Saturday, July 31, 2010

August Poetry Challenge

There is a long tradition dating back at least as early as the Song of Solomon (6:2-3) of using flowers in love poetry. A favorite song from 17th century Scotland begins “O my Luve's like a red, red rose/That’s newly sprung in June.” Robert Burns was concerned to save the folk music of Scotland. According to one account, he heard a country girl sing these words, and recorded them for posterity.

One of the best known poems about flowers is by William Wordsworth, written after he and his sister took a walk in the Lake District of England.


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

-- William Wordsworth
The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth (Wordsworth Collection)

During her lifetime, Emily Dickinson was probably better known as a gardener than as a poet. It is said that she sometimes worked in her garden at night. Many of her poems include flowers. Dickinson’s poems, including those with roses, daisies, lilies and other flowers, are not “simple nature poems.” They tend to be cryptic. More often than not, the flowers are symbolic as in this sample:

The Dandelion's pallid tube
Astonishes the Grass,
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas --
The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower, --
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o'er.

-- Emily Dickinson

Flowers appear in so many of Dickinson’s poems that the New York Botanical Garden developed a show entitled “Emily Dickinson’s Garden: A Poetry of Flowers” last spring. Thirty-five of Dickinson’s poems were printed on placards and placed next to the plants and flowers they mentioned. Two major books discuss her interest in gardening: The Gardens of Emily Dickinson and The Gardens of Emily Dickinson

Contemporary Poets

It is easy to become sentimental when writing about flowers, or to fall into the use of clichés. Here are three contemporary poems which avoid these temptations:


overnight hundreds came
found a crevice
a tuft of green
an obvious spot on the grass

and settled in, unpacked
nuzzled in
comfortable now
yellow joy content

squatters all
these bright strewn puffs
scattering like golden pearls
singing the praises of spring

then leaving overnight
just like they came
floating off to new territory
forgetting to pack up
and throw away their trash

where it still sits
on the lawn
trying hard to blend in

-- Susan B. Auld


Note that Auld is neither sentimental about the beauty of dandelions, nor cranky about their presence on her lawn. The tone of the poem is, on the one hand, matter of fact: the dandelions come, stay for a while and leave as suddenly as they had arrived. Within this staid framework, however, Auld uses imagistic and metaphoric language to make us see the dandelions in a new way. They are “squatters” who “unpack” and “nuzzle in.” The “strewn puffs” are “golden pearls.” And when they float off, they leave their “trash” behind.

CX Dillhunt writes about prairie flowers. There is deep feeling underneath the words: The prairie “takes me in,” the poet says. It tells him to stay, and he stays. There is an element of the list poem here, as he names various kinds of flowers and, later, varieties of Asters. He uses both scientific names and casual descriptions, such as “stars” and “little white bread ones.” The ending is a surprise, as he addresses the flowers, asking what name—if any—they would like to be called.


The prairie

takes me in this morning gets me wet with turkey feet
little bluestem cord grass switchgrass Indian grass in this fall
Indian summer and I am

showy goldenrod field goldenrod stiff goldenrod more
goldenrod and yellow
cone flowers almost gone and clover

some asters and always-forget-your-first-name gentian
other plants of prairie and parts of prairie
prairie pleasing prairie and prairie singing prairie


says the prairie
surely you are some sort of aster

and your composite heart belongs to us

I stay.

I pray to see Aster azureus

I think I see two or three varieties
asters I call New England (pink-to-purple)

and a couple of white kinds


blue ones bright ones little white bread ones

what name I say do you prefer—your Latin name?
a common name? any name at all?

-- CX Dillhunt

The poem appears in the box above to show the lay-out Dillhunt chose for his poem. Unfortunately I am unable to retain that layout in this blog. Does the layout remind you of a stretch of wild prairie?

"Aster" is from Girl Saints (Madison WI: Fireweed Press, 2003), p. 19.

Judy Roy’s poem “White Lilacs” can be called a love poem. It is also, however, ekphrastic poetry. Roy is responding not to lilacs in the garden or in a vase on the piano, but to lilacs (and burgundy roses) in a painting by Marc Chagall.

White Lilacs

after a painting by Marc Chagall

I am white lilacs
You are burgundy roses
I float on the newness of spring
held aloft by the dark beauty
of your essence
Eternal in our embrace
we soar from earth to sky
arch across the lingering river
dissolve petal by petal
into the soft womb of time

-- Judy Roy

Two Off Q: A Conversation in Poetry by June Nirschl and Judy Roy (Marshfield, Wisconsin: Marsh River Editions), p. 50.

The August Poetry Challenge:

The challenge for August is to write a poem about a flower or flowers without being sentimental or trite. Will your poem be a formal poem or free verse? Will you use scientific or every-day terms or both? Metaphor or simile? Alliteration or assonance? Will the flower or flowers be symbolic? What new thoughts will the reader have about flowers after reading your poem? Poems published in books or on the Internet are not eligible. If you poem has been published in a periodical, please include publication data.

Send your poem to wildamorris [at] ameritech [dot] net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot], and don’t leave any spaces). Or you may send your poem in a message. Be sure provide your e-mail address. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog, if it is a winner. The deadline is August 15.

Dorn Septet Challenge:

The Dorn Septet Challenge is open until September 15. The septet must reflect all the qualities of a Dorn septet as described in the June Challenge, and must have a minimum of three stanzas.

