Saturday, January 29, 2022

January 2022 Poetry Challenge Winners: Poems on Aging

Photo by Suzanne Metzel. Used by Permission

Aging proved to be a popular topic for poets! A number of publishable poems were received. Judge Donna Pucciani selected a poem by Kelly Boyer Sagert for third place:


Song of a Life

The crone huddles and weeps about winter
then slowly folds
a piece of paper into precise pleats.
Lifting scissors
she carefully cuts the shape of a lily
then opens up
the paper with accordion folds.
When the snow melts
she plans to dance by lilies in the fields
just one more time.
Opening her accordion at dawn,
such melody!
Wrinkles spring to life: an old woman’s smile.

~ Kelly Boyer Sagert

Of this poem, Pucciani says, “The writer captures a moment of art and courage, combining winter images with the vision of an elderly woman cutting a paper lily, a sign of spring and hope and a kind of resurrection, however brief.”


Second place goes to Maryann Hurtt.

Glass Bottles and Ice

down long hallways
the old man propels his wheelchair
gets to the window
and stares
as the temperature drops
and flakes of snow pile
his mind winds back ninety years
to blades tied on shoes
milk to be delivered
on ice covered streets
at dawn before scattered coal dust
ruined the glide
but for that little while
and now remembers so clearly
the grace of glass bottles
and ice
the memory enough today
of flight even
when grounded

~ Maryann Hurtt

Pucciani explained her selection of this poem: “A century’s flashback—so much said in such a small space! Not one superfluous word, yet I could hear the clink of the milk bottles at dawn and the sound of the skates. Well-crafted, focused, and utterly beautiful.”


Nicole Callräm and Donna Pucciani independently selected the same poem as the best poem submitted, so first place goes to Jonathan Yungkans.

Placed in a Puzzling Light, and Moving*

amid pomegranate and persimmon trees
rooted in shale
whose layers
are pages in a book
or the center of a yellow rosebud

unrolling itself.
I squint
and note legs
which have grown from the sides of words,
crawling caterpillars,

and wonder which of these words
might fly
given time in a jade-colored chrysalis
to change meaning
as words and caterpillars are apt to do

in the shadow
of a butterfly
across my reckoning—
a monarch
fluttering from a blue plumbago hedge

on its yearly migration southbound—
my eyes
on their migration southbound,
in and out of focus.
Age encourages them to misbehave

like errant kids,
following the bad habit of my mind
to wander,
climb where they’ve been told not to go—
if a habit can be called bad

to be a child,
watching sentences writhe on paper
in quiet amazement,
waiting for syntax to take wing,
to catch light and a breeze.

~ Jonathan Yungkans

*Title taken from the name-poem to the collection Some Trees by John Ashbery

Puccini says this is “a brilliant first-person narrative exploring the mind and failing vision of an elder, and integrating the imagery of nature with the love of words on a page. Skillfully developed, beautifully paced, with a dignity of voice and diction.”

Nicole Callräm, the other judge, agreed: "I appreciate the way the poet plays with patterns of nature and how this idea interacts with the physical and mental trends of aging.  The imagery is bright and fresh and the feeling of bugs and words marching across the page and through the poem itself fills the verse with light and life.  The last two lines are beautiful, injecting breath and air into the closing of this moment."


You can read the poem by John Ashbery from which Yungkans took his title at


Each poet retains copyright of his or her own poem.


Congratulations to these three winners for their excellent poems, and also to the three poets selected for Honorable Mentions.


First honorable mention goes to Ron Pullins for his poem, “The desert proves.” Pucciani’s comment: “Simplicity and careful craft characterize this brief glimpse into a relationship and the externalities of geography. A beauty.” Callräm also commented on Pullins’ poem: "The use of line breaks and spareness of language paint vivid imagery that jumps off the page and engages the reader.  I was immediately drawn to the setting, and think that framing the topic of aging as the lifecycle of desert flora is bold and compelling.  The poet's use of repetition lends a sense of calm and eternity to the piece."

The other two honorable mentions, with Puccini’s comments are:

“Slipping” by Christy Schwan. “A realistic family portrait, all too familiar in its exploration of inner and outer details of encroaching dementia.”

“Assurance” by Peggy Trojan. “Lovely piece, clear and focused in its apt contrast of past and present affections.”



Nicole Callräm is a nomadic bureaucrat and disciple of existence in all her life-affirming and confusing manifestations.  She adores rideshare bikes, red wine, and Osmanthus flowers (preferably a mix of the three...all at once).  Nicole has been published in A Shanghai Poetry Zine, Nude Studio, Kissing Dynamite, and Alluvium.  You can find her on Twitter at @YiminNicole. 


