Thursday, October 28, 2021

October 2021 Poetry Challenge Winner: Books

Photo by Wilda Morris

Award-winning Minnesota poet LeRoy Sorenson judged the October poetry challenge, focused on “books.” There were a number of excellent poems. Some poets talked about books in general; others zeroed in on one book that influenced lives. Here is the winning poem:


PS 3558 .E85 B76 1988

Nine years your book has rested
on its narrow wedge of metal shelf,
negligible in dimensions, unread,
seemingly untouched, since one
of our quite methodical librarians
pasted in its bar code, Dewey Decimal
number, the blank Due Date slip
stamped for the first time this day,
this morning, when I cracked it open
and the words of poems exploded worlds
of geese and redwings, a snake,
jack-in-the-pulpit, milkweed
and billions of grassblades. Pages
blossomed for the first time before
my eyes breathing me alive in time.

~ Karla Linn Merrifield


This poem was originally published in To Honor a Teacher, Andrew McMeel Publishing, 1999 (editor Jeff Spoden; reprinted in Redactions: Poetry and Poetics, October 2020).


The judge says, “This poem crackles with energy and the excitement awaiting the reader when he/she opens its pages. The poem is concise and filled with enough detail to propel the poem to its end and the book's powerful effect on the reader.”


Congratulations to Karla Linn Merrifield for winning another Poetry Challenge. You can see her previous winning poems at (on the theme of return) and (on the theme of immigrants/immigration).


Honorable mentions went to Shelly Blankman for “The Bad Penny,” and to Mark A. Fisher for “summer reading.”

Congratulations to Karla, Shelly and Mark, and a big thank you to LeRoy.

Check back on November 1 for a new Poetry Challenge.



Shelly Blankman lives in Columbia, Maryland, where her husband and she have filled their empty nest with three rescue cats and a moppy mutt. Their sons, Richard and Joshua, flew the coop some years ago -- one to New York and the other to Texas.  Following careers in journalism, public relations, and copy editing, she now spends time writing poetry, scrapbooking, making cards, and of cours, refereeing animals.  Shelly's poetry has appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Poetry Super Highway, and Blue Heron Review, among other publications. As a surprise, Richard and Joshua published her first book of poetry, Pumpkinhead.


Mark A. Fisher is a writer, poet, and playwright living in Tehachapi, CA.  His poetry has appeared in: Silver Blade, Penumbra, Young Ravens Literary Review, and many other places.  His poem “there are fossils” (originally published in Silver Blade) came in second in the 2020 Dwarf Stars Speculative Poetry Competition. 


Karla Linn Merrifield has had 900+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. She is currently at work on a poetry collection, My Body the Guitar, inspired by famous guitarists and their guitars; the book is slated to be published in December 2021 by Before Your Quiet Eyes Publications Holograph Series (Rochester, NY). Web site:; blog at; Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; Instagram:

LeRoy N. Sorenson is the author of two poetry collections: Forty Miles North of Nowhere and Railman’s Son.  He won The Tishman Review 2019 Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize for Poetry. His work has appeared or will appear in The American Journal of Poetry, the Atlanta Review, The Cider Press Review, Crab Orchard Review, Comstock Review, Nimrod, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and other journals. He lives in St. Paul, MN.



© Wilda Morris





Friday, October 1, 2021

November Poetry Challenge: Books

Photo by Wilda Morris


Books, books, books. Books play an important role in our lives. And they make good topics for poems.

Here is one of my poems:

It was the age of innocence

he was the stranger, enticing, exciting

with great expectations, I entered
his brave new world

joined him on the road
until we were hungry enough
to kill a mockingbird

I wanted a room with a view
but discovered I was not beloved

no more hugging, caressing
I said a farewell to arms

my Ulysses had become Dracula
the very heart of darkness

I was just the fly on the wall

I became an American tragedy
shut up in a bleak house

as I lay dying,
I could see that everything
I cared about
was gone with the wind

~ Wilda Morris

First published in Encore: Prize Poems 2021(National Federation of State Poetry Societies).

