Tuesday, May 25, 2021


Photo by Lynn West


The May Poetry Challenge was for poems about fishing or whaling. Unsurprisingly, most of the poems were about fishing. There are still whalers today, but whaling is not the big industry it was when Herman Melville published Moby-Dick. New ways of lighting homes and streets doubtless saved several species of whales from extinction.


Phyllis Wax and Michael Escoubas, whose poems were used as examples this month, both agreed to serve as judges. I have said before that there is much subjectivity involved in judging poetry. Having two judges judge independently generally provides evidence for that. Each judge picked a first, second, and third place poem (Wax actually picked two poems as tied for third place), but none of the poems selected by either judge was picked as a winner by the other judge. The result is that there are seven winning poems this month. There were other excellent poems submitted, so it was not easy for either judge to make their decisions.



Here is Elaine Sorrentino’s first place poem:

Imitation Fisherman 

Shirtless, barefoot, slathered in sun block
he stands, rod in hand, at the end of the dock,
drinking in the pine smell, reminiscent
of carefree summer days at Boy Scout camp,
hypnotically casting and reeling, casting and reeling
thinking of nothing… and everything. 

Tiny ripples from a lone kayaker
glide silently toward the shore,
dissipating before they reach their destination,
overhead a worthy winged competitor
casts his giant shadow across the water
scanning it for a good fish dinner.

Sweet contemplative time,
rudely interrupted by the snagging of a fish;
the fisherman carefully removes
the offending hook,
and with reverence and apology
sets his slippery intruder free.

Liberating himself from further interruption,
he searches his clunky metal fishing box
for a lure devoid of hooks,
and, securing it to the pole
continues what he considers fishing−
casting and reeling, casting and reeling.

~ Elaine Sorrentino 

Wax commented, “I loved this poem! The wonderful visual details took me to the dock, made me see the fisherman. Every word seemed carefully chosen for the poet’s purpose. Examples in the 3rd stanza: “rudely interrupted,” “offending hook,” “slippery intruder,” not phrases usually used to describe catching (or snagging) a fish. This was a quiet, leisurely read with a surprising ending. I felt like I was relaxing there with him, casting and reeling.”



Peggy Trojan also won a first place with this poem:

Fishing Lesson

One morning, in my early twenties
and suffering an emotional disaster,
my father invited me to go fishing.

He rowed us to the middle of the lake
and baited our hooks. He did not say
"I told you so", or utter advice.
Without a word, he offered me,
a secret smoker, a cigarette.

We floated and fished in silence.
By noon, my anger and sadness
had slithered into the water
and lake calm had taken its place.

I learned, on a good day, with luck,
one can come home with a catch
more valuable than fish. 

~ Peggy Trojan

Previously published in Thunderbird Review

Escoubas commented, “I appreciated the love, wisdom and gentle pathos of this poem; it speaks redemptively of a turning point in a young person's life set against the backdrop of a simple experience that carried far beyond "just" going fishing.”


For second place, Michael selected:

A Fisherman

Is both a monk and warrior.
Standing between sea and sky,
belonging to neither,
he casts his line into deep water
watches waves laced with white foam
as seaweed green and golden
floats by in streams,
sometimes catching in his line,
heavy as a fish might be.
He stares into the ink black water
but can’t see far beneath the surface
where the sun glints back at him
from waves that never stop
rising and falling.

He learns to balance,
to hold himself in stillness
as the boat rocks beneath him
with a rhythm never completely
regular, the odd wave coming
fast or deeper, slow or more shallow,
in random changes that make music
by their deviation from the beat.

He waits with perfect patience
for the invisible fish
to take his bait,
first step in a struggle
much like a dance
full of hope and desperation
that could end with nothing
or the prize pulled up
into bright air
glittering and gasping
at his feet.

~ Mary McCarthy

Escoubas said, “This poet has done a fine job with the device of "resemblances" in this composition as "warrior" and "monk" are skillfully woven into the theme.”


The Dordogne River Valley in France is known as “a fisherman’s paradise” or, more appropriately, for this second-place poem, “a fisherman’s dream.”


I am squatting on the riverbank,
catching you fish for rainbow trout.
Six years old.

Handling the line like a violinist,
you pluck away with each vibration,
picturing the surface of the water.

as a composition unraveling
each note and quaver. Your daughters

are downstream, catching minnows in jam
jars. Shrinking like Hughes' pike, soon

they will be part of the river while you
are lost among the grasses, feeling

the riverbed for signs of a sure footing
even though it's 2020 and Dordogne 

has been reduced to something that slips
out while trying to remember a familiar 

tune to distract from the shaking teacup
and spilt sugar.

~Christian Ward

Wax commented that "Dordogne" is a subtle poem, covering a long span of years using skillfully selected details. I liked the unique comparison of the fisher to a violinist, and the emotional punch at the end.


One of the third place poems brought humor to the contest:

Catch of the Day

She wriggles into
her most alluring outfit
fishes through her closet for
striking heels to
accentuate her legs
fastens padded underwires that
lift perky bobbers
pulls on Spanx to
tackle slack figure
casts a side eye
at her reflection
checks all lines
from every angle
dances a little jig

He reels when he sees her
gulps the bait
heart flip flops
memories of
the first time

she hooked him
a half century earlier
thankful she strung him along
never released him
for a bigger catch

They drive into town
for the Friday night special--
fish fry at the local tavern

~ Christy Schwan

Wax, who selected this poem, said, “‘Catch of the Day’ hooked me with the first line. The use of fishing terms throughout kept me chuckling. It was a lot of fun to read. “


The third place poem selected by Escoubas is more serious:


Tiny Birds, Salmon, an Old Man & His Rivers

he's old now
still dreams of salmon and rivers
the woman he loved
what seems forever ago
he thinks they really were so similar
but today he sits wheelchair still
stares out the nursing home window
waiting and watching
like his days in the drift boat
and how those fish
& now these tiny birds
fill him with recognition
of kin
a reason to breathe in
breathe out


~ Maryann Hurtt

“Innovation and love are standout features in this poem where simple words blend skillfully paint a portrait of an old man's treasured relationships and memories,” according to Escoubas.


