Thursday, April 23, 2020

April 2020 Poetry Challenge Winners: Dealing with Stress

Trillium (photo by Wilda Morris)

Michael Escoubas, one of the poets whose poems was used as a prompt this month, judged the submissions. He chose “Finding Peace” by Mary Jo Balistreri as the first place winner, saying that the poem “gathers many elements of nature in a soul-satisfying litany of sights, sounds and aromas that honors the ‘sacredness you carry within.’”

Finding Peace

To walk these meandering paths
of filtered sun and fallen birch logs                                                         
is to inhale peace.
To tread upon pine needles
cushioned with downy white tufts
of aspen is to calm even the most
anxious thoughts.
To surrender to the wind as does
the arboreal forest is to bring solace.     
To rest a while on glacier stone, see
trilliums commingle with oaks,
and bursts of bright yellow Lady’s slippers,
is to fill your heart to overflowing.
To hear a hermit thrush sing praise,
its melody scented with pine
is to know the god within.
To stay awhile and deep breathe
is to honor the sacredness you carry within.

~ Mary Jo Balistreri

You may wish to read the footnote on the second place poem before you read the poem itself. Here is what the judge said about Lucy Tyrrell’s poem, “Song Zhu Mei”: “This poem unfolds beauty gradually, celebrating resilience and perseverance on a journey culminating in peace.”

Song Zhu Mei*

Chinese celebrate
these three plants—
they defy the crumple of cold,
symbolize steadfastness,
perseverance, resilience.
Dynasties have wrapped
them in poem and painting—
despite winter’s harsh winds,
there is beauty now.

More than seven centuries ago,
Lin Jingxi, with calligraphic brush
in his Five-cloud Plum Cottage,
affectionately called them
the three friends of winter.

If not pine, bamboo, plum,
we can embrace other evergreens,
an undaunted inner bloom,
our own three friends of winter—
into a new spring.

* Chinese for pine, bamboo, plum

~ Lucy Tyrrell

The third place poem, “At Scott County Park,” by Mike Bayles, “reflects a poignant thoughtfulness for those not as fortunate as the poet, who knows not everyone can step outside ‘and listen to the wind,’” according to Escoubas. I think you will agree.

At Scott County Park

I drive through open gates
seeking respite from isolation
in a small house on a broken street.
The pond just below the hill
offers reflections of the sun
in stillness of a Saturday lost.
I sit alone in my car
reading a book next to me.
I listen to the familiar refrain
of bad news on the radio,
but turn it off.
A spread of trees deepens roots,
and I’m left with thoughts
of those locked indoors.
In solitude I’m struck with beauty found
in the midst of a verdant park.
I step outside and listen to the wind
the song of the cool spring day,
and take pause to thoughts
of friendship and love back home,
and I’m becoming someone new.

~ Mike Bayles

These three poets own copyright on their poems.

Mary Jo Balistreri has had a life-long love of nature. Her first career was as a classical concert pianist and harpsichordist. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania, she performed widely throughout the Midwest, and later, up and down the East Coast. Today, she resides in both Wisconsin and Florida. Mary Jo says “writing poetry has become a way of life for me, a way of being in the world and finding my place in it. Writing through this Pandemic is my way of tamping down stress and moving onward.” You can learn more about here at  

Mike Bayles, a lifelong Midwest resident, writes about human connections with, nature, settings (mostly rural,) and with each other. Threshold, his first collection of poetry, won the 2013 Book of the Year Award from the Rockford Writers’ Guild. Breakfast at the Good Hope Home, a literary collage, tells a story about a son visiting his Alzheimer’s father in the nursing home. His poetry and fiction are published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines.

When Michael Escoubas, at age ten, complained to his mother that he could find nothing to do, she pulled a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica from her well-stocked library, and strongly suggested that he read. From these early experiences he learned to love words, the shapes of letters, the musicality of words, the beauty of lines arranged on the page. Michael published his first poems in 2014, at age 66. His work has since appeared over 300 times across a variety of venues. He is editor and book reviewer for Quill and Parchment, an online literary and cultural arts journal.

Lucy Tyrrell's poems are inspired by nature and wild landscapes, outdoor pursuits, family stories, and travel. In 2016, after 16 years in Alaska, she traded a big mountain (Denali) for a big lake (Lake Superior). Lucy lives near Bayfield, Wisconsin and is Bayfield's Poet Laureate for 2020-2021. Her favorite verbs to live by are experience and create.

© Wilda Morris