry Challenge. There are two winners this month - one is free verse; the other is a rhymed poem. In each case, the form of the poem matches the content well. There were other poems which came close, so if you didn't win this time, try again another month.

Copyright remains with the poets who submitted the poems.


I awoke feeling it
would be a writing day
but couldn’t get down the hall
I finished a book I was reading
played on the computer
phone called and fiddled around
ignored the siren of the page
the lure of my desk in its
quiet corner
I went to the grocery
came home to make chicken soup
cranked the stereo
to drown the muse
instead she danced
while I chopped and stirred
measured and mixed
she waltzed me through the soup
and Billy Collins
pushed me into a
lemon pie
at midnight I made
Strawberry Jell-O with pears
to try to shut
them up
but they woke me
in the dawn
to pin my day
to the page


I like the clever title of this poem, which uses dance as a metaphor. The layout is appropriate for the way the day went - one thing after another. Short lines fit the "hyper" avoid-dance. The poet included interesting details and used alliteration sparingly, but effectively. I can certainly identify with the experience described in this poem, and I'm sure that is true for other writers also.

Ballroom Dancing

I showed up looking sharp and clean,
Arriving for my date.
I had prepared with ample time,
So not to show up late.

All decked out in my rented suit,
Her flowers in my hand,
I had a regal evening set,
Each detail mapped and planned.

There, proud I stood, top hat and tails,
A trussed up teenaged clown,
And gazed in awe at how she looked,
In her new ballroom gown.

I held her door, she climbed inside,
We started on our way,
And headed for the concert floor
To hear the big band play.

But this would be a different date,
For more than happenstance,
Tonight we’d spread our wings and fly,
Tonight we’d ballroom dance!

We’d taken classes, practiced hard,
Gone over every step,
The time had come to take the floor,
And validate our prep.

Tango, Foxtrot, Waltz and Swing,
Spin and turn and dip,
Round and round the floor we'd glide,
At a frantic clip.

Minutes turned to passing hours,
Moments quickly spent,
Every pattern crisply cut,
Joyful and content.

When at last the night gave way,
And the band went home,
We stood on the polished floor,
Beneath a golden dome.

Here we danced the night away,
And we made our fate,
In a spinning ballroom dancing way,
On this special date.

By David Roth
© 14th January, 2005

This poem is more rhythmic, like dance. Here again we see some interesting details, including the fact that his suit is rented. Many people will be able to identify with the experience of having taken dancing lessons and finally having an opportunity to try out those steps in a ballroom - with a special date.

Congratulations to bam and to David Roth.

Check the blog again on August 1 to find out what the next poetry challenge will be.

Keep writing!

(c) 2009 Wilda W. Morris

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let's Dance - The July Challenge

Dancing in the Dark

Tonight the band blares, “Celebration!”
then stops, and plays
a set of Golden Oldies.
All the aging couples rise
as one, drawn to the Maestro’s baton
like children, to the Piper’s tune.
He stands aside, a shadowy Timekeeper,
putting us through our paces,
“Ah-1, Ah-2, Ah-1-2-3-4!”

When we were young, we danced everywhere –
weddings, ballrooms, the Chez Paree.
Or we danced at home, while
Kate Smith sang, “Shine On, Harvest Moon!”
her voice amplifying the radio,
God and America. Later, exhausted,
we fell asleep on Kate’s bosom,
full-fleshed as the moon.

In World War II you danced
in a Texas bar if your boot-camp
was lucky and got a weekend pass.
At Normandy, you danced ashore,
dodging artillery. Back home,
I went solo to the local USO.

But tonight, we dance together.
And though your expression is remote
as the Man in the Moon’s, there’s
electricity in your arms. I dangle,
like Gepetto’s Pinocchio, obeying
every dip, every curve of your body.
For this strange blue dress I am wearing
has a wicked flounce that unlocks
my resistance. Yes tonight, we hear

strains of Sammy Kaye, Kay Kyser,
Count Basie and the Duke. Tonight,
we will show our children, our
moon-begotten children, our rhythm
& blues, rock & roll children –
(“Ah-1, Ah-2, Ah-1-2-3-4!”)

how we danced.

-- Gertrude Rubin

From A Beating of Wings
(Deerfield, IL: Lake Shore Publishing, 1991), pp. 62-63. Used with permission of the author.

Dancing in the Dark:
I recommend reading this poem several times, before reading my commentary on it. It has several layers. There are undoubtedly more subtleties than I discovered!

Dance is a popular theme among poets. Sometimes the poet uses the term metaphorically, as for instance, when waves or leaves dance. In other poems, what we find is a fairly straight-forward description of a dance, or a narrative of a specific experience of dancing.

In “Dancing in the Dark,” Gertrude Rubin’s narrator addresses her life partner, cataloguing times when “we” danced, usually together, but during World War II, apart. The poem seems at first glance to be a straight-forward record of a relationship told through literal dance. But there are other things going on, too. The line, "At Normandy, you danced ashore/dodging artillery" is metaphoric and hints that there were other metaphoric dances in their lives, other dangers to be dodged. One has to wonder, for instance, why the man, who is much older now, dances with an expression “remote as the man in the moon.” Is dementia now the enemy shooting bullets they try to dodge? This is one possible reading.

