Friday, September 29, 2017

September Poetry Challenge Winners - Horse Poems

Photo courtesy of Sherry Elmer. Used by permission.

There were a number of excellent horse poems submitted this month. Christine Swanberg judged the contest. There was a tie for third place:

Horse Sense

True to the path,
the horse bears the troubles
of an anxious boy on its back.
The horse gives reassurance
with its steady cadence of steps
along a grassy trail,
while the overhead sun
colors the sky gold.
A gentle wind tussles its mane
with slight tugs on its rein felt,
and the horse feels a tender bond
with the young rider on its back.
Mostly the horse feels
an easing of minds
found in an afternoon shared.

~ Mike Bayles

The judge said this is a “lovely portrait of horse and rider.” Tied with it is:

Ruffian and I

The Seventh of July in nineteen seventy-five
Two thoroughbreds thundering around the track
One a stallion, a Kentucky Derby winner
One a filly, but bigger than most of the boys
She was pulling away when her leg shattered
But she didn’t stop running
Even the next day, coming out of anesthesia
Laying on her side and strapped down
She started running again
Undoing the repairs done to her trashed bones
Still running until the drugs took hold
That ended her running forever.

The Fourth of July in two oh one five
Yes, just forty years later
And I can’t run either
A race cancelled, an ankle on ice
Yes, my spirit wants to keep running
But unlike the great filly, I can make myself stop.

~ Chris Loehmer Kincaid

Swanberg liked the “unflinching honesty regarding fate of Ruffian, boldly stated and compassionate.”

Second place goes to the following poem:

Portrait of Tennessee Walking Horse

I study your large head, your mane silvered
with age. In your warm brown eyes, time
dissolves as I reach back beyond the accident,

and you become breath of sun-scorched hay,
nuzzle against my arm, lick of tongue on my hand.
You lip apple wedges from my palm, and I listen
to the chew and crunch. I meet your steady gaze
on my face like a small thank you between us.

Standing before you in silence today,
the canter of hooves across the vast and varied terrain
fills my body with animal energy—
the power you hold within, the gentleness it belies.
Your coat carries the arc and blur of summer,
wafting scent of clover.
You return me to earthly abundance,
re-learning all that was lost in the fall.

~ Mary Jo Balistreri

“The accident which is alluded to makes the poem mysterious and powerful,” according to Christine Swanberg.

First place goes to “Matins.”

The pony and I know the wind
is coming. In the corral
on the bronze hill we do
our chores. While I rake and shovel
she follows, nudging the wheelbarrow,
ears flicking forward to listen
to the first killdeer on the lake.
I tell my husband this is my other life—
morning before the children
race for the bus, my little mare
touching my face with her soft muzzle
and frosted whiskers. When I'm gone the wind
will rush across the water and we will both be
leaning into it.

~ Lisa Zimmerman

Swanberg said, “I appreciate the elegant title, sculpted form (couplets followed by single line), and intimate narrative of this poem.”

Congratulations to these four poet for their fine work. Each poet retains ownership of his or her own poem. Please do not copy the poems without permission.


Mary Jo Balistreri has two books of poetry published by Bellowing Ark Press, a chapbook and a mini chapbook of haiku in the Infinites Series by Tiger’s Eye Press. Her new book, Still, will be published in September of 2018 by Future Cycle Press. You are invited to visit her at  
Mike Bayles is the author of Breakfast at the Good Hope Home (918 Studio Press), a literary collage, that tells a story about a son visiting his Alzheimer’s father in the nursing home. His visits with relatives and friends on farms has given him an appreciation between humans and animals.

Chris Loehmer Kincaid has been writing and loving horses ever since she can remember. Her fourth book, Where the Sky Meets the Sand, was released the first of September and though there are no horses in it, there are many scenes in which the active imagination can picture riding a horse across the African plain. She says, “As so many teen-age girls, my younger days were filled with dreams about horses. The 1975 match race between Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian, during which Ruffian shattered her leg. The next day, she had to be put down. I’m pretty sure that was the first time in my young life that I cried uncontrollably.

Lisa Zimmerman’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Natural Bridge, Florida Review, River Styx, Colorado Review, Poet Lore, Cave Wall, Redbook and other journals. She has published six poetry collections, most recently The Light at the Edge of Everything and The Hours I Keep. Her poems have been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize. Lisa is an associate professor at the University of Northern Colorado and lives with her husband in north Fort Collins.

Photo courtesy of Sherry Elmer. Used by permission.

Check back early in October for the next Poetry Challenge.

© Wilda Morris

Friday, September 1, 2017

September Poetry Challenge - Horse Poems

Dusk Horseback Ride, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico

A Lover of Horses

She drew horses and colored them:
black, chestnut, pinto, palomino….
Her horse book showed everything
from tiny prehistoric Equus to giant Belgian Draft.
Once, she jumped on the back of an untamed horse
on Uncle’s farm, got dumped in the dust.
She trotted and galloped herself, loved to run hard
until she dropped panting on the grass.
She rode horses in her dreams,
flew horses into the sky.

She read Black Beauty, felt his suffering,
saw the sweat stains on a work horse, the deep moist eyes,
saw horse flies make tail swish, head shake, withers quiver,
felt their terrible sting. Cried when the neighbors killed
their colt because they couldn’t train him.
“Too wild,” they said.
They sold him for dog food.

