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

Thursday, April 1, 2021

April 2021 Poetry Challenge: Insects

Insects with Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not
Jan van Kessel the Elder
National Gallery of Art, London

It’s that time of year again – a sign of spring less welcome than the return of robins or red-winged blackbirds. The door is left open a bit too long and a fly gets in. An ant crawls across the kitchen floor. Some insects are considered nuisances—who wants to hear a mosquito buzzing around the headboard light as you prepare to turn it off for the night? Who wants aphids on their roses? When my son was quite young, he got the idea that bumblebees were bad but honeybees were good. He came into the house crying after he petted one of those “nice” bees! He was afraid to go out the back door through the patio edged with ageratum blossoms again for quite a while.

Insects are important to the environment, of course, and can be a worthy subject for serious poetry—or for humor. Here are a few examples:


                    To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
                    One clover, and a bee.
                    And revery.
                    The revery alone will do,
                    If bees are few.
                                        ~ Emily Dickinson

Remember so you can answer
when your grandchildren ask,
what was the sound Yeats loved,
the sound of a bee-loud glade?
How big were the blueberries
you plopped into your cereal,
or served on ice cream?
What is this strawberry shortcake
you speak of with such nostalgia?
Explain that asparagus was green
and pointed, that its absence spears
your heart each spring.
Tell your grandchildren why
lovers called each other honey.
And when they pull out the collected works
of Emily Dickinson, say she was wrong.
Reverie alone is not enough
to make a prairie.

~ Wilda Morris

First published in “Reverie,” Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, 7 (Fall-Winter, 2017), https://issuu.com/sblaam/docs/sblaam_7, p. 110. 


The Amorous Fly

A fly on my computer screen
pursued the arrow up and down.
He thought it was a lady fly
with pretty pixels on her gown.

Around, around, the arrow went.
I moved it with my mouse in fun.
That fellow stayed on top of it.
It made me laugh to see him run

across the news, the weather page.
He lingered far beyond the day.
Then, with a hum and flex of wings,
he quit the game and zoomed away.

Though I had thought his heart was true
with blazing love at his command,
that silly fly did not return.
It must have been a one-night-stand.

~ LaVern Spencer McCarthy                                             

From her book, My Parrot Loves Me which is available for purchase at https://www.lulu.com/shop/lavern-mccarthy/my-parrot-loves-me/paperback/product-23039815.html?page=1&pageSize=4.


Although it is considerably longer than the preferred length of poem for this blog, I could not resist introducing you to the poetry of James Newton Matthews, once widely known and loved as “The Prairie Poet.” He was a good friend of James Whitcomb Riley, whose poems I read as a child, and might have become as famous had he not continued to practice medicine in the small Illinois town of Mason.


The Old House-Fly  


Go throw the shutters open wide, and lift the
            windows high,
Let out the silence and the gloom, let in the
            jolly fly;
I’m weary of this stale repose, and long to
            hear again,
The sweetest sound of all the year, the fly
            upon the pane;--
I long to see him bobbing up and down the
            sill and sash,
I long to feel his tickling tread upon y soft
I love to see him tilting on his slender, tender
I love to watch him bump, and buzz, and
            balance on his nose;
In all the universe, to-day, of merry song and
O, tell me where’s another that is happier
            than he;
Then throw the shutters open wide, and lift
            the windows high,
Let out the gloom and silence, and let in the
            jolly fly.


O, the old house-fly! O, the brave house-fly!
A straddling o’er the butter-dish, a sprawling
            o’er the pie,—
A jogging thro’ the jell and jam, and jousting
            round the cream,
As prone to risk a summer sail upon the milky
A roving life the rascal leads thro’ all the rosey
A button-headed roustabout, a lover light and
Who revels on the ripest lips that mortal eyes
Who clambers up the softest cheek, and up
            the whitest arm,
And loiters on the fairest breast that ever love
            made warm;
Then throw the shutters open wide, and lift
            the windows high,
Let out the silence and the gloom, let in the
            jolly fly.


O, the old house-fly! O, the jolly house-fly!
He was present at our coming, he’ll be with
            us when we die;
From Turkestan to Mexico, his broad dominion
And his nature never changes with the
            “process of the suns;”
From the days of dusky Cheops, down thro’
            centuries of dirt,
‘Tis a matter of conjecture, if he ever washed
            his shirt;
He has dined with every poet from the
            patriarchal Chaucer,
He has often taken pleasure-trips in Billy
            Shakespeare’s saucer;
He dipped his saucy noodle into Cleopatra’s
When the amorous Antonius his kingdom
            offered up;
Then throw the shutters open wide, and lift
            the windows high,
Let out the silence and the gloom, let in the
            jolly fly.


O, the old house-fly! O, the naughty house-
He dances on the baby’s lip, and on the dead
            man’s eye;
He’s first to taste the tawny wine within the
            tippler’s glass,
He prances on the prelate’s nose whene’er he
            goes to mass;
He’s found within the skipper’s hat, and in
            the gilded hall,
A giddy gambolier, who pays his compliments
            to all;
When our mothers rocked the cradles, in the
            cabins of our birth,
His happy chorus blended with the cricket
            on the hearth,—
And I love the recollection of the hours I’ve
            seen him crawl,
In the summer-time of childhood, up and down
            the whitened wall;
Then throw the shutters open wide, and lift
            the windows high,
Let out the gloom and silence, and let in the
            jolly fly.

~ James Newton Matthews

From Tempe Vale (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1888), pages 61-65.

Enough of that!


Online Examples:

Want more examples? Check out these websites:

-          A rengay sequence: http://www.graceguts.com/rengay/forgotten.

-          “Ten of the Best Poems about Insects,” from Keats, Blake, etc.: https://interestingliterature.com/2017/05/10-of-the-best-poems-about-insects/


The April 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 bline. 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 an insect or insects.

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 April 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 “April 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.


James Newton Matthews (May 27, 1852 – March 7, 1910) was a poet and a country doctor. He was encouraged to give up his medical practice and go on the road as an entertainer, reading his poetry for the enjoyment of audiences, but declined to do so. He helped bring Paul Laurence Dunbar to the attention of the literary world, and carried on an extensive correspondence with James Whitcomb Riley. Numerous other well-known writers of the day visited his home in Mason, Illinois.

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.

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.




© Wilda Morris