Saturday, December 28, 2019

December 2019 Winning Poems - Letters

Eugène Delacroix, The Song of Ophelia (Act IV, Scene V)
1834 (lithograph) National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

There were a quite a few excellent poems this month. There are two winners. I addition, three poems earned honorable mention: “Dear Vincent,” by Mary Jo Balistreri, “Dear Gizmo,” by Shelly Blankman, and “Dear Poetry,” by Kali Lightfoot.

The first place poem gives a nod to William Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet.”

The Love Letter Ophelia Wrote in Reply

“Doubt that the stars are fire…”
Beneath the stars the skater knelt
upon the ice before Your Majesty.
In the fold of your cloak, still I felt
the cold and how far the stars must be.
“Doubt that the sun doth move…”
Have you not read Copernicus
who masterly doth prove
the planets skate like those of us
who ‘round a monarch move?
“Doubt truth to be a liar…”
As soon as doubt my dream of you
as actor on a starry stage,
where you, bright hero, are most true,
though speaking lines upon a page.
“But never doubt I love…”
‘Trust an actor as your dreams,’
my father chides this loving daughter,
‘to learn what is from what it seems—‘
The sun melts ice; I drown in water

~ L.Shapley Bassen

“The Love Letter Ophelia Wrote in Reply” was first published by the  California State Poetry Quarterly.

Second place goes to a longer, unrhymed poem, which creates a very different mood. The poet’s particular use of repetition creates a kind of melancholy.

Dear Father Time

Is it summer again, is it hot again,
didn't Mr Schmidt just now, sit in his gazebo,
didn't he smile, weren't his hedges trimmed

didn't the rain flood his narrow gutters
didn't the summer end

wasn't his body birdlike,
wasn't it tanned

didn't his best friend waddle through the door too,
old and blind, didn't they just—

wasn't the back garden
harrowed and planted—

I remember how he turned dirt
in wobbly rows

weren't his seeds planted,
didn't his vines climb the south trellis—
I blink and sniffle back the salt
I have studied the vines planted close to his house

He is the gardener to his autumn crocus
the wind to his birdwing butterflies— (tightrope walkers
dodging cracks in the air, curators of white and red
licking sweet balls of liquid, one drop at a time)

I can't hear his voice
I cry, wetting the bare ground

I no longer care how loud the sound I make
why do I need to

when was he silenced, when did it first seem pointless—
(that what is held in the silences, silences
that what it sounds like can't change what it is—)

didn't the winter end,
wasn't the earth warm when he planted

didn't he plant the seeds,
wasn’t he necessary, wasn’t he a tiller of the earth—

the vines, spilling from their stems
were they harvested

where do his birdwings go

do I imagine their existence
on this day embalmed by the sun

~Donna Best)

Thank you to everyone who sent a poem this month. It was a pleasure to read them. Please watch for next month’s challenge and enter again.

L. Shapley Bassen is a native New Yorker now in Rhode Island. Her collected poems were indie-published this year: What Suits a Nudist, by . She was First Place winner in the 2015 Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest for "Portrait of a Giant Squid" and now is s a poetry/fiction reviewer for The Rumpus, etc. and Fiction Editor at, a prizewinning, produced, published playwright:, and three-times indie-published author novel/story collections. You can check out her Facebook page at and website at

Donna Best is an aspiring poetry creator who revels in the sounds words make especially when they cluster together. She has left her indulgence in poetry until almost too late and is trying to catch up now, writing poems in their patterns every day. A few of her pieces have been broadcast on radio, published in small literary magazines and revealed at spoken word events  Spoken word is a big influence on how she writes.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

December 2019 Challenge - a letter poem

Dear Coffee . . . .
Photo by Wilda Morris

You probably know someone who doesn't often write letters, but sits down during the winter holiday season and pens—or types—a letter, duplicates it, and sends it out to multiple friends and family members. Holiday letters, which sometimes focus on the accomplishments of the writer or his or her children and grandchildren, are sometimes the butt of jokes by those who consider them bragging. Personally, I love to see my mailbox fill with Christmas cards and letters and am a bit disappointed if a card doesn’t have at least a small note telling me how the sender (and his or her family) is doing.

Epistolary poems—poems written as letters—date back at least to Horace and Ovid at the time of the Roman Empire. It seems like an appropriate prompt for this season. Here are three contemporary letter poems. The first is by Robin Chapman who has addressed numerous poems to “Dear Ones.”

American Players Theatre
August, 2018

Dear Ones—We’ve come from many corners
of our world to this August weekend
of plays and the lanterns that light our way
up the hill, out of the wars and storm
of this runaway century into the trials
and tears of other worlds—last night
the recruiting officers came through town
and told the old men’s fortunes, took
the young men off to war, left the girls
to weep—and yesterday afternoon,
two brothers, one black, one white,
in South African eyes, fought
in the one room that they shared.

We’ve fled the floods of microbursts—
eight to fifteen inches washing out roads
and railroad beds, leaking through
basements and roofs. Under the house
we stay in tonight something has died
not so long ago. Sometime soon we’ll be past
the tipping point of climate change,
a mob of the displaced with nowhere
to go, howling at the gates; or meeting
in secret circles of knitters and quilters,
poets and artists, chronicling
for some future age our terrifying tilt.

~ Robin Chapman

From About Place Journal
Another of Robin Chapman’s epistolary poems was published in Ascent, Nov. 1, 2019

Gay Guard-Chamberlin’s “Dear Coffee,” is a prose poem.