In the last stanza, the narrator says that tonight they will show their children how they danced. Not only is “how we danced” on a line alone; it constitutes the entire stanza, which gives it special strength in the poem. Here again there are levels of meaning. The couple literally shows their children how they danced, but they also model a life style in which they “danced” through difficulties and now they keep dancing, despite their age. Here is a subtle way of saying that they have maintained—and still maintain—their joy, intimacy, and love through all the seasons of life.

A well-written title can add power to a poem. Ellen Kort, who was the first poet laureate of Wisconsin, has said that often when a person finishes reading a poem, he or she may go back and reread the title. That is what I did with this poem. The title, “Dancing in the Dark,” furthers my sense that the poem is a metaphor for how this couple live their life together. There is no mention of “the dark” in the poem itself. Darkness is only hinted at in the mention of Normandy and the fact that the man’s facial expression is remote as they dance. The title, however, suggests that they did not know where the dance of life would take them or what steps they would need to learn, something which is true for all of us.

With that in mind, the Maestro takes on new meaning. The literal Maestro who directs the dancers and counts time (“Ah-1, Ah-2, Ah-1-2-3-4!”) may also stand for God or a “higher power” who is also a “shadowy Timekeeper.” In my reading of the poem, it suggests that the dancers live their lives with a theological and/or ethical compass, and accept the fact that the end of their earthly life together is approaching.

In regards to the artistry of the poem, it is interesting to see the repetition of the moon throughout the poem. Note also the spare use of adjectives, which gives more strength to the few which are used. I’m still pondering the “strange blue dress” and the “wicked flounce.”

My Papa’s Waltz—Another Dance Poem: One of the most famous poems on a dance theme is “My Papa’s Waltz,” by Theodore Roethke (gawow.com/roethke/poems/43.html). Some interpreters give this waltz a positive meaning; others see it negatively. Is this a happy memory of a boy having fun with his father? Or an uncomfortable dance into which the boy is forced by his drunken father? You be the judge!

The Challenge:
The challenge for July is to write a poem somehow related to the theme of dancing. Your poem may use the concept of dance literally or figuratively. It’s up to you. To enter the challenge, use the “comment” feature below. The deadline is July 15.

(c) 2009 Wilda W. Morris

Monday, June 15, 2009

Restaurant Poem

Over Appleby’s Salads
--June 13, 2009

Brown eyes look into blue eyes
familiar from forty years ago,
she and I shiver through
an unofficial reunion supper
on the night of the official one.

The blast of the a/c
makes us both wish
we had a sweater.

God help us,
we’ve turned into
our mothers.

--Barbara Malcolm

(c) Barbara Malcolm

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Update on June Challenge

I'm new to blogging and was out of town when I started the blog. As a result, I did not read carefully the e-mail I received from Google, and did not click where I should have clicked to activate the account. If you submitted a poem on or before June 15, I did not receive it. Please resend it by clicking on "comment."



Monday, June 1, 2009

Wilda Morris's June Poetry Challenge

The June poetry challenge is to write a restaurant poem. It could be about the menu, the food, the décor, the people with whom you are eating (or imagine you are eating), the cooks or waitstaff, or others being served.

Here are two examples from my book, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant.

Send your submission as a comment by June 15. I will select one or two poems to post on the blog.

Good eating – and good writing!


egg roll

and meat

in the cozy embrace
of a pastry blanket

a lesson for us
on a cold night

Wilda Morris

Office Lunch for Five

Four men eat, listen and laugh
as she complains about her husband.

He fussed that I didn’t do laundry
last night and he has a million shirts.

Anyway, he’s a guy—no one cares
what he wears. I work full-time too

but he does nothing around the house
except sometimes sweep a little.

It’s easier just to do things myself—
anything he does, he does badly.

The men laugh again. It’s working
for him, isn’t it?

Wilda Morris

(c) 2009 Wilda W. Morris

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poetry Challenge for June 2009

Write a restaurant poem. Your poem may be based on the food, the waitstaff, or diners, or the people with whom you are eating.

Here are two examples from my book, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant.

egg roll


and meat


in the cozy embrace

of a pastry blanket

a lesson for us

on a cold night

Office Lunch for Five

Four men eat, listen and laugh

as she complains about her husband.

He fussed that I didn’t do laundry

last night and he has a million shirts.

Anyway, he’s a guy—no one cares

what he wears. I work full-time too

but he does nothing around the house

except sometimes sweep a little.

It’s easier just to do things myself—

anything he does, he does badly.

The men laugh again. It’s working

for him, isn’t it? says one.

He may be smarter than you think.

Wilda Morris

To take the poetry challenge, send me a poem (as a comment) by June 15, 2009. I will select one or more to display on the blog.

Enjoy these poems, the food at the restaurant, and writing a poem!


(c)2009 Wilda W. Morris