Dunes by the Sea, 1648
There were a number of excellent poems submitted for the February Poetry Challenge. A lot of people have good memories of time spent at the beach or have a yearning to find out what a day on the beach would be like. The judge, Linda Wallin, former president of Poets & Patrons of Chicago, selected Bonnie Proudfoot’s poem as the winner.
And here we are again, on this hot blanket
on this scorching sand, under this scorching sun,
while the surf rolls in, rolls in, in silken curls,
each swell rising, rising up the shoreline,
and we’ve set the large umbrella to shade
our mother’s small frame, her silken curls,
her brown arms as thin as driftwood.
She moves slowly now, as if she has
so much time, solar time, the span of the arc
of all these sunlit days, of all of us
in her orbit, drawn to her side. We watch
her eyes close, see that she is, for the moment,
at peace with all the many defeats.
She used to do it all, bike to the beach,
powerwalk the shoreline, swim laps,
everyone had to race to keep up.
These days she relies on our arms
or a cane, and I question the effort it takes
to get her to this blanket near the shore.
Still, we ease her into her chair,
tote the ice chest, food she can barely digest.
We are here, then, when the wind brings
the dank musk of seaweed, when other families pack up.
Their blankets drag trails on the sand, and their laughter
and calls fade into the flap and cry of the gulls.
Off shore, schools of spearing leap,
a sailboat bobs beside a buoy, dark surf
froths along a rocky jetty, but here she is,
under the fluttering umbrella,
the sun melting behind the dunes,
the crook of her fingers holding fast,
and why wouldn’t we stay until
all the shadows lengthen, why shouldn’t
this last day last long into the night?
~ Bonnie Proudfoot
Proudfoot’s poem has a lot of “s” sounds which seem to echo the sound of the water, and a lot of other alliteration—not enough to call attention to itself but enough to make the poem sing. It is a beach poem, a poem about aging, a poem about the family and the role of the mother, a poem about a strong woman nearing the end of her life. It is the poignancy of the poem that especially impressed Wallin as she judged the poems.
“Behind the Dunes” appeared Proudfoot’s chapbook of poems, Household Gods, published by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions in September 2022.
For second place, Wallin selected a poem reflecting on a particular day in 2020:
Ocean Beach San Francisco March 4, 2020
You begged and I
promised to leave you
along the landing strip of sand
where once the unwrinkled less reliable characters
in our prequel rolled brave and tender
words between the ocean breeze over slaps
of great waves breaking from the west.
You call this place the end
of land while in my ken here begins
ocean―point A on the whale road to Asia.
For hours we wove fancies between flotsam
and jetsam of a comfortable cottage among dens
of the wealthy. Still we paused to pity unlucky
jellyfish caught in wind and wave
who could control no more than we.
Or we would admire harbor seals bouncing across the littoral
into fish rich upswell moving kelp forests under seabird wheels.
The tide ebbs and the tide flows
whether or not we cuddle hands to watch it.
A lucky wind blew us our daughter and
cold waves tumored your essence
leaving us scattering your sand
to accompany that of the intertidal zone and mine to come
where one day we will loop when rip tide
or typhoon remnants
see fit to ouroboros us
together for an end and
~ Tyson West
West’s poem also takes us on a poignant journey, while pushing us to think philosophically. Is the shore (or beach) the end of the land or the beginning of the ocean, “point A on the whale road to Asia”? And what can any of us control, anyway? Wallin also liked how the poet included such a beautiful picture of the beach within what is really a love poem.
These poets retain copyright on their own poems.
Mentions selected by the judge:
“Beaches Are for Baby Feet” by Thomas Hemminger
“Kovalam Call and Response” by Lee Conger
“Chatterbox” by Joe Cottonwood
“Memories Made from the Impossible” by Angela Hoffman
and an untitled poem by Joan Leotta
Lee Conger is a community organizer, native habitat restorer, and amateur opera singer in Los Angeles, California. He makes money as a Narrative Therapist and teacher of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi. Lee boosts his own microbiome diversity with homemade lactofermented ketchup.
Joe Cottonwood has repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book of poetry is Random Saints.
Thomas Hemminger is an elementary music teacher living in Dallas, Texas with his wife and son. He writes many poems and songs for his classroom. His personal and professional hero is Mr. Fred Rogers, the creator and host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Being the son of an English Language Arts teacher, Thomas grew up surrounded by prose and poetry. Furthermore, his mother’s love of verse, and her own talented pen, impressed a deep love for the art within him. He recently started having poems published online through the Wilda Morris Poetry Challenge, and through texaspoetryassignment.org.
Angela Hoffman’s poetry collections include Resurrection Lily (Kelsay Books, 2022) and Olly Olly Oxen Free (forthcoming, Kelsay Books, 2023). She placed third in the WFOP Kay Saunders Memorial Emerging Poet in 2022. Her poems have been published internationally. She has written a poem a day since the start of the pandemic. Angela lives in rural Wisconsin.
Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. She performs tales of food, family, strong women. Internationally published, she’s a 2021 and 2022 Pushcart nominee, Best of the Net 2022 nominee, and 2022 runner-up in Robert Frost Competition. Her essays, poems, and fiction appear in Ekphrastic Review, The Lake, and more. Her new chapbook, Feathers on Stone is out from Main Street Rag.
Bonnie Proudfoot's debut chapbook of poems, Household Gods, was published by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions in September 2022. Her novel, Goshen Road (2020, OU Swallow Press) was Long-listed for the PEN/Hemingway, and awarded the 2022 WCONA Book of the Year. She's published fiction, essays, and poetry. Bonnie lives outside of Athens, Ohio.
Linda Wallin found out late in life that all of her degrees did not help one bit when it came to writing poetry. She continues to write down what bubbles up and is grateful for friends who encourage her. You can read some of her poems on http://www.dwna.net/, Wallin's Wave at http://wallinswave.blogspot.com/, and Living with Geniuses at https://lwallin.wordpress.com/.
Tyson West has published speculative fiction and poetry in free verse, form verse and haiku distilled from his mystical relationship with noxious weeds and magpies in Eastern Washington. He has no plans to quit his day job in real estate. He was the featured USA poet at Muse Pie Press from December 2019 through December 2022.
Tune in on March 1 for a new Poetry Challenge.
© Wilda Morris