Dear Coffee

All the other times I’ve tried to leave, I’ve come crawling back, but this time I mean it, things have gone too far. Granted, I may not be thinking as clearly without you by my side, but you can really get on a person’s nerves, and when I think of the nights of high anxiety, the stomachaches you’ve given me, my insane cravings for your strong embrace, it’s no wonder we’ve been on-again/off-again for years.

Herbal? Tea? you snort contemptuously. You’ll find no passion there! Okay, maybe I do want to play it safe but I need a lover who treats me right, does no harm, can ease me into sleep, gives me room to meditate.

Java, my darling, you old charmer, there is no one who smells as good as you first thing in the morning, and it’s true you always make my heart beat faster, but please don’t look at me that way you do, begging me (at my age!) to stay up and dance with you until four. No, no more. Here’s your hat.

There’s the door.

~  Gay Guard-Chamberlin
From Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle (New Wind Publishing, 2019).

The following poem, from my book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2019), appears in a section entitled “Memos to Herman Melville.” Although it doesn’t start with the words, “Dear Herman,” it is addressed to Melville.

Beginning with three lines by Lisel Mueller

The careful boundaries we draw and erase,
and always, around the edges,
the opaque wash of blue—
you knew these boundaries well
from your childhood with a stern mother
who ordered her children to sit, silent
and motionless, each afternoon as she napped,
demanded regular church attendance
and strict submission to every command.               

You chafed, too, at the boundaries of obedience
on a whaler where labor was hard
and the captain so tyrannical that few
of the crew completed the voyage. You jumped ship
in the Marquesas where Victorian standards
of polite society were erased, freely enjoyed
the company of naked-breasted women,
and questioned the supremacy of your parents’ faith.

Yet you returned, made a proper marriage
to a judge’s daughter. Though you sometimes
remembered those days in the south seas
with a sigh, quoting to yourself the lines by the Pope:
A very heathen in the carnal part
Yet still a sad good Christian at the heart,
you sheltered your austere and disapproving mother
in your household for years. The boundaries set
for good sons, husbands, and fathers
hung like a noose around your neck.

Sometimes you loosened the rope a bit
by meeting male friends in the barn
where you could smoke, share bawdy tales
and toss back ale without a woman’s reprimand.
Did you find some peace in forbidding
entrance to your study as you wrote,
looking through that porthole of a window
across from your desk to Mount Greylock,
its blue shadows reminding you of the sea
and the freedoms you yearned for?

~ Wilda Morris

NOTE: “Boundaries” appears in Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsey Books, 2019). It begins with three lines from “Necessities,” a poem by Lisel Mueller, from her book, Second Language (Louisiana University Press, 1986), p. 1. The quoted words from Alexander Pope are from “Epistle to a Lady,” and can be found in The Works of Alexander Pope (The Wordsworth Poetry Library, 2995), p. 242. Melville slightly misquotes these lines in Chapter 46 of Omoo.

The poets whose work appears on this blog own copyright to their own poems.

More Epistolary Poems
-“Letter from Spain,” by Langston Hughes -
-“This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams -
-You can read about epistolary poems on the website of The American Academy of Poets at There are quotes from and links to other poems.


Robin Chapman is author of ten books of poetry, including The Only Home We Know (Tebot Bach, 2019), poems of our current times; Six True Things, poems about growing up in the Manhattan Project town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee and recipient of a Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award; and the Posner Poetry Award-winning books The Way In and Images of a Complex World: The Art and Poetry of Chaos (with J.C. Sprott’s explanations and fractals). Her book The Dreamer Who Counted the Dead received a WLA award, and her book Abundance received the Cider Press Editors’ Book Award. She is recipient of the 2010 Helen Howe Poetry Prize from Appalachia Journal. [Bio from About Place Journal, V:IV (October 2019).

Gay Guard-Chamberlin is a writer, performance artist and multi-media visual artist. A graduate of Columbia College, Chicago, with a Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts, Gay is a member of Poets & Patrons, Illinois State Poetry Society, TallGrass Writers guild, Budlong Writers Group, North Central Seniors Poetry Group sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, and Women on the Verge in Kalamazoo, MI. She has taught skills as diverse as self-defense/martial arts and paper-making to children and adults, and is a certified Interplay instructor. Gay has worked as an office manager for an arts-in-schools organization, a waitress, childcare provider, and caregiver for people with dementia. She lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, musician-artist Doug Chamberlin.

Wilda Morris’s bio appears in the right-hand column of this blog. Her book,  Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick, can be purchased through Kelsay books at, or through at

The December Challenge:

Write an epistolary poem—a poem that is a letter or memo to someone or something. It might be your holiday greetings, a letter to your parent or child, a hero (living or dead), or . . . . Use your imagination!

Your poem may be free verse or formal. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem.

Title your poem unless it is a form that does not use titles (don’t follow Emily Dickinson’s practice on that!). Single-space. Note that the blog format does not accommodate long lines; if they are used, they have to be broken in two, with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the December 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.

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. Poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win, but the poets may submit a different poem, unless the poet has been a winner the last three months.

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

The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.

If the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.

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 “December 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. If the poem has been published before, please put that information UNDER the poem also. NOTE: If you sent your poem to my other email address, or do not use the correct subject line, the poem may get lost and not be considered for publication. Do not submit poems as PdF files.

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 (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; 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.

© Wilda Morris