Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 2011 Challenge Winner

Mark Hudson took the November challenge in a totally unexpected direction. Instead beginning with a minor change in his personal life, he raises a much broader question. He assumes there is a God, and writes about the possibility of there being no God. He moves from that question to other theological speculations. Here is Mark's winning poem.

If there was no God

If there was no God,
would things be even worse?
Did we create our own problems,
or did the Devil make this curse?
If there never was a God,
would nothing exist at all?
Would particles not even be?
Would nothingness just sprawl?
If I was created by the master,
should I feel guilt over sin?
Will God give me his mercy
or is punishment about to begin?
Is it hard to get into Heaven,
and easy to get into Hell?
Is the Bible a bit too harsh
when it shows us men who fell?
What about other religions?
Doesn't God love them, too?
Aren't we all children of God?
Did Jesus die only for a few?
If I am a child of God,
can't I just be myself?
Am I actively seeking God,
or do I just want his wealth?
This may open up questions;
it may even sound like a quiz.
But the answer to the question:
Is there a God? Yes,there is!

~ Mark Hudson

Mark Hudson retains copyright to this poem.

Hudson submitted a bio: Mark Hudson is a member of Evanston Writers Workshop and Rockford Writers Guild. He is currently working on a novella for, national novel writing month.

Check in on December 1 for the new poetry challenge.

© 2001 Wilda Morris

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 2011 Challenge

As you read the following three poems (one by Thomas Hardy and two of mine), you may wonder what they have in common. They do seem very different in content, theme and style.

The Man He Killed

Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough: although

He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand-like—just like I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

Yes, quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.

~ Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

A "napperkin" is a half-pint cup.
The word "'list" is a shortened form of "enlist."
"Traps" might be literally traps, if the soldier had been a hunter and trapper, but more likely are the tools of his trade as a plumber, tinker, carpenter, or whatever.

This poem is in the public domain.
From Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses. Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan and Co. 1909.

Six Years in Sri Lanka

A little luck and the money
from my father’s will
and I was touring the world.

I settled down for six years
in the Sri Lankan highlands,
married a Sinhalese artist.
We carried paint
and canvas to the rainforest,
painted bromeliads, epiphytes,
and the purple-faced leaf monkey.

At Yala, we watched a leopard
limp off the dirt road,
followed him into the jungle
till he hid himself in underbrush.

Each year we hiked to Kandy
for the Esala Perahera.
On the day of the full moon
we watched dancers, drummers,
whip-crackers, torch-bearers,
and caparisoned elephants
parade the streets, bowed
when Maligawa Tusker passed by
with the canopied reliquary
containing a replica of Buddha’s tooth.

When Tamil fighters came,
I hid my love beneath coconuts
picked from our palm trees,
told them he’d gone to India
to paint the Taj Mahal.

These are just a few
adventures in that other life
I never lived.

~ Wilda Morris

The purple-faced leaf monkey exists only in Sri Lanka, and is one of the most endangered species in the world. You can see pictures of these monkeys at
The Yala National Park in Sri Lanka is home to one of the largest concentrations of leopards in the world.
"Esala Perahera" = the Festival of the Tooth. The tooth of Buddha is considered the most sacred relic in Sri Lanka.
"Maligawa Tusker" is the elephant who carried the golden casket containing the tooth of Buddha in the celebratory parade from 1937-1988. After his death, his body was preserved by a taxidermist, and it is kept at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.

First published in Frostwriting, 2009 (

On Dad’s Demolition Crew

It’s not that I minded helping Mother.
I liked hanging laundry and taking it down,
weeding the garden, slicing carrots
and stirring stew. I was mad,
though, when dad took my brothers
to work and left me behind.
No place, he said, for a girl.

Donnie described the elevator
they rode to the top after Dad
demolished the outer walls
of an office building,
the view across St. Louis
when the elevator door opened
at what had been the fourteenth floor.

Ronnie’s pockets bulged
with buffalo nickels and copper pennies
from the site of an old pub
Dad pulled down. I begged
till Ronnie shared his loot
of found treasures.

I demanded, Dad, take me, too!
till he told me one morning
to tie my shoes and hop
into the back of the truck
with my brothers.

