Saturday, July 29, 2023

July 2023 Winning Poems: Family


The matriarch and patriarch of my family: Myron David Webber and Dorinda Strange Webber

Mary Beth Bretzlauf, President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, judged the July Poetry Challenge. She selected the following poem as the first-place winner, saying, “I loved the theme of crafting with their hands - the weaving of memories and a legacy of connections. Stepping up to do what mothers do - keep the connections alive.”


A Matriarch’s Shawl

What holds a family together after
the mother, the matriarch
grabs heaven’s golden thread?

Who will weave the lacy shawl
of memory, of legacy
large enough to connect all?

Where do you turn
as the bobbin unspools
seams come undone?

How do you care for each other
without a mother
to knit all together?

Why fuss and fret?
Why linger as it unravels?
Why does it matter?

When do you know
whether to patch
or toss the remnants? 

You pick up the needles
follow her lifelong pattern
one stitch at a time.

~ Christy Schwan


Bretzlauf said “the poetry of family [is] well illustrated” in the prose poem, to which she awarded second-place:

Genealogy of a Poet

My mother sang sweet lullabies to me as she cradled me on her lap in a mahogany rocker. Later, I’d watch her orchestrate a meal. And she wrote poetry with the pictures she drew in her cookbook.

Father’s poetry were equations, a lonely beauty of the universe reaching deep into the recesses of mind touching the physicist-to-be in me. He taught me stern compassion, and the poetic license of a hug, a kiss on the cheek.

My younger sister is a fine cook, and a poem herself. The lines of her life breaking with as much joy as pain. I’d tease her unmercifully when she was eight, but always loved her. Now she’s layered like an exquisite poem with deep meaning & enigma.

My older sister was shear music, the story of her life still singing in my heart even though she’s been gone for years. Her voice over the phone, full of complex harmonies, and that Latina sparkle.

But my twin brothers, a Christmas wish when I was ten—whose sustained lyrics I can only imagine—strum the heavenlies with the God of all the children of miscarriage. I want to hear their song.

 ~John C. Mannone

Genealogy of a Poet” first appeared in Credo Espoir, Issue 7, 2021.

In an aside not sent to the Judge, Mannone shared the backstory for his poem. When he was ten years old, he told his mother that he wanted a brother for Christmas. Many years later, his mother told him that he had tried to make his wish come true, but had miscarried twin boys.  


The third-place poem is, as Bretzlauf says, another story of a mother gone and of the circling of family stepping up to never fully erase the void, but smudge the edges of it.”

November 5, 1915

Cooling herself after baking bread
on the wood stove late at night,
my grandmother was found
dead on the stoop.
Mother was nine.

Days before,
walking together on the short cut.
Grandmother stopped
to make a cairn of rocks.
“A memorial,” she said.

Children on the homestead
were expected to be strong,
to understand death
is a necessary part of living.

I asked Mother once
if she had been very sad,
lost and lonely.
She said, “No,”
she was cared for,
being the last of eight.
Life on the farm went on.

All her long life,
she felt for little beings,
helpless people, hurt animals.
And she collected rocks,
which, easily found, last forever.

 ~ Peggy Trojan

From All That Matters 2018


Each poet retains copyright on his or her own poem.


Honorable Mentions:

Bretzlauf selected three poems for honorable mentions. Here is a list, along with Bretzlauf’s comments on the poems:

*Sudden Turn by Michael Staeger – “a sad story of a child's death - the pantoum form was perfect for this story.”

*Life Lessons by Seth Brown – “a great story of family and gullibility.”

*Pieced Quilts by Mary Marie Dixon – “like poems, quilts tell the story of those who came before us and shared their love through the ages in fabrics sewn together.”



Mary Beth Bretzlauf is a poet and fiction writer who lives in northeaster Illinois. She has just been elected president of the Illinois State Poetry Society. She serves on the board of the East On Central Association, and is an active member of Poets & Patrons, Zion Writers’ Guild, Writers in Progress, and Highland Park Poetry’s Live Events Team.

Seth Brown is a poet and humor writer and sushi enjoyer. His poetry has appeared in publications such as Apt, Light, The Washington Post, and most frequently in his humor column in the Berkshire Eagle. He writes a free wordplay-filled semi-monthly newsletter at

Mary Marie Dixon, a visual artist and poet, whose focus on women’s and mystic spirituality centered in Great Plains’ nature, has published in various venues and exhibited in galleries. She explores the creative intersection of the visual and poetic. She loves stars, sunrises, and sunsets on the open plains!