Maryann Hurtt’s midlife crisis was playing hockey with Sheboygan's Lady Lakers. But maybe more than anything she savors the memory of skating with her father on a canal next to the Potomac River. Her new book, Once Upon a Tar Creek: Mining for Voices came out 2021.

Donna Pucciani has a Ph.D. in Humanities from NYU and taught at the high school and college level for several decades. She is the author of six books and three chapbooks of poetry. Now retired from teaching, she lives in Wheaton and continues to write.

Ron Pullins is a fiction writer, playwright, and poet working in Tucson AZ. His works in fiction, poetry and drama have been published in numerous journals including Typishly, Southwest Review, Shenandoah, etc. A list can be found at

Kelly Boyer Sagert is a freelance writer and poet living in Lorain, Ohio. She is the scriptwriter for the Emmy-nominated/award-winning documentary, “Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story.”

Christy Schwan is a former hippie chick turned business owner capitalist. Now retired, she is pursuing an "encore" career as an author/poet. A native Hoosier, rock hound, wild berry picker, wildflower seeker, astronomy studier, and quiet sports lover of kayaking, canoeing, snowshoeing and loon spotting. Her work has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ariel Anthology, 8142 Review, and 2022 Wisconsin Poet's Calendar

Peggy Trojan, age eighty-nine, published her first poem when she was seventy-seven. Her latest release, River, won second in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook contest in 2021. It also won an award of Outstanding Achievement from the Wisconsin Library Association. Sheis the author of two full collections and five chapbooks. Her books areavailable on Amazon. 

Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Gyroscope Review, Panoply, Synkroniciti and a number of other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Competition and was published by Tebor Bach in 2021.



Check back on February 1 for the next Poetry Challenge.



© Wilda Morris





Saturday, January 1, 2022

January 2022 Poetry Challenge - Poems on Aging

At Eternity's Gate, 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh

At Eternity's Gate, 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh

Courtesy of


The old year is often symbolized by an old man (or should I be political correct and say a “senior citizen” or “a mam of a certain age”??). The new year is symbolized by a baby. On the other hand, January was named for Janus, a Roman god with two faces, one looking back and one looking ahead. So maybe it isn’t inappropriate to start out the new year reading and writing poems about aging.

Vincent Van Gogh painted an older man with his head in his hands (see above). You might consider this painting depressing, suggesting that the man is distraught, perhaps alone and lonely. However, Van Gogh wrote that his intention was “to express the special mood of Christmas and New Year. ... Leaving aside whether or not one agrees with the form, it's something one respects if it's sincere, and for my part I can fully share in it and even feel a need for it, at least in the sense that, just as much as an old man of that kind, I have a feeling of belief in something on high even if I don't know exactly who or what will be there.”

There is a fire in the hearth. The man appears to have warm clothing and a good pair of shoes. If we look at the painting after reading the artist’s statement, we might reimagine what he is thinking and experiencing.

Aging has been a popular subject for poets for a long time. Especially, I suspect, for aging poets. And aren’t we all again? From the time we are born we begin getting older. Here is a collection of poems in a variety of moods and styles, from a variety of times and places. Which ones speak most to you—a more serious poem or a humorous one?



Seeing Clearly

Now when we kiss
our eyeglasses click.
This is a function of age.
I have become even more nearsighted,
you, farsighted.

You hold me at arm’s length,
peering across the silent fires.
I pull you closer, squint into your body
like a spent match.

And now when we touch,
more flesh is felt
as gravity and weight
pull us towards the earth
from which we were made.

The slow, deep lovemaking
finds the point at which we focus,
the middle ground where your sight
touches my own myopic vision,
the moment evening becomes night,
where we find the moon’s perspective.

Now when we kiss
our eyeglasses catch,
the sad plastic of old passion
ticking, clicking.

~ Donna Pucciani

The poem first appeared in Clark Street Review, then in Donna Pucciani, Hanging Like Hope on the Equinox (Chicago: Virtual Artists Collective, 2013).


Suddenly I’m Old

Once upon a time
I climbed extension ladders
to clean the gutters,
lugged miles of laundry
up and down the basement stairs
to dry in the sun.
My mind’s a zipper
gliding up and down the years
better than ever.
But I look at steps
and my feet don’t have a clue
what to even do.
All those years and years
taking ankles for granted –
suddenly I’m old.

~ Cindy Guentherman


In Days to Come.
  (To J. W. R.) 

