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).