Last, but not least, is the second third-place poem selected by Wax:

Great Blue

Neither Brian nor I were ever chosen
as anyone’s buddy, even after becoming
First Class Scouts, so we paired up
by default, whatever the adventure.

Loners by nature, we paddled past
the rest of the troop, around Arrow Point,
to an inlet on the north side of Catalina.
Fins fastened and snorkels cleared,
we glided into the sapphire pool
noiselessly as seals. Far below,
red and yellow starfish clung to rocks
sabled with algae. Golden kelp
rose like trees from the blue-black depths.
Garibaldi damselfish
drifted above purple hydrocorals,
each a setting sun in an amethyst sky.

“It’s another world down there!”
laughed Brian when we broke the surface.

Fearless, we dove for the bottom.
A rippling octopus scoured the rocks
for copepods and crabs. A giant sea snail
combed the bottom for decomposing
detritus of sea life. A jellyfish
drifted upwards, translucent as glass.
I turned to show Brian, but saw only 
a pale blue wall, twice my height,
and a single dark eye fixed on mine.

A nameless terror held me in thrall,
though I needed air, and soon.
I couldn’t move. It was as if
the world and everything in it
was peering out from that lashless eye,
plumbing my depths. For what?

I kicked my fins and clawed for the surface,
bubbles streaming from my mouth.

Rising past the monster’s side, I saw
a great white predator
swimming straight toward me.
I would fight, of course,
but I would lose, that much I knew.
I would never reach the surface, never
draw another breath. As I raised my legs
to give my attacker one good kick
before it took my life, I felt
the whole ocean rise up beneath me
and shoot me into the air,
the great blue’s flukes tossing me clear
before crashing down
on the white shark’s fin.

“Shark, shark,” called Brian from shore.

I swam for safety, swam
as fast as I could,
all the time knowing
I had already been saved.

~ Bradley Steffens

Wax explained her choice of this poem: “Vivid descriptions of colorful exotic underwater life were a highlight of “Great Blue.” I especially liked “rocks sabled with algae” and “purple hydrocorals, each a setting sun in an amethyst sky.” As the diver went deeper I could feel his terror at the danger that he encountered.” 

Each poet retains rights to his or her own poem.

Congratulations to the seven winners! Check back on June 1 for a new Poetry Challenge.



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.

Now retired after thirty years working as a hospice RN, Maryann Hurtt lives in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine where she hikes, bikes, reads, and writes. Once Upon a Tar Creek: Mining for Voices will be out later this year. Tar Creek's water is orange and she is passionate that its story be told.

Mary McCarthy is a retired Registered Nurse with a lifelong love of writing and art. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, most lately “The Plague Papers” edited by Robbi Nester, and “The Ekphrastic World,” edited by Lorette Luzajic, as well as the latest issues of Earth’s Daughters and Verse-Virtual.

Christy Schwan is a native Hoosier, rockhound, wild berry picker, and wildflower seeker. She is pursuing her “encore” career as a poet/writer. She lives in Wisconsin where she enjoyed quiet sports: snowshoeing, kayaking, canoeing, and loon spotting.

Elaine Sorrentino is Communications Director at South Shore Conservatory in Hingham, MA.  Her work has been published in Minerva Rising, Willawaw Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, Writing in a Women’s Voice, The Writers' Magazine, Global Poemic, ONE ART: a journal of poetry, Haiku Universe, Failed Haiku, and has won the monthly poetry challenge at wildamorris.blogspot.com

Bradley Steffens is a poet, novelist, and award-winning author of more than sixty nonfiction books for children and young adults.

Peggy Trojan's recent release, River, recently won 2nd place in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook Contest in 2021. River follows her marriage and her family's journey through her husband's Lewy Body Dementia. Peggy Trojan's poetry books are available on Amazon.

Christian Ward is a UK based writer who can be currently found in One Hand Clapping, The Crank, Sein Und Werden and The Pangolin Review

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).


© Wilda Morris



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 https://kelsaybooks.com/products/pequod-poems-gamming-with-moby-dick, or from amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/Pequod-Poems-Moby-Dick-Wilda-Morris/dp/1949229602/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Pequod+Poems&qid=1619875023&s=books&sr=1-1.

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 http://jerryjazzmusician.com/2019/08/oh-when-the-saints-a-poem-by-phyllis-wax/.


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 http://www.yourdailypoem.com/listpoem.jsp?poem_id=2605.


Some other fishing poems:

“Fishing,” by Wilda Morris - http://quillandparchment.com/archives/August2020/fish1.html.

“Fishing on the Poetic Pond,” by Shirley Ann Leonard - http://illinoispoets.org/poems0206.htm#FishingthePoeticPond.

“gone fishing,” by Steven Kappes -  http://illinoispoets.org/poems1015.htm#gonefishing.

A collection of fishing poems: https://discoverpoetry.com/poems/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).