John C. Mannone has poems in Anthology of Appalachian Writers: Barbara Kingsolver, Vol. XV; Red Branch Review; Windhover; North Dakota Quarterly; Poetry South; Baltimore Review; and others. He won the Impressions of Appalachia Creative Arts Contest in poetry (2020), the Carol Oen Memorial Fiction Prize (2020), and the Joy Margrave Award (2015, 2017) for creative nonfiction. He was awarded a Jean Ritchie Fellowship (2017) in Appalachian literature and served as the celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). His full-length collections are Disabled Monsters (Linnet’s Wings Press, 2015), Flux Lines: The Intersection of Science, Love, and Poetry (Linnet’s Wings Press, 2022), Sacred Flute (Iris Press, 2023), and Song of the Mountains (Middle Creek Publishing, 2023). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex and other journals. He’s an Assistant Professor of Physics and Chemistry (and an invited Professor of Creative Writing: Poetry) at Alice Lloyd College.

Christy Schwan is a native Hoosier author/poet living in Wisconsin. She's a 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, Museletter, Ariel Anthology, 8142 Review, 2022 and 2023 Wisconsin Poet's Calendars, and Bramble Lit Mag.

Michael Staeger was first exposed to writing poetry through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee outreach, Summer of the Writer Program poetry workshop taught by Marilyn Taylor. He lives in Waterford, Wisconsin with his wife Karen and is a member of the Author’s Echo Writer’s group that meets in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Peggy Trojan's new release, a collection about her father, titled PA, won second in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook contest in 2022. It won Honorable Mention for the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for 2022.  Her previous 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. She is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks. Her books are available on Amazon. 



© Wilda Morris




Saturday, July 1, 2023

July 2023 Challenge: Poems about Family

Webber Family Reunion
I'm the girl on the right in the front row.

There are many ways to write about family, in part because there are many kinds of family. We speak of the nuclear family, which consists of mother, father and children. Or a couple with no children, who are no less a family. But many households vary from this pattern: single parents (mothers or fathers) raising children, grandparents or aunts and uncles raising children. Adult siblings living together. Multiple-generation families, such as the one in which I grew up. Some families include adopted or foster children. And then there is the extended family—likely to gather for holidays, 50th anniversary parties or funerals.

In some cultures, household families typically include two or three generations; in others, once children are grown, they usually move out to share an apartment with friends (a new sort of family), or to partner up and start a new family they expect to be permanent. Some people find a sense of family through their church, synagogue, mosque or temple; some find it in a motorcycle club, chess club, book club, or other grouping.

Two of my favorite poems in Mary Beth Bretzlauf ’s new book, The Path That Beckons, are about family. I especially like “Kitchen Table Diplomacy” because I come from a very diverse extended family. On my mother’s side of the family there were 26 cousins, among them people who could be described as fundamentalist Christian, mainline Christian, agnostic, and atheist. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. A Mexican bride. Among the cohort of 26 cousins and their spouses (including me and my four siblings) are some who never went to college and others with PhDs. In time that diversity was expanded by interracial and intercultural marriages to include Jewish, Muslim, and Mormon. Our extended family includes those who admire and support Donald Trump and others who firmly believe his election to be the worst thing that has happened to the U.S. since the Civil War. No matter how different we are, we are family. I have had to learn to agree to disagree and try to do it in an agreeable fashion. Mary Beth’s family evidently has some diversity, too, at least regarding views of the world.


Kitchen Table Diplomacy

in a country where the colors never run, nor bleed,
where the world knows not to tread
in a state that is blue on top, and red on the bottom,
in an overtaxed town there is a house battle-scarred
by years of infighting on the important things
over the red and the blue, over questions of who is more patriotic,
there is a kitchen table set for middle class holiday glamour
of gold tapers never lit, set in a silk holly centerpiece
there are tough negotiations going on
the room is heated from the oven and the conversation
I can’t believe you’re going to serve brussels sprouts
I huff—some people like them
through tempered moments, from the living room comes a shout—
the call on the last play has rallied the troops—the underdog’s side
now the real call they await is finally heard, come and get it
ten of us round the table made to seat room for eight,
brimming with food, d├ętente is called
for all hands helped to put food on the table
all worked to find common ground and found it in this kitchen

~ Mary Beth Bretzlauf

Mary Beth’s family includes an “adopted son,” not legally adopted, but brought into the family circle by love and care. He was a friend of their son, a young man “adrift,” who needed a second set of parents.