© 2010 Wilda Morris

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July Challenge Winner

Reason A. Poteet is the winner of the July poetry challenge, to write four short poems on a related theme, each representing a different season. Her haiku sequence invites us to view waterfalls in spring, summer, autumn and fall:

triplet series

riding the rapids
mom films from the shore
springtime cataracts

amusement park flume
summer's gonna-get-wet ride
no cam'ras allowed

windy fishing spot
autumn's cascade of leaves
fall at the falls

winter ice sculptor
dad picks his way to the top
frozen falls

-- Reason A. Poteet

Poteet shares many of her poems on her website at

The runner-up this month, Francis Toohey, submitted an evocative poem about what the hand does in each of the four seasons:

The Seasons

Winter/ My hand rings the bell--
the echo dissolves, the bell leaves its ghost in my palm.

Spring/ My hand lifts one finger, but the wind dissolves--
the finger folds back to my uncharted lines.

Summer/ My hand grasps a world, grim plum in my grip--
its flesh dissolves to free its single sleeping seed.

Autumn/ My hand counts the birthdays while ten fingers fly--
another year dissolves, weightless at each breath.

-- Francis Toohey

Copyright on posted poems remains with the poets who wrote them.

Thanks to Katie Kingston, who judged the top poems for this month’s blog. Katie is an award-winning poet. Her books include In My Dreams, Neruda (in English), In My Dreams, Neruda (Spanish Edition) and El Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio.

© 2010 Wilda Morris

Friday, July 2, 2010

July Poetry Challenge

William Marr who was born in China and lives in Illinois is a very prolific poet. He has published numerous books of poetry in his native Chinese, under the pen name of Fei Ma. He is quite well-known as a poet in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. His work has even been included in textbooks on poetry in China. Marr has also published two books in English. His work has found homes in over one hundred anthologies. Most of Marr’s poems are short, concise and thought-provoking. Some are humorous. In addition to writing and translating poetry, Marr is a painter and sculptor. You can read many of Marr's poems in Chinese or English, and see some of his art work by clicking on the links to the right on this blog.

From 1969 until his retirement in 1999, Marr (who has a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Wisconsin) did research in energy and environmental systems at Argonne National Laboratory.

In his book Autumn Window, Marr has a set of four poems about birds, each reflecting a season of the year.

Birds * Four Seasons


If you wish to know
the shortest distance
between two trees
on this bright, enchanting day
any of the small, swift birds
can tell you with their twitter

It’s not a straight line


At noon
struck by a flaming light
a small bird
plummets through
dense leafy shade

Until slowly awakening
to discover himself
standing on a tree
lush and luxuriant

All that can be green
is green


When did the eyes
become so blurry

A bird flying higher and higher
its own reflection in a pond
the smaller the clearer


The last thread of mist
drifting in the air
finally joins
the icicles beneath the eaves

In this winter
how can I criticize
a small bird’s song
brief and evasive

-- William Marr

From Autumn Window

Marr’s most recent book of poetry in English, Between Heaven and Earth, can be purchased from at

A much longer cycle of four seasonal poems is “The Seasons" by Kristijonas Donelaitis found at Donelaitis, a Lithuanian poet, wrote this sequence about the lives of peasants in the mid-eighteenth century in hexameters (a total of almost 3000 lines!).

The July Challenge

The challenge for July is to write a series of four brief poems representing the four seasons. There are to be no more than 12 lines in each poem. Select a theme which will tie the four together (in the way birds tie Marr’s poems together). You may use free verse, haiku, or a rhymed form. Poems published in books or on the Internet are not eligible.

Send your poem to wildamorris [at] ameritech [dot] net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot], and don’t leave any spaces). Or you can access my Facebook page and send the poem in a message. Be sure to give me your e-mail address so I can respond. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog, if it is a winner.

Some Seasonal Poems You Might Want to Read

* Haiku generally includes seasonal references. See for instance: The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa (Essential Poets); and Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku
* "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth, in William Wordsworth - The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics)
* "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" by William Shakespeare, in Shakespeare's Sonnets (Yale Nota Bene)
* “in Just” by E. E. Cummings in E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962 (Revised, Corrected, and Expanded Edition)
* “Spring Comes to the Suburbs,” “Good Humor Man,” and numerous other poems by Phyllis McGinley, in Times Three
*“The Fifth of July, by Grace Schulman, in The Broken String
*“Returning Birds,” in Wistawa Szymborska’s Nobel Prize winning book (translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh, Poems New and Collected
* “Snow,” by Naomi Shihab Nye, in Fuel: Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

* Numerous poems by Mary Oliver, including “Summer Story” and “Summer Morning” in Red Bird* Many poems by Jane Kenyon, including the series, “Walking Alone in Late Winter,” in Collected Poems and The Boat of Quiet Hours (Poems)
* The akam poems, which (like haiku) have seasonal references, in Poets of the Tamil Anthologies (Princeton library of Asian translations)
* “Cottonwood” by William Stafford, in Even in Quiet Places: Poems and History is loose again: Poems
* “November Bargain,” and “Winter Etude” by June Nirschl, and other poems in the joint collection by Nirschl, Nancy Rafal and Judy Roy entitled Slightly Off Q
* “April Fools,” by Christine Swanberg, in The The Tenderness of Memory: New and Selected Poems
* “Language of the Birds,” by Gladyce Nahbenayash in Dreaming History: A Collection of Wisconsin Native-American Writing
* “Kamperfoelie” (and translation, “Honeysuckle,” by J. C. Bloem, in Turning Tides: Modern Dutch & Flemish Verse in English Versions by Irish Poets
* “The Fall” by Heather McHugh in Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993
* “September afternoon at four o’clock,” and “Snow, snow,” by Marge Piercy, in Circles on the Water

July Challenge Deadline: July 15, 2010

Dorn Septet Challenge: A rhymed Dorn Septet with a minimum of three stanzas. No poems previously published in books or on-line. Deadline September 15, 2010. See the June Challenge for the rules of the Dorn Septet and an example by Glenna Holloway.

© 2010 Wilda Morris