The landlord’s son had a horse named Rusty.
Mother held the reins while Daddy snapped a shot
of three sisters sitting snug on Rusty’s back.
She vowed she’d have a horse of her own
or run away. But they moved to the city
and she never ran away. Settled instead

for crushes on boys, feeling awkward
in a way she never did with horses.
In secret, she kissed her own hand
pretending to be kissing a he,
he kissing her, he carrying her in his arms like
Rory Calhoun did Marilyn Monroe
dripping wet from The River of No Return.
Not knowing someday she’d ride oh she’d ride
with a partner, that being bound together for the long haul
would be a purpose greater than being
a lover of horses.

~ Marilyn Churchill

“A Lover of Horses” was published and received Honorable Mention in the 2016 Contest Edition of Peninsula Poets.


Late October and the wind spells winter
on my neck. Faint scent of burning leaves
and the dog barking in the pasture,
where my old horse tears the grass
ferociously, munching with all her heart.

She eyes me by the gate but won’t admit
I’m there: I’m trouble.
For twenty years she’s taken my snaffle
cold and hard on the roof of her mouth,
the saddle that left an outline of sweat,

my heels pounding her rib cage,
my commanding thighs, and my weight.
She rips the grass faster in bigger bunches,
a binge before I tear her
from her beloved earth, where every scrap

and tittle of clover is a dream-come-true.
The dog starts a game, barking and skidding
into her face so she’ll chase him.
He wants the pure surge of reckless,
canine joy. But she won’t play.

She’s old and likes what she likes: Clover.
So I return the bridle to its rusty nail
and decide to let her be happy there
in the pasture. I walk out to her
with only an apple, the sun in my eyes,

and the scar on my left leg
that matches hers. A sparrow hawk spirals
bright against the blue sky,
and I’m no filly either. Maybe
getting old is a picnic I’m thinking

driving home, the dog galloping his heart out,
his tongue hanging loose, frothing
and urgent in my sideview mirror.

~ Christine Swanberg

“Pasture,” from The Tenderness of Memory by Christine Swanberg (Plain View Press, 1994).

Many people love horses. Some are fortunate enough to have horses of their own. As a child, I often wished I lived on a farm and had a horse I could ride every day. Maybe that is one reason why I like horse poems.

The example poems above are both free verse, but they are different in tone, imagery and narrative. Marilyn Churchill’s poem could be called a coming-of-age poem. The focus of the poem is on the lover of horses, not the horses themselves. The horses, which hold the protagonist’s attention in the first three stanzas turn out not to be of as much significance as the reader expects. The exhilarating ride is, in the end, a metaphor.

In Swanberg’s poem, focus is on the relationship between the narrator who wants to ride and her aging horse who would rather not be ridden any more. The dog is something of a foil to both of them. There is mystery in the poem, too—the scar on the narrator’s left leg matches a scar on the horse’s, suggesting there is much more to the story than we are told outright.

When I think of horses, I think of Dixie, the first horse I rode on my in-law's Kansas farm, and of the horse I rode at dusk in San Miguel de Allende (see the photo above). When I think of horses in poems, the first one that comes to my mind is always "A Blessing" by James Wright, which you can read at Blessing. There are two others I often think of. "Lasca" by Frank Desprez, is a narrative cowboy poem which my grandmother recited from heart, with great feeling (See Lasca). I'm convinced that if she were alive and young today, she could compete on the spoken word circuit with her rendition of "Lasca." And there is "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a poem most people of my generation heard many times in elementary school (Paul Revere's Ride). I attended Longfellow school, so maybe my classmates and I heard it more often than children in other schools.

Three Additional Interesting Horse Poems:

Edwin Muir, “The Horses,” The Horses.

Jaswinder Bolina, “Portrait of a Horse,” Portrait of a Horse (An adult poem reflecting on multiple metaphoric roles that can be played by a horse).

Larry Lewis, "Anastasia and Sandman," Anastasia and Sandman (A lengthy political poem)
Your Internet search engine will locate enough horse poems for you to binge on them if you wish.

The September Challenge:

The September Challenge is to submit a poem featuring a horse or horses. The horses may be literal or figurative. The poem may focus primarily on the horse, on the relationship between a horse and human being or other creature, on a historical horse, or . . . . The examples given above suggest something of the breadth of possibilities.

Title your poem unless it is a form that does not use titles. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem. Single-space and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines). Please do not indent or center your poem on the page, put it in a box or against a special (even white) background.

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. 

The deadline is September 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. No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “September Poetry Challenge Submission” 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.

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 (no pdf files, please). 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 in 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.


Marilyn Churchill’s book of poems, Memory Stones, includes her own cover art and illustrations. Her writing has appeared in various periodicals including Current Magazine, Third Wednesday, and Peninsula Poets (Poetry Society of Michigan). A former college instructor and bookseller, Marilyn continues to be involved with bookselling as part owner with her husband, Jay Platt, of the West Side Book Shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  
Christine Swanberg has published a number of volumes of poetry: Tonight on this Late Road, Invisible String, Bread Upon the Waters, Slow Miracle, The Tenderness of Mercy, The Red Lacquer Room, Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity, and The Alleluia Tree, Her most recent book, this summer, is Wild Fruition: Sonnets, Spells and Other Incantations. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies. She is a popular leader of poetry workshops in Wisconsin and Illinois.

© Wilda Morris