Monday, January 1, 2018

January 2018 Poetry Challenge - Myth and Legend

Sebald Beham, Achilles and Hector, Engraving from the 1500s,
from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Many poets have drawn on ancient myths and legends for their poetry. Larry Turner referenced several in this sonnet:

In Love and War

Without reconnaissance I do not fight.
I’m never one to underrate my foe.
So in my books I studied how I might
Defend myself when facing Cupid’s bow.
I learned how Helen, stolen or seduced,
Brought Greeks and Trojans both into the grave,
And how when Agamemnon had refused
To give Achilles back his comely slave, 
Their quarrel nearly tore the Greeks apart
And sent them home from battle in defeat.
With knowledge such as this to guard my heart,
I’d soon have Cupid’s forces in retreat. 
But you, surprising, perky, smart and tender,
Accomplished my immediate surrender.

 ~ Larry Turner

 First published in Wanderer: Poems, Stories and Drama by Larry Turner.

I made use of the legend of the Amazons and of Achilles’ reaction to the dead body of Penthesilea for this poem:

Wanting to See the Amazon

When I say I want to see the Amazon, he assumes
I mean the statue of Penthesilea in the Louvre.
He’s thinking perhaps of the exposed breast,
legs bare from boot top to kneecap. He’s thinking
warrior. Woman. I’m thinking river. Rainforest.
He says Achilles killed her, removed her helmet,
was so stunned by her splendor his heart stopped.
He says Achilles wept for love that might have been.
The river flows not from tear ducts but tributaries.
It’s not salt water but fresh. It shoves sediments
out to sea. It has no sword. While I think
of the Amazon’s mouth opening into the Atlantic,
he thinks of the Aegean Sea and the sneering lips
of the statue or sensuous lips of the lifeless woman
lifted by Achilles. He says the Amazons originated
in Pontus. I say the waters flow from peaks
in the Peruvian Andes. He lies on the love seat
pondering the sad end of Penthesilea. I order tickets
to tour Brazil and Peru, not Paris or Pontus.

~ Wilda Morris

 This poem was first published in After Hours.

Every culture has its myths and legends. Western readers may be aware that Irish legends show up in the poetry of William Butler Yeats. But most of us are less aware of the use of legends or myths from Asia or the Middle East. A number of scholars are researching the use of traditional African myths in contemporary literature by Africans and by persons of African descent living abroad. In the post-colonial era, a number of Middle Eastern poets began making use of the legends from ancient Summer.

Dr. Bakul Banerjee was born in India but came to the United States after she was married. Indian legends and myths find their way into many of her poems. Here is a persona poem, from the point of view of Sita, whose story is found in the Indian epic, the Ramayana (see the note below the poem).

 I lie dreaming of revenge. I’m a princess
hiding in the cradle of the furrow left
fallow since last year. Cows and goats graze
this fertile valley feeding their babies above
me. Warm milk drips down into my lips.
They go home when the sun dips below
the horizon bordered by purple mountains.

I lie dreaming of Vedavati deep in
meditation when Ravana molested her.
Bound by the vow of purity, she refused
to vanquish her violator, but chose to die
in a blaze, promising to return another time
in another life to avenge. I am born out
of her ashes, annealed, hard and invisible.

I lie dreaming of the farmer king Janak
who would come to seek blessings
from gods and till this precious field. I wait 
for the touch of his golden plough.
In the light of dawn, I hear drumbeats
and thumping of animals. Bulls bend
their heads in reverence to me. I transform
into baby Sita and reach for Janak’s palm.

I lie in Janak’s palace, dreaming of marrying
the god-king Rama who must kill Ravana
for me. I fear not tests of entering fire
to prove my purity or the banishment
to forest. I am sacred, a progeny of earth.
I exist to fulfill Vedavati’s promise.

~ Bakul Banerjee

Note: In the Indian epic, Ramayana, Sita was the queen of the god-king Rama and was the primary reason for the decimation of the arrogant king Ravana. As the back story goes, in her previous life, Sita was born as the incredibly beautiful Vedavati. Since her father wanted his child to have Lord Vishnu as her husband, he rejected proposals from many kings and was killed by one of them. Vedavati continued to live alone in the forest, meditating night and day to win Vishnu as her husband. However, she was violated by Ravana. Since she was in the middle of vow of meditation, self-immolation was her only choice. Later, she was reincarnated in the form of the baby girl Sita, appearing in a furrow and was adopted by King Janak.

Note: The poets retain rights to their poems. Please do not copy and distribute them without permission.

Other poems engaging ancient myths:

*W. H. Auden, The Shield of Achilles,”

*William Butler Yeats, “Song of the Wandering Aengus,” (based on an Irish myth)

*Links to a number of poems about myths and mythological figures:

*An article on how Yole Soyinka engages African myths in his poetry:

The January Challenge:

 The January Challenge is to submit a poem that revives, dialogues or argues with, or in some way engages with an ancient myth. If your poem uses a lesser-known myth or legend, please supply a link where we can read about it. Generally it is preferable to focus or myths or legends from your own cultural background instead of appropriating (or misappropriating) material from another culture. For this poetry challenge, do not make up a myth or legend.

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). Read previous poems on the blog to see what line lengths can be accommodated.

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 January 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 (some children read this blog). 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 “January  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.


Larry Turner with his wife Donna moved to the Brandermill Woods retirement community in Midlothian, Virginia early in 2016 after his career in college physics teaching and research in the USA and England. His poetry has appeared repeatedly in The Lyric and in the online journal Voices on the Wind. He has published two books of poetry, Stops on the Way to Eden and Beyond (1992) and Eden and Other Addresses (2005), a collection of poems, stories and dramas, Wanderer (2011), and a memoir, The Magic Years: Tales of the Turners 1957-1970 (2015). He edited four anthologies for the Riverside Writers chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. He served as president of Riverside Writers, and earlier as president of the Illinois State Poetry Society and regional vice-president of the Poetry Society of Virginia. He is currently completing Volume III of Tales of the Turners. At Brandermill Woods he leads the writing group, and with Donna leads the Readers Theatre group.

Dr. Bakul Banerjee, a Bengali, was born near Delhi, India. After studying in Calcutta and Kanpur, she came to the United States in 1976. She received her Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. She spent most of her professional career at scientific institutions associated with the US Department of Energy, while raising her two daughters. Her scientific training enabled her to work at some of the most innovative scientific facilities built by humans, including the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland and Advanced Photon Source, near Chicago. For the past 15 years, she has spent many hours in writing poetry, fiction and essays and had some success in publishing them. See for some of her works. She is involved with various writing and community organizations. Bakul lives in Wheaton, Illinois.

Wilda Morris has won awards for haiku, formal poetry and free verse, including two Pushcart nominations. She has led poetry workshops for children and for adults in three states. Wilda's book, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant, was published by RWG Press. Nearly 500 of her poems have found homes in venues such as anthologies, print and Internet journals and newspapers. Her work appears in such publications as BorderSenses, Alive Now, Turtle Island Quarterly, and After Hours, Journal of Modern Poetry and Whitefish Review. Wilda is a past president of the Illinois State Poetry Society. She currently serves as Workshop Chairperson of Poets & Patrons of Chicago, and Chair of the Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.

© Wilda Morris