Dust and dirt were my paradise.
The crash of falling girders,
percussion to the organ music
of tumbling timber; prisms of glass,
my cathedral windows; and Dad,
the priest preaching mysteries
and wonders of this world
so new to me.

~ Wilda Morris

Copyright to the last two poems is retained by the author. Please do not reprint without permission.

These three poems are all reminders that the reader should not assume a poem in first person is autobiographical.

Several years ago, I came across an intriguing prompt for a poem. Imagine that something in your life had been different—maybe you were born in a different state or to different parents, or went to a different college. If you are married, you might imagine yourself single or married to a different person; if you are single, you might imagine yourself married. There are endless possibilities.

Hardy’s title may be a bit of a give-away that although the poem is in first person, the poem is not autobiographical. You may have realized that Hardy is not literally the “I.” He doesn’t tell us who “He” in the title is, “The Man He Killed.” But it is not the poet himself. Hardy did not enlist, and was never a soldier himself. Nor did he ever kill anyone.

Hardy’s poem could be considered a persona poem (see the blog entries for February, 2010). However, the persona in this case is not a named individual. Rather, he is an anonymous soldier, one who was poor, and enlisted largely because he was out of work and didn’t know what else to do. Hardy himself was born, and spent much of his life, in Dorset, one of the poorer, more rural counties of England. He interviewed soldiers who survived the war with Napoleon, and spoke out against aspects of the Boer War and World War I.

The poem gains strength from the fact that Hardy puts it in first person. It is as if Hardy had imagined himself as a poor workingman, out of a job, signing up to fight—and discovering the irony that he has shot someone just like himself, except for the fact that the man he shot was on the side of the enemy. This poem, though rather light and in colloquial language, is a serious poem, a commentary on the irrationality of war.

“Six Years in Sri Lanka,” was my first use of the prompt of imagining something in my life being different. I always have wanted to travel. I studied Sri Lankan politics in graduate school, and really wanted to go there. Money was always an issue, though, and I still have not made it to South Asia. I have been in rain forests, and have become familiar with bromeliads and epiphytes, and I read with interest about the Esala Perahera, when the tooth of Buddha is brought out in solemn and joyous procession. I also read about the long-lasting civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka.

With poetic license, I imagined that I had inherited some money and was able to travel around the world, stopping off in Sri Lanka (“the pearl o the toe of India”), where I fell in love and married.

“On Dad’s Demolition Crew” had a different source of inspiration. My parents were divorced when I was two, so I never knew my birth father. A couple years ago, through the Internet, I got in touch with—and got to meet—two half-brothers and a number other relatives I had not known existed. I learned that my birth father had had a demolition business, though not when I was a young child (as in the poem). I loved hearing his grandson (my nephew) tell about going to work with his grandfather. The elevator story is his, though I think it was, in reality, the 9th floor, not the 14th. The coins probably made their way into the poem because I was told my birth father always had coins in his pockets. They fell into the cushions of the sofa when he napped, and his grandchildren would gather them up so they could buy snacks at a nearby store.

Remembering the prompt, I put myself into my birth father’s family, changed the timing of his demolition business, and wrote “On Dad’s Demolition Crew.”

Challenge for November:

By now, you have probably figured out that the challenge for November is to use your imagination and think about how your life might have been if just one or two things had been different. What if you had enlisted? Married or not married? Inherited some money or won big on Jeopardy? If your book had won a Pulitzer Prize? If you’d been an only child, or the youngest of nine children? Or . . . . well, you decide what might have been different and where that might have led you. The poem is not to be a persona poem speaking for some famous person, but an alteration of your own life story.

Your poem may be free verse or rhymed and metered. If you use a set form, please include the name of the form with your submission.

The deadline is November 15. Copyright on poems is retained by their authors.

Due to formatting restrictions on the blog, all poems should be left justified. Unfortunately I am unable to publish indentations, shaped poems or even extra spaces between words or phrases.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If your poem has been published in a periodical, please include publication data. Poems submitted after the November 15 deadline will not be considered.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send your poem to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot]. Be sure provide your e-mail address. When you submit your poem, add a note indicating where you took poetic license with the facts of your life. The poem should be in first person, as if it actually happened to the speaker in the poem. 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.

© 2011 Wilda Morris