Kite of Dreams

we had already raised our son
settled into our empty nest
to spread our wings again when
a young man arrived on a strong breeze

he came to us adrift
untethered like his kite of dreams
the wind helped his wander
searching for a purpose

we did what second parents do—
over beers we listened
to his sadness and self-pity
we urged him to take hold of his kite

his wistful dreams needed light,
to dust off the layer of gloom,
we taught him how to do a thing or two
handed him a compass and
turned him in the right direction

tying his brightened kite to his finger
he waved goodbye
even his shadow now had a bounce
as his dreams took the lead

~ Mary Beth Bretzlauf

Both of the poems above are from Mary Beth Bretzlauf’s book, The Path That Beckons: Poems About the Journey (Independently published, 2023).


My new book of poems, At Goat Hollow and Other Poems is all about family. For the author photo on the back cover, I used a picture of myself taken when I was a little girl, because the poems are mostly from my childhood, reflecting on the relationships my Uncle Norman and Aunt Irene had with their nephews and nieces. Uncle Norman was the only one of my grandparents’ nine children who had no children of his own. He was also unique in a variety of other ways. The original title of the book was The Unapproved Uncle; I still wonder if I should have stuck with that title, despite recommendations from some other poets that I change it.

The following poem, though, could not have been written when I was a young girl—it reflects what I learned much later:


What I Know Now that I Didn’t Know Before

Your father said university
was not an option.
Too expensive and besides
you were needed at home.
Sons, especially the eldest,
should help support the family.
Those siblings kept coming
every couple years
until you were the oldest of nine.
That’s the way things were done
in small town America,
early 1900s. Midwest.
You were stuck working
with your father who plastered
to supplement the meager income
of a rural pastor.
Your younger brothers found the key
to unlock college:
a call to ministry, the only reason
your father could not refuse.

~ Wilda Morris


Another poem that I wrote as an adult is based on both information and imagination as I thought about the family in which Uncle Norman grew up.

Norman on the Role of the Eldest Child

One by one my siblings come
and as the oldest son,
I’m told to help: please feed
your little sis. And now I need
a diaper and a dampened rag,
don’t let them drag
across the floor.
          And one thing more . . .

Go plant these seeds,
water them and pull the weeds.
There’s trash to burn,
and milk to churn.
Now quit your playing,
it’s time for praying.
Now let’s sing.
          And one more thing . . .

One by one my siblings come
and as the oldest son,
I’m told to help: you must do
whatever Mother tells you to.
Feed the chicks. There are eggs to gather.
Now, don’t tell me what you’d rather!
and don’t dare slam the door.
          Oh, yes, and one thing more . . .

~ Wilda Morris

Both of these poems are from my new book At Goat Hollow and Other Poems (Kelsay Books, 2023). The book can be purchased directly from Kelsay at or or from Amazon at


The July Challenge:

The challenge for this month is a poem about family. Your poem may be about a traditional family or a family you or someone has created. It may involve your own family or someone else’s. Your poem may be serious or humorous, either free verse or a form. It might be a persona poem. Be creative! Note that the blog format does not accommodate shaped poems or long lines; if a poem with long lines is used, the lines 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. Note, too, that poems over 25 lines are at a disadvantage.

Poems could be disqualified if the guidelines are not followed. Submit your poem by July 15. It makes my life much more difficult if poets do not follow guidelines carefully.

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


3-Whether you put your poem in the body of your email or in an attachment or both, please put your submission in this order (on in one place):

Your poem

Your name

Publication data if your poem was previously published

A brief third-person bio

Your email addressit saves me a lot of work if you put your email address at the end of your submission.

4-Please keep the poem on the left margin (standard 1” margin). Do not put any part of your submission on a colored background. No colored type. 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.

6-The deadline is midnight, Central Time Zone, July 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards. Winners are published on this blog.

7-Please don’t stray too from “family-friendly” language (some children and teens read this blog).

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

9-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.

10-Decision of the judge or judges is final.

11-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.

12-Send one poem only.

How to Submit Your Poem:

1-Send your poem 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 “July Poetry Challenge Submission” FOLLOWED BY YOUR NAME in the subject line of your email. 

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).  Put everything in the order listed above, either in the body of the email or in an attachment or both.

6-Also, please do not use multiple spaces instead of punctuation 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 preferred.



Mary Beth Bretzlauf is a poet and fiction writer who lives in northeaster Illinois. She has just been elected president of the Illinois State Poetry Society. She serves on the board of the East On Central Association, and is an active member of Poets & Patrons, Zion Writers’ Guild, Writers in Progress, and Highland Park Poetry’s Live Events Team.

Wilda Morris is a past president of both the Illinois State Poetry Society and Poets and Patrons (for which she is still the workshop chairperson). She has published three full-length books of poetry: Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant (RWG Press, 2008), Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2019), and At Goat Island and Other Poems (Kelsay Books, 2023). She has been published widely, and has won awards for free verse, formal verse, and haiku.


©Wilda Morris