Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 2010 Poetry Challenge

According to, an insect which scientists call Eopterum devonicum lived 350 million years ago—before the dinosaurs and even 349,900,000 years (give or take a week or two!) before human beings appeared on earth. The same Webpage estimates that there are 20-30 million species of insect on the earth today. In fact there are more different species of dragonflies than there are mammals. It should not be a surprise then, that poets through the ages have written about these small winged creatures.

Poets have admired, complained about and cursed insects. William Blake, a English poet who died in 1827, wrote an empathetic apostrophe to a fly:

The Fly

Little fly,
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

-- William Blake

The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake

Contemporary poet, Alice D’Alessio, has a different take on the insect she writes about, the pesky Asian Ladybeetle. Where I live, the Asian Ladybeetle hasn’t been as omnipresent as in some previous summers—for which I am grateful!

Uninvited Guests

For instance, the Asian Ladybeetle
smug as an orange pearl

in its vinyl exoskeleton
dotted, determined, has come to stage

a wild reunion, bringing myriad friends.
They swarm out of window casings, motor

about the floor, climb the walls,
linedance along the bookshelves; take

a quick dip in dishwater and scotch;
make side trips along the couch, inside

my collar and book, wander through hair,
dive in eyes and mouth. It’s a road race

with mini VW’s, a plague, an invasion,
a terrorist plot, a bad dream.

Nature slyly lifts the lid and looses
Pandora’s hordes to teach

humility. We who imagine ourselves
just slightly lower than the gods, cower

before this orange revelry, huddle
in corners, stinking of bugspray.

~ Alice D’Alessio

From Woodlands and Prairie Magazine

Though many people despise flies, mosquitoes, ants, Asian Ladybeetles—and many other insects, the dragonfly is often the object of admiration and fascination, as is evident from John Lehman’s poem:


It anchors to the sail of our skiff,
clasps a world of detachable wings
and the scent of almonds and coconut
oil dancing in the sun.

It is ancient, the iron rod of a distant
weather vane, leaves of a book
riffling in the wind.

Gulliver borne on one more voyage
it asks, what is the governing body here
that pulls these lines and hums
to the hum of the wind and glides
yellow and white so low
between the mirrors of lake and sky?

I am real and you are not, it spins
as we turn about —
the snap of our sail recalls the flap
of Pteranodon wings.

~ John Lehman

Shrine of the Tooth Fairy (Poems by John Lehman; Illustrations by Spencer Walts)

The cricket is one insect that is better received in some cultures than in others. This is reflected in my poem:

The Cricket

I didn’t mind sleeping
on a cot in the basement
until the cricket moved in,
made his home under
the water heater. How
could anyone sleep
when that cricket shrieked
all night, notes reverberating
off the tile floor and the metal
above his small back?
I kept throwing my shoe
at him, missing again and again.

Now I know Chinese families
buy small cages, keep crickets
as pets to hear them sing.
How long would I have to live
in China before I understood this,
before I’d harmonize
with their night music?
How long before I’d learn
to distinguish the chirps
of the yellow bell cricket,
from the broad-faced and bespeckled,
till I heard in their songs the loneliness
of the emperor’s concubines?
How long till I internalized
the cycle of their lives,
from nymph to white maggot
to singer of soft summer songs,
to the high pitched cheep
of autumn, the laying of eggs
and death before spring?

~ Wilda Morris

Rockford Review, XXV:2 (Summer-Fall 2006), p. 57.

September Challenge

One thing each of these poems has in common is that they reflect on some aspect of insect-human interaction. The challenge for September is to write a poem reflecting on some kind of interaction between a human being (or human beings in general) and an insect (or insects). Your poem can be free verse or formal, serious or humorous.

Poems published in books or on the Internet are not eligible. If you poem has been published in a periodical, please include publication data.

How to Submit Your Poem:

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 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 September 15. Winning poems are published on the blog.

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. To find the June Challenge, scroll down and look for Blog Archive on the right-hand side of the page. Click on June.

A Few More Insect Poems and Where to Find Them

Anne Sexton, "Hornet," "Cockroach" and "June Bug" in The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

Ted Kooser, "Grasshoppers," in Delights & Shadows

Emily Dickinson, #677 ("Least Bee that brew"); #1224 ("LIke Trains of Cars on Tracks of Plush"); #1405 ("Bees are Black, with Gilt Surcingles")

Richard Wilbur, "A Grasshopper," in Collected Poems 1943-2004

Jean de la Fontaine, "The Grasshopper and the Ant," translated by Richard Wilbur, in Collected Poems 1943-2004

Stanley Kunitz, "The Dragonfly," in The Collected Poems

Yusuf Al-Sa'igh, "Ants," translated by Diana Der Hovanessian with Salma Khadr Jayyusi in Modern Arabic Poetry

Khalil Khouri, "Ants and the Sun," translated by Sharif Elmusa and Christopher Middleton, in Modern Arabic Poetry

William Butler Yeats, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," (Several insects play a role in this poem, but the poem doesn't center on insects inthe way expected of poems in the September challenge. See The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

Don Marquis has a number of insect-related poems in his Archy and Mehitable books (Actually, Archy is a cockroach). See: Archy and Mehitabel or The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel (Penguin Classics)


© 2010 Wilda Morris