In days to come, when you and I
Wax faint and frail, and heartfires die,
   And tinkling rhymes no more obey
   The wooding lips of yesterday,
How slowly will the hours go by.

When we have drained our song-cups dry,
My comrade, shall we sit and sigh,
   Childlike, o’er joys too sweet to stay,
            In days to come!

Nay, nay! we’ll give old time the lie,
And, thatched with three score years, we’ll try
   A rondeau or a roundelay,
   As long as any lute-string may,
To our light touches, make reply—
            In days to come.

~ James Newton Matthews

From James Newton Matthews, Tempe Vale and Other Poems (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1883), page 190.


Beautiful Old Age

It ought to be lovely to be old
to be full of the peace that comes of experience
and wrinkled ripe fulfilment.

The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life
lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies
they would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins
in their old age.

Soothing, old people should be, like apples
when one is tired of love.
Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft
stillness and satisfaction of autumn.

And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! -

And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it's been a life!

~ D. H. Lawrence

This poem is in the public domain.

And a different take from Nicole Callräm:

a gray hair-

I’m having a hard time with this aging thing
it’s not feminist or woke
I know
but I feel like I am disappearing…

I found a gray hair on my head and now
I’m feeling jealous of men
stupid silver foxes
steeped in that age = increasing power thing
aged scotches of the world
vintage Rolexes and shit

I’m all in on this jealousy
giving that easy confidence some serious side-eye
in fact
I’ve started fantasizing about being a man
--for a day, maybe two

I want to be a big boy…nice and tall
not because I want to have a man’s body
oh no
I already know how that hardware works 
I just want to feel it…
the experience, I mean
I want the bromance
I want to interact with women
walk into any space
hold court like the sultan I am
another man in a man’s world

(this daydream also has ulterior motives)
I want to see how you react to me in this man body
will your eyes feel the same on my skin?
will I make you feel small
or will you still vibrate through my entire universe?
when I talk to you
will your breath still catch in your throat?
will you look down, tugging at the hem of your sleeve
a half smile on those lips
in that heart-stopping shy way that murders me?
I am dying to know.
you see, I haven’t told you about this gray hair yet,
I’d like to see first how you react to it when I’m a man

my woman’s ego is still reeling from the discovery.

~ Nicole Callräm

This poem was published in Rat’s Ass Review (Winter 2021) and can be found at


And finally, a parody:

We Real Old (after Gwendolyn Brooks)
            The Breakfast Eaters:
                        Seven and the Golden Waffle

We real old. We
Catch cold. We

Take pills. We
Change wills. We

Can’t hear. We
Crave beer. We

Eat prune. We
Die soon.

~ Marilyn L Taylor

 From Marilyn L. Taylor, Step on a Crack (Kelsay Books, 2016).

Some Poems on Aging You Can Find On-Line

“The Golden Years” by Lori Levy who would “rather talk about pumpkin spiced latte / than aging” can be found at

Find “Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five” by David Budbill at


The January Challenge:

The challenge for this month is a poem about aging. Your poem may be serious or humorous. Use your imagination! Note that the blog format does not accommodate shaped poems or 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 all of the last three months.

6-The deadline is January 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, 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 “January 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.



Nicole Callräm is a nomadic bureaucrat and disciple of existence in all her life-affirming and confusing manifestations.  She adores rideshare bikes, red wine, and Osmanthus flowers (preferably a mix of the three...all at once).  Nicole has been published in A Shanghai Poetry Zine, Nude Studio, Kissing Dynamite, and Alluvium.  You can find her on Twitter at @YiminNicole.   

Cindy Guentherman has been writing poetry since she was in kindergarten. She has two books of poetry and is on the board of the Rockford Writers' Guild.

D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence (1885-1930) is one of the most influential writers of the 1900s, known for his poetry, novels, short stories, nonfiction, travel writing, and his letters. He also wrote plays and literary criticism. He was born in England but lived much of his adult life abroad. Some of his writings (and paintings) were considered pornographic when they were published, but are more acceptable now.

James Newton Matthews (1852-1910) 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.

Marilyn L. Taylor, who taught poetry for the English Department and the Honors College of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for many years, served as the Poet Laureate of Milwaukee (2004-2005) and as Poet Laureate of the state of Wisconsin (2009-2010). She is a popular workshop leader and author of a number of books of poetry. Learn more about her at

Donna Pucciani has a Ph.D. in Humanities from NYU and taught at the high school and college level for several decades. She is the author of six books and three chapbooks of poetry. Now retired from teaching, she lives in Wheaton and continues to write.



© Wilda Morris