Saturday, February 1, 2020

February 2020 Poetry Challenge: Household Chores

Eugène Boudin (1824 – 1898)
“Laundress by a Stream”

My favorite chore as a child was polishing the wood floor in the living room after my mother or grandmother waxed it. My sister and I were allowed (encouraged, even) to put on old socks and pretend the floor was a skating rink. We would run and slide all over the floor, happily polishing it to a shine. My second favorite chore (once I was tall enough) was hanging laundry, probably because it was in the yard instead of the house. On the other hand, I hated to dust the Venetian blinds—I didn’t seem to be able to do so without cutting at least one of my fingers.

Today, I do not like to clean the floors—my back protests against the vacuum sweeper, the broom and the mop. I’m usually singing or listening to music (or NPR) when I’m baking or preparing a meal. I like a break from cooking once in a while, but fixing food (especially baking) is the top of my list of favorite chores. I don't mind doing the laundry; I am glad that I don't have to wash clothes in a stream, but there are many people in the world who still do.

What chores do you enjoy? Which do you despise? Have you ever written a poem about doing a household chore?


My grandmother taught me to iron
by practicing on the blank
page of my father’s handkerchiefs.

Each one was flat and white as a ceiling.

I perched on the stool beside her,
just six, knowing my father
would fold square my effort, all day.

I would peek from his breast pocket.

The iron: so heavy that I used
one hand to move the iron, the other
to prop my arm. The stool wobbled.

Hair stuck to my cheek, one damp curl.

Who would teach a girl to push
such a heavy, scorching thing?
Who can feel wings beat, sing

the white song trilling from my throat?

~ Jan Bottiglieri

From Alloy: Poems by Jan Bottiglieri (Mayapple Press, 2015), p. 6.

I like Bottiglieri’s poem a lot, especially “practicing on the blank / page of my father’s handkerchief,” and the idea of the little girl peeking from her father’s breast pocket. I can picture her on the rickety stool next to her grandmother learning this household art.

The structure of the poem is as controlled as a well-ironed handkerchief or shirt. The alternation of three- and one-line stanzas is elegant.

The links below give you some indication of the variety of ways in which poets approach household chores. If you read the laundry poems, for example, you will find a poem by Alicia Ostriker juxtaposing folding laundry with a social issue in the news, while Laura M. Kaminski’s poem on Via Negativity is about someone finding an alternative for doing the laundry. Ruth Moose’s “Laundry” is at least half-metaphoric. Erica Jong’s poem treads close to the “family friendly” line adhered to on this blog; her poem is not really about “dirty laundry.”

Laundry Poems

Poems about ironing:

Poems about taking out the trash:

Poems about mowing the lawn:

If you google other household chores, you can find more poems about household chores.

There is an anthology of poems on household chores: Sweeping Beauty: Contemporary Women Poets Do Housework, edited by Pamela Gemin. See for a sample of the poems. I especially recommend scrolling down to “The Idea of Housework” by Dorianne Luux and “Entropy” by Faith Shearin.

Bio: Jan Bottiglieri lives and writes in suburban Chicago. She is a managing editor for the poetry annual RHINO and holds an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. Jan’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in more than 40 journals and anthologies including december, Rattle, DIAGRAM, Willow Springs and New Poetry from the Midwest. Jan is the author of two chapbooks, A Place Beyond Luck and Where Gravity Pools the Sugar; and two full-length poetry collections: Alloy (Mayapple Press, 2015) and Everything Seems Significant: The Blade Runner Poems (BlazeVOX [books], 2019). 

The February Challenge:

Write a poem about a household chore—something done in the home or in the yard. No gardening poems this month, though. That theme will come up later.

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 February 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 February 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 “February 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). or both. 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.

Happy New Year. Have a wonderful and poetic new decade.

© Wilda Morris