Tuesday, July 30, 2019

July 2019 Poetry Challenge Results

“Return of the Boats,” Maxime Maufra
Etching in black on wove paper, 2903
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The judges for the July Poetry Challenge determined that there was no winning poem submitted. The prompt of "return" will be repeated in August. Check back early in the month to see the new example poem or poems.

In the meantime, be thinking of all the ways the word "return" can be used, and how you might craft a poem on that theme.

Good luck!

Monday, July 1, 2019

July Poetry Challenge - Returning

If you were to take a verbal Rorschach test, and were asked what you think of when you hear the word “return,” what would come to your mind? I suggest that you write a list before you read further.

Would you think of when your father returned from Vietnam? When you returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, or from a trip with your children to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon? When your grandmother returned from the cemetery after putting flowers on her parents’ graves, or from the ice cream shop with chocolate all over her face?

Do you think of the returns (or lack of returns) on your investments? Tax returns? The train returning to the station? Your grandchildren returning from the park? The birthday greeting, “many happy returns of the day”? Birds or animals returning in the spring? A return ticket? Homecoming? Election returns? A second bout of cancer or pneumonia? The return of Jesus expected by Christians? The Return of the Native, Ahab’s Return, or another book or movie? Liberated prisoners or refugees returning home? Returning to school after vacation—or after a hiatus?

As you can see, the word “return” opens up a wealth of ideas for poets (and other writers).

John Lehman’s title, “Returning,” has a double meaning:


I twist in sleep
as children crawl
from beds and bump
down stairs
for a drink of water.
If I hear and pretend
I don't
they return
and with a finger poke
my back whispering
"We are back."
I have seen them downstairs,
they go from one room
to the next
or only stand awhile,
then return.
Sometimes they climb in
my bed
and squirm until I sigh
"Enough--go sleep in
your bed,"
then dream (for years
are heavy covers)
of being a child

~ John Lehman

From The Shrine of the Tooth Fairy (Cambridge Book Review Press, 1998), p. 37.

I could hear those little feet padding down the hall—and with the poet, find my resulting dreams returning me to childhood as I sleep. It was the metaphor of the years as “heavy covers” that really made the poem for me.

Mary Jo Balistreri writes about another kind of return in this poignant poem about her father:

Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground

Today he gets a flu shot. Picks up a sliver
in his finger at the clinic. He’s angry
at the nurse for taking too much blood.
A person only has so much.

He washes a few dishes in a sink heavy with suds,
the flash of his yellow gloves in and out of bubbles
like a canary at its bath. He takes this chore seriously,
does not notice or care that water runs down
the cabinets and splashes onto the floor.
Risen from the dead of a sub-dural hematoma, he is
a handful, this eighty-nine-year-old father.
Shiny-eyed with the unexpected gift of second sight,
he craves independence, dislikes being questioned,
becomes cagey and stubborn, and moves beyond
beyond his ability; his unused legs teeter toward disaster.

In the slant of late afternoon sun, I sit at the table
and ponder the turn of events. I think of Martha and Mary,
wonder how they coped with Lazarus newly emerged
from the tomb. Were they, too, stunned into disbelief,
that he had come back the same, but somehow different?

Evening, and he curls up in his lounge chair, dinner napkin clutched
in his hand like a small stuffed animal. Willy Nelson sings
in the background; his closed eyelids flutter like wings.
On a night like this did Mary sigh, look upon her brother
like I look upon my father, and say to Martha,
                        Look how tender, how soundly he sleeps.

~ Mary Jo Balistreri

From Still (FutureCycle Press, 2018), p. 65.

How tenderly the poet looks on her father, in all his stubbornness and his insistence on being more independent that his physical condition justifies. Looking now at her father who has survived a near-death episode, the poet gets just a glimpse of what it might have been like for Mary and Martha when their brother was resurrected after three days in the Bible Story she has heard many times. Lazarus returns but, the poet suggests, he is changed, as her father has changed. The tenderness of the poem and the questioning look at the Scripture story give this poem much depth.

The July Challenge:

The prompt for July is the word “return,” in any of its forms, as noun, verb or adjective. Be creative take the prompt in a unique direction if you can.

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. 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 November 2018 winners). 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 July 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 “July 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.

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.


Mary Jo Balistreri began her creative life in music. Growing up in a musical household where both grandparents were professional musicians, her father a popular radio singer, and her mother a tap-dancing professional, it was as if she breathed music. When in 2005 her 7-year-old grandson, Sam, died, it changed her life. For the first time, music did not help her transcend the loss. She found herself trying to learn the music of words. She has been writing ever since.

She has two poetry books published by Bellowing Ark Press, Joy in the Morning, and gathering the harvest; a chapbook, Best Brothers by Tiger’s Eye Press, and her latest book of poetry, Still published by Future Cycle Press, 2018.

John Lehman is the founder and original publisher of Rosebud, a national magazine of short stories, poetry and illustration and literary editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas as well as managing partner of Zelda Wilde Publishing He also founded the Prairie Fire Poetry Quartet which includes Shoshauna Shy, Robin Chapman, Richard Roe and John Lehman and an interactive website called  www.coolplums.com. Dramatic readings of his plays, A Brief History of My Tattoo, The Jane Test and The Writer’s Cave have been presented in Milwaukee and Madison.

John Lehman’s collections of poetry include Acting LessonsShrine of the Tooth Fairy, Dogs Dream of Running, and Shorts: 101 Brief Poems of Wonder and Surprise. His latest nonfiction books are America’s Greatest Unknown Poet: Lorine Niedecker Reminiscences, Photographs Letters and Her Most Memorable Poems, and Everything is Changing: How to Gain Loyal Customers and Clients Quickly. He publishes short stories under the name Jack Lehman.

Lehman grew up in Chicago but for two decades has lived with his wife, Talia Schorr, their four dogs and six cats in Rockdale, the smallest incorporated village in Wisconsin.


© Wilda Morris