Saturday, May 1, 2021

May Challenge: Whaling and Fishing

Technically, whaling is not fishing, because whales are not fish. But there are similarities. In both cases, people try to catch a creature that lives in the water. Whaling was big business when whale oil was used to light homes. Only the discovery of how to harness electricity and use it for lighting saved whales—especially sperm whales—from extinction. This month we will look at poems of whaling and fishing.

Whaling was a dangerous occupation. Whaling ships were often at sea for months at a time. Discipline was important, since the crew members lived in close proximity to one another. Some ship captains were quite tyrannical and made life at sea intolerable. Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick, the most famous whaling novel, spent some time on a whale ship. Like many other men of his day, he abandoned ship before the voyage had been completed and eventually got home another way.

Whaling, as Moby-Dick illustrates, was dangerous even if the captain wasn’t mentally disturbed or tyrannous. The following poem reflects one perspective on the dangers, a perspective Ishmael expressed in the novel.


Ishmael Tells His Son the Dangers of Whaling

All hands on deck, we pulled down sails,
lashed whale boats more tightly to the sides,
bailed out water as lightning slashed the sky
and winds wracked the ship, threatening
to tip us into Davy Jones’ locker. The winds shrieked
and pounced like angry lions. Thunder growled
and crashed like cymbals. I struggled to stand upright,
to keep the tiller straight, steering into the oncoming wave,
as Poseidon roiled the sea, stirred clouds
into a torrential downpour. Or was it Tawhiri,
Polynesian god of storms, who rocked us,
tried to pull us into the vortex?
The gale knocked me to the floor.
Water rose like walls, slammed down on us.
Death stared me in the face as darkness
was sliced again by light. I was alert,
every part of me alive in the threatening night.

More dangerous, though, were the long days
of sunlight and warm breezes. From the rigging
I watched for whales until lulled into listlessness
and languor. Thoughts flowed into my mind,
passing through like the gentle waves.
My head emptied into hypnotic daydreams.
My eyes glazed like the sea. Time and again
I almost lost my grip and slipped from the rope.
I would have left but a few bubbles
in the calm surface as I fell through.

~ Wilda Morris

From Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2012). Available from the publisher at, or from at

Fishing is more varied. You can fish at sea, or on a pond, river, lake, or reservoir. You can fish from a boat or a jetty, or while sitting or standing on a bank or bridge. You can fish with a pole or a net. You can use technological devises to help locate fish or do it the old-fashioned way.

The fishermen in the poem below are casting their lines close to shore.

Oh, When the Saints . . .

Bent over his guitar, bobbing
to its rhythm, he sits on the center wall
that runs the length of the breakwater

Up and down the jetty
people are dancing, dancing
alone or in pairs

I want to be in that number

Even the fishermen
waiting for a bite
bounce to the beat

~ Phyllis Wax

From Jerry Jazz Musician at


You can also wade into the water to fish:

Trout Fishing in the Rockies

My son loves to outfit his aging
flat-lander father with chest-high
waders, rainbows of handmade flies,
super-light fly rod, creel on hip,
then hike to the highest trout lake.
The arduous trail is strewn
with big rocks, fallen trees
and roots that bulge like big
biceps out of the earth. I stumble,
pick myself up. My chest heaves
in air thin as trout-skin. Winded,
I rest on a boulder with round
places for my elbows. “Are we
almost there?” I call between deep
draughts of light air. “Just another
hundred yards or so, hang in there.”
Now, at water’s edge, the boy rigs
my rod. With strong hands he steadies
me as we wade in cool spring-fed
waters. The sun shines high; the lake
sparkles rippling in the gentle breeze.
Out of this hard hike, this weary body,
this empty creel, comes one magical
moment, clean and clear, a moment
always known--now said, “I love you, Dad."

~ Michael Escoubas

Originally published on Your Daily Poem at


Some other fishing poems:

“Fishing,” by Wilda Morris -

“Fishing on the Poetic Pond,” by Shirley Ann Leonard -

“gone fishing,” by Steven Kappes -

A collection of fishing poems:


The May Challenge:


ALSO, please follow the guidelines carefully. For example, if your name is at the top of the page or under the title instead of at the bottom, I might accidentally miss it when preparing to send the poems to the judge, and your poem could be disqualified as a result, since judging should be done blind. If it isn’t under your poem, I might mistype it. Also, if you don’t follow the directions in how to write the subject line of your email, your poem might be missed.