As you have undoubtedly figured out, although the poem could be said to be a lament, it is playful. I filled the poems with the names of books—counting the title, at least seventeen book titles appear in the poem.


In Kathy Lohrum Cotton’s prize-winning poem, “Two Views of the Plaza,” she takes a very different approach to the subject of book. Her poem is a social commentary, where the tragedy referred to in the first stanza is real. The poem can be read as a comment on history and also as a warning for the future.

Two Views of the Plaza

May 1935
He’s a proud young Berliner, a university student 
marching past cheering crowds as large as a city
along the triumphant torch-lit parade route
to the Opera Plaza. There, some 20,000 books,
piled high in waiting trucks, will be passed
hand to hand toward a massive log pyre, and
he will be among the first to heave black-listed
volumes into the flames—the paper roar
rising with passionate speech and song.

April 1995
On Yom HaShoah, a student from Tel Aviv
kneels at the plaza’s new thick glass square,
set flush into the stone pavement where once
crowds applauded as banned pages fueled
an infamous book-burning. He stares down into 
bare white shelves of the below-ground memorial,
Berlin’s blank library for 20,000 ghosted tomes.

Century-old words on a plaque sting his eyes—
the bronzed quote of a banned Jewish poet:

            That was only a prelude,
            there where they burn books,
            they burn in the end people.

                                    –Heinrich Heine, 1820

~ Kathy Lohrum Cotton

This poem is published in Kathy’s 2020 poetry collection, Common Ground. It can be purchased at


Another approach to poetry about books can be seen in the following poem, which relates to one particular volume:

Phantom at Arrowhead

. . . one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.
            ~ Herman Melville (Chapter 1 of Moby-Dick)

I peered out the porthole of Melville’s office
at Arrowhead and saw Mount Greylock
pale blue in summer light. Whale-shaped,
seeming to swim, calm in tranquil green waters
along the horizon. Nothing haunting
or horrific. Nothing malevolent.

But when winter wraps the Berkshires
in frigid air and snow sweeps in from the west,
that creature turns phantasmagoric,
a great white poltergeist. Mist rises
from the specter like the spouting
of a sperm whale, mesmerizing, menacing.

That apparition disturbed Melville’s sleep,
pursued him in dreams through the dead of night
as he pursued it. Obsessed as Ahab,
he rose each day to write again about gods,
cultures, and people as changeable as the mountain,
as unpredictable and malicious as Moby Dick.

~ Wilda Morris

From Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2019). Available for purchase at, or through

The October Challenge:

The challenge for this month is a poem related to books (or a book). Your poem may be serious or humorous. The poem may be metaphoric, or literal. It could be about a book you loved as a child or one you read last week. A book read aloud by or to you. Prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. A book you disliked. A book report assignment for school. A library. Use your imagination! 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.

1-Title your poem unless it is in a form that discourages titles.


3-Put your name, a brief third-person bio, and your email address in that order under your poem. If the poem has been previously published, please put the publication data under the poem also.

4-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.

5-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.

6-The deadline is October 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).

7- No simultaneous submissions of previously unpublished poems, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published.

8-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.

9-Decision of the judge or judges is final.

10-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:

1-Send one poem only to wildamorris4[at]gmail[dot]com (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). The poem must respond in some way to the specific challenge for the month.

2-Put “October 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.

3-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.

4-Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment or both (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; no pdf files, please). 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). 6-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.



Kathy Lohrum Cotton is a southern Illinois poet and editor whose work appears in literary journals, magazines and anthologies and also as exhibits of poetry combined with her digital collage artwork. Cotton is the author of two chapbooks: the illustrated poetry book, Deluxe Box of Crayons, and the 2020 collection, Common Ground. She supports the art of poetry as a board member of the Illinois State Poetry Society and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and has served as annual editor for three of the Federation’s books of prize-winning poetry. 

Wilda Morris , Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and a past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, has published numerous poems in anthologies, webzines, and print publications, including The Ocotillo Review, Rockford Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Modern Haiku, and Journal of Modern Poetry. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku, including the 2019 Founders’ Award from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. She has published two books of poetry, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant (RWG Press) and Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books).



© Wilda Morris