|Photo by Wilda Morris|
Details often are important to poems. Color can be such a detail. A poet may mention flowers or butterflies, but those terms are vague unless we are told the kind of flower or butterfly, or at least their colors. The reader visualizes a situation differently if a person is described as wearing a red dress than if that person is wearing a white or black or yellow dress. Sometimes color is the element energizes a poem or holds it together. In some poems, though, color is more than just a detail. It plays a central role in the poem.
I’m not a Roman Catholic but attended a number of poetry retreats that were held at St. Joseph Retreat Center in Door County (now called St. Joseph Formation Center). I wrote this poem there in 2007:
Finding Color at St. Joseph’s
enter the spare brown room,
hang the grey towel and washcloth
I’ve been issued, ready
for a weekend retreat.
Unable to read the Greek lettering
on the icon, I don’t know if it’s Jesus
or some severe saint eyeing me
from his nail on the wall
over the desk. The crucifix
hanging at the foot of my bed
reminds me not to complain
at my meager sufferings.
pull back the dark bedspread,
exposing green sheets,
not hunter green nor any green
found in a pack of twenty-four
children’s crayons, but a sensuous,
almost obscene green, somewhere
between lime and chartreuse.
Perhaps—I think—just perhaps,
I could be a nun after all.
~ Wilda Morris
This isn’t my only poem where green is a central elem,ent but I like it because it brings back good memories. Also, those who know me get a good laugh at the last line.
“Finding Color at St. Joseph’s, 2007,” was published in Halfway to the North Pole: Door County in Poetry (Four Windows Press for The Door County Poets Collective, 2020).
Green also plays a big role in this poem which, incidentally, was written by a poet friend I first met at one of these retreats at St. Joseph’s.
mother painted the bathroom
the bitter green of winter woodlands
Clothed in avocado
she sat in her soft moss chair
knitting a succession of dresses
lime, holly, grass, jade, hunter
One Christmas she gave me
a forest-colored bedroom
with bleached, hard-angled furniture
and not one ruffle
After I left home
I twirled through life
in red and yellow crepe de Chine
high heels tapping
until I grew too old to dance
and knit myself
a sea-green dress
~ Judy Roy
“Once,” is published in Slightly Off Q by June Nirschl, Nancy Rafal and Judy Roy (Marsh River Editions, 2004). Used by permission.
Kathy Lohrum Cotton focused on multiple colors in the title poem of her book:
Deluxe Box of Crayons
Beneath this pale Caucasian skin,
the skin of my mother’s mother and father’s father,
beneath this unremarkable brown hair
and behind these ordinary brown eyes
that are the eyes of all my family, even the dog,
beneath, behind, beyond this commonness,
I am the Deluxe Box of Crayons: one-hundred-twenty
unblended colors scribbling exotic names—
Cerulean, Burnt Sienna, Mahogany, Maize, a crowd of
immigrant pigments unwilling to melt in my melting pot.
This Deluxe Box holds Fuchsia to attract hummingbirds.
Quaker gray for silent sitting. Outrageous Orange for
stumbling over politics. In the company of Blue, I can
match that patch of sky, her silk shirt, his denim jeans.
See me fiery Red as habanero, White as arctic ice.
Some believe I should defect from every hue but one,
become a solitary color’s citizen, wear a single country’s seal.
But I am the Deluxe Box, dressing my heart in tie-dye,
rainbows, confetti; waving on the hill of each moment
its hand-made, one-of-a-kind flag. I am the Deluxe Box
whose skin is red and yellow, black and white,
male and female, flower and beast, bright light and midnight.
Come close, look inside. Watch me search
my chameleon stash for a deluxe handful of myself
perfectly matched to you.
~ Kathy Lohrum Cotton
From Deluxe Box of Crayons (Chaplain Publishing, 2012). Used by permission.
Some Color Poems Online:
*There are links to six “color poems” in the poem prompt by Maggie Queeney at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/157319/the-color-of-poetry.
*“Color” by Christina Rosetti - https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43199/color-56d221e6ec8fc.
*Poem 1045 [“Nature rarer. . . .” by Emily Dickinson - https://internetpoem.com/emily-dickinson/nature-rarer-uses-ye-poem/.
The March Challenge:
The challenge for this month is a poem in which one or more colors play a very significant role. Not a poem that just mentions a color, such as a poem where a bluebird appears but is no more important than the trees or grass or squirrels or people in the poem. Not a poem where the color of someone’s clothing is mentioned to provide a clearer image, but in which that color does not have special significance. Your poem may be literal or metaphoric, serious, or humorous. 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 March 15.
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):
Publication data if your poem was previously published
A brief third-person bio
Your email address – it 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, March 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 “March 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.
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 serves as a board member of the Illinois State Poetry Society and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.
Wilda Morris learned to color—and to love poetry—in her childhood home in Iowa City Iowa. She is a former president of both the Illinois State Poetry Society and Poets & Patrons of Chicago, for which she still serves as workshop chairperson. Her third book of poems, At Goat Hollow and Other Poems will be published this spring.
Judy Roy is a retired French teacher now living in Appleton, Wisconsin. Her work has been included in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Free Verse, Hummingbird, Common Ground, Nature of the Door, and other places. She has read at the Wisconsin Book Festival and other venues. Roy is co-author of Slightly off Q and Two Off Q: a conversation in poetry conversation in poetry, both written while she lived in Door County and author of a solo collection, Now and Then.