The challenge for this month is a poem about fishing or whaling.

Your poem may be serious or humorous. The poem may be metaphoric, or literal. Title your poem unless it is in a form that discourages 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 May 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print. Put your name and a brief third-person bio under your poem. Please keep the poem on the left margin (standard 1” margin). Do not put any part of your submission on a colored background. Do not use a fancy font and do not use a header or footer.

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 May 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 wildamorris4[at]gmail[dot]com (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “May Poetry Challenge Submission” FOLLOWED BY YOUR NAME 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 and/or attachment. 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. Please excuse repetition in stating the rules. You might be surprised how many poets do not adhere carefully to the guidelines.

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 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.


Michael Escoubas is the author of a chapbook, Light Comes Softly, two full-length ekphrastic collections, Monet in Poetry and Paint, and Steve Henderson in Poetry and Paint. His most recent book is entitled, "Little Book of Devotions: Poems that Connect Nature, God and Man," which reflects on 2020, the year of the Coronavirus. Escoubas is Editor and Staff Book Reviewer for the highly regarded literary and cultural arts online poetry journal, Quill and Parchment.

Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair, Poets and Patrons of Chicago and past President, Illinois State Poetry Society, has published in numerous anthologies, webzines, and print publications, and has let poetry workshops for children and adults in several states. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku, including the 2019 Founders’ Award from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her second poetry book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick was published in 2019. She finds even annoying insects interesting.

Phyllis Wax writes in Milwaukee on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. She loves to walk on the nearby breakwater, to be surrounded by the lake yet have wonderful views of the city. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies, both in print and online, with subjects ranging from social issues to nature to jazz. Three of her poems are included in the recently released Lullabies & Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan (University Professors Press).



Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Dragonfly. Photo by Karin Addis


Texas poet LaVern Spencer McCarthy judged the April Poetry Challenge. She was impressed with the overall quality of submissions, wishing she could honor more than the six poets she selected, the first, second and third place poems, which will be published here, and three poems given honorable mention but not published (see the list of honorable mentions below).

McCarthy awarded first place to “Dragonflies after the Flood” by Joan Leotta, who has been a Poetry Challenge winner before. The poem does not specify which kind of dragonfly was involved, so it may not have looked like the one in the photo by Karin Addis, a Chicago-area music teacher and nature photographer.


Dragonflies after the Flood

On the porch, stench of mud all around.
Grass, sidewalk, up to the first step.
A dragonfly follows me to the front door
then flits away when we go inside.
My husband grabs a flashlight and
flips on the electricity in the garage.
The air conditioner growls awake.
I press the opener. The big white door lifts
revealing poisoned stinking
mud spread from end to end.
We glance about to gauge
what can be saved, what is
irretrievable from the grasp of the storm.
Dragonfly glides in from the porch
He has brought a friend.
I try to shoo them out.
“Chemicals, who knows what else,
is in the air here. Leave! Leave!”
They stay. We work.
We cannot breathe the fetid air for long.
About to close the door,
I try again to get the dragonflies to leave.
I think I have chased them out,
but in the morning when I open the door,
I see them, in the middle of the floor,
curled up next to each other,
like lovers—angel faces smiling up at me,
gossamer wings still shining as they did in life.
I begin to cry.
So many have lost so much in the flood
what we have lost, money can replace.
I am crying for the dragonflies.
They survived the storm, the water rising.
dying only in the fetid air after the storm.
Dragonflies, why didn’t you listen to me?
My tears will not revive you.

 ~ Joan Leotta

About this poem, McCarthy said, “The poignant imagery of 'their angel faces smiling up at me, gossamer wings still shining,' led me to give this poem 1st Place.


The poet to whom McCarthy awarded second place doesn’t tell us what kind of insect is involved until the end of her narrative poem.


Four little girls strapped into their various-sized booster and car seats
at the top of their lungs.
An enormous, fat, and very bright lime green insect
clung to the driver’s side door mirror.
I promised them
Unperturbed, it hung on as I accelerated to 60 miles per hour.
It rode all the way home attached to us, like a barnacle.
Wait.  A car-nacle.  Ha!
Oblivious to speed, potholes, speed bumps, and 
we six arrived at home, and four little girls
to exit the vehicle while the monster was still attached
    to mommy’s mirror.
It was up to me, their brave, super-hero-sans-cape, to fight the dragon.
I exited the vehicle on the passenger side (knowing
that if I rolled down the driver’s side window, the thing
might actually come inside, and that would result
in a kind of mayhem I wanted to prevent at all costs). 
I marched around the front of the car,
and with a mighty flick of a finger,
it flew on rattling wings into the summer night singing
I whispered
as I tucked four little girls into bed.

~ Terri Bocklund

“Hitchhiker,” says McCarthy, is “a lively poem, made even livelier by the thought of four little girls screaming as they watched a 'monster' on the car windshield. This was a very entertaining poem. I also liked the format.”


Several of the poems submitted this month were poems about cicadas. This one merited third place:

When the Cicadas Start to Churr

A hazy summer day in Texas
    looks hazier
When the cicadas start to churr.

The creaking cane bottom rocking chair
    stops its creaking
When the cicadas start to churr.

My glass of sweet tea on the iron table
    tastes sweeter
When the cicadas start the churr.

The soft southern breeze crossing the porch
    feels softer
When the cicadas start to churr.

The sticky hot summer day in Texas
    gets hotter
When the cicadas start to churr.

A lazy summer day on Granny's front porch
    gets lazier, looks hazier, sounds quieter, tastes sweeter
     feels softer, feels hotter,

When the cicadas start to churr.

~ Rebecca Lowe

“When The Cicadas Start To Churr,” says McCarthy, “brought back so many memories to me. A Texas native, I still remember sitting on Grandma's porch on summer nights, listening to the cicadas with perhaps a thunderstorm brewing. This was a well-worded descriptive poem, and I enjoyed reading it.” This poem makes good use of repetition, and looks good on the page.


Winning poets retain copyrights to their poems.


Honorable Mentions:

1st H.M.—Dragonfly by Lynn White. I learned from this poem that dragonflies can bite. I researched it and found if one is grasped by its abdomen it will bite. This poem taught me something I did not know, and that was why I gave it a place. It was also tightly written with good usage of words.

2nd. H.M.—Swarms by Christy Schwan. Who among us hasn't inadvertently walked into a swarm of gnats, mosquitoes or other little pests and tried to drive them away by slapping and waving at them? I gave this poem a place because it made me laugh about the neighbor waving back.

3rd. H.M.--Nocturnal Symphony by Dee Allen. This was one of the most comforting poems of the entries. I like it because it reminds me of summer nights with its various insect sounds. Very peaceful poem.



Terri Bocklund is a published author, singer, songwriter, and composer now intent on developing her poetry chops.  She is a mother of four (the referenced ones) and grandmother of four and a half.   She grew up in Minnesota, raised her family in Maryland, and now resides in Marquette, Michigan.

Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. Although she is not in general a fan of the insect world, she respects all creatures and truly did grieve over the loss of this pair of dragonflies.

Joan's work has been published in journals in US, Australia, England, Canada, Ireland, and in various English journals in Europe.

Rebecca Lowe thinks of herself as the Grandma Moses of the poetry community. After teaching high school literature for twenty-five years, she decided it was time to practice what she teaches. She says she is a late starter to writing poetry and hope to soon become a later bloomer.

LaVern Spencer McCarthy has won many awards for her poetry. She has published five books of poems and three books of short stories. Her poems have been featured in many state society anthologies and newspapers. She is a life member of the Poetry Society of Texas and is a member in several other state poetry societies. 

Thank you to everyone who send an insect poem this month, and to Lavern Spencer McCarthy for serving as the judge.

Watch for a new challenge on May 1.



© Wilda Morris