Sunday, April 30, 2023

April 2023 - National Poetry Month - Encouragers and Mentors

Saint Catherine of Siena by Lo Spagna (Giovanni di Pietro), c. 1512
Public domain; Art Institute of Chicago


Saint Catherine of Siena is a patron saint of nurses. I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I admire St. Catherine for her ministry to people who were sick, as well as those in poverty. I also admire nurses who offer loving care to their patients, often bringing some cheer into the room. Good nurses work hard and show a lot of love. The following poem honors a nurse who encouraged a young girl to write poetry. The following two poems honor poet mentors—both Wisconsin poets.


“Write Some Poetry”

Another hospital stay and more surgeries.
My parents visit me sometimes
But it is not enough.
I’d rather be at home.

Not here, with all of these
Doctors and nurses
And all of these other kids
Who must stay in the Burn Unit of the hospital.

But I need to be here.
My parents tell me that I need surgery.
My doctor tells me this
And so do the nurses.

One nurse is always so kind and smiling,
Always so happy to see me each time I’m here.
One day, she gives me a book of paper and says,
“Write some poetry.”

Does she see a poet within my young body?
I’m not even ten years old yet
But my favorite nurse encourages me to write poetry.

I have never written poetry before.
What is poetry? I take it upon myself to find out.
My soul screams “Challenge accepted!” and I begin to write.
I learn how to write poetry, and the pain and loneliness that I feel
Fade away into the words that I put onto the pages.

What a blessing poetry brings! What an escape from my misery!
I wrote poetry when I was sad, lonely, angry or scared.
I wrote poetry when I was happy, in love, grateful and strong.
Thank you, wonderful nurse, for coaxing poetry into my life.

~ Dawn Colclasure


Peggy Trojan, whose work has been published several times on The Poetry Challenge, wrote to honor her mentor.



Seventy-seven, I enrolled
in a poetry class for seniors.
Jan Chronister, the instructor, told me
I needed to send in my work.

One assignment, “A Day I Will Remember.”
I wrote about the end of World War II,
submitted “August 1945,”
became a published poet.


For the past thirteen years,
Jan has continued to teach me
as a friend and fellow poet.
We attend conferences together,

often present joint readings,
edit each other’s work,
applaud publications and awards. 


When she talks, I hear:
     Be honest and brave.
     Get to the point.
     Cut unnecessary words.
     Write what you know and feel.
     Don’t get cute. Keep it simple.
     Send it in. 


It’s working for me.
I think in poetry.

- Peggy Trojan


The following poem, honoring Ellen Kort, the first Poet Laureate of Wisconsin, brought back wonderful memories. Ellen was a fine poet and a very special human being. She was also one of my mentors.

Waiting for Poems

Ellen covers the table with an Indian blanket
and a few sacred items from home.
Believing there is a poet's voice in each of us,
she lights a candle, then smiles
with quiet expectation.

When we read our “spillings” out loud,
Ellen honors us with attentive listening.
Ah! she says, in appreciation
we are not sure we deserve,
then invites us, Read it again.

Ellen has faith — 
faith in the creative force within us
faith in the poems themselves.
They will wait for us, she says,
and when we are ready to claim them
they will emerge

~ Marjorie Pagel

This poem originally appeared in the 2019 Wisconsin Poet's Calendar, honoring Ellen Kort, Wisconsin's first Poet Laureate.


I also wrote a poem in honor of Ellen. It was published in Quill and Parchment in 2014. I attended her workshops at the Green Lake Writers Conference (which, alas, is no more) and several at The Clearing in Door County, Wisconsin (which still offers wonderful poetry workshops each year).


In Ellen’s Poetry Class
        for Ellen Kort

Ellen really believes
when she turns
holding the lit candle
we will receive light

Even if today
I doubt the power
of symbol
of ceremony

my pen
catches the spark

~ Wilda Morris


Hopefully you will find a way to honor those who have encouraged you to write and mentored you as a poet. Check back on May 1 to see what the next poetry challenge will be.

These poets retain copyright over their own poems.



Ever since Dawn Colclasure was told to "write some poetry" at a young age, she got started scribbling poems and hasn't looked back. Her first poem was published when she was 11 and her first poetry book was published as a college student. She has authored several poetry books and her poems have appeared in PANIC! Poetry & Arts, Happy Insomniac, EOTU E-Zine of Fiction, Art and Poetry, and The Front Porch Review, among others. Dawn also enjoys hiking, exploring, baking and creating art. She loves to read, which is helpful as a book reviewer, and her experiences as a Deaf burn survivor continues to inspire her work. Her website is at and she's on Twitter @dawncolclasure.

Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and a past President of both the Illinois State Poetry Society and Poets and Patrons, has published numerous in anthologies, webzines, and print publications. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku. Recently she has written more haiku, senryu and rengay. Wilda 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). Her third book, At Goat Hollow and other Poems, is scheduled for publication this spring.

Marjorie Pagel, a retired English teacher living in Franklin, Wisconsin, enjoys practicing the craft of writing poetry and short prose. She has two published collections: The Romance of Anna Smith and other stories and Where I'm From. Ellen Kort was one of her earliest mentors.

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. 







Saturday, April 29, 2023

April 2023 - Inspired by Other Poets


Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore by Xu Beihong
Public domain; from WikiArt

Some people are drawn into the poetry world primarily by the work of one particular poet, or a handful of poets. Bakul Banerjee writes about the influence of Rabidranath Tagore, whose poems her mother sang to her. Christian Ward was enchanted by the poems of Elizabeth Bishop, while MW Flannery found the work of Billy Collins irresistible. A couple of poets have given special inspiration to Angela Hoffman. Alex Andy Phuong was encouraged to submit poetry after hearing Emma Stone sing “Audition” in the movie, La La Land. Enjoy their stories.


Mother’s Favorite Poems

Should I be proud that I was born in free India, a year after India’s Independence Day? Probably not but I am proud of the sacrifices made by countless freedom fighters as they were put to death or in jail. My parents were young and proud too.  Indian freedom was the culmination of a long struggle against the British Raj. Although the final push was guided by the non-cooperation movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, much blood was also spilled. Yet, the ideologies of my parents were aligned with the non-violence principles of Gandhi.

Like many successful movements in the world, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and songwriter Rabindranath Tagore wrote many poems, often set them to songs in the Bengali language during the first half of the twentieth century. These songs became rallying cries for the protest marches of the freedom movement. They were on the lips of the masses. Even after seventy-five years of freedom, they are still recited or sung throughout the Bengali diaspora.

Instead of lullabies, my mother sang or hummed hundreds of Tagore’s inspirational songs. Like my father, I couldn’t carry a tune but learned the poems from my mother as if by osmosis. I still sing them in private during difficult times.

Two of Ma’s favorite songs were, “Jodi Tor Dak Sune Keu Na Ashe,” and “Bipade More Rakkha Karo E Naho Mor Prarthana.” The translation of the first paragraph of the first poem about individual determination goes as follows:

If they don’t answer thy call, just walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
Open thy mind and speak out alone.

The translation of the first paragraph of the second poem about courage in the face of danger goes as follows:
Save me from danger
That is not my prayer
Let me have the courage to face it
You need not soothe my sad heart
Bless me so that I win over sadness

Both songs were adopted by Mahatma Gandhi as unofficial hymns to freedom. Like my mother, singing these two songs gave me much-needed solace during difficult times. Whenever I hear the song, “We shall overcome,” I think of these poems and remember my mother.

~ Bakul Banerjee


Christian Ward addressed his poem to the poet he wanted to honor.

To Elizabeth Bishop

Dear Elizabeth, 

I wanted to tell you how much
I loved your Complete Poems.
Your poems are intimate dioramas
with the power to transform the reader
into animals and landscapes. Seriously.
One minute I'm reading "The Fish"
and the next I'm feeling the entire Pacific
rushing through me with more power
than a shoal of sardines. Fanboy
if I must, but your Brazil poems made me
a fly exploring every port, town
and rainforest. The isolated body
of Newfoundland, like a sole polar bear
on an ice floe, almost made me weep.
Tuned into your world, I understood
the frequency of loneliness - how you
were like the moose disappearing
into the background like a magician's trick.
More than that, I felt a sense of mutual understanding
with you, how hard it is
to love and be loved. What seems so easy,
is, at times, like writing a poem: frustrating
yet immensely rewarding. 

Thank you for showing me how to be human. 



Christian Ward

(A version of this was previously published in the anthology A Love Letter (Or Poem) To... by Sweetycat Press, 2021).


Like MW Flannery, I’m an admirer of Billy Collins and the way he turns the mundane into something poetic and meaninfu.

While Reading Billy Collins Poems

I stop to take a deep breathand wonder.
Can I ever do that?
Make the most mundane moment
sing with resonance.
Take the moment deeper
than its own shallow awareness.
Listening to a dog bark.
Contemplating a nursery rhyme.
Notes in a margin.
I fall backwards in slow motion
into a soft memory.
Meter and rhyme
when I was nine and subject
to a class assignment
that challenged my imagination.
Honestly, I don’t remember
what I wrote, only
that I never stopped.
Fifty years later, I am still writing.
Still searching for that resonance
in my own words.
That moment that will give a reader
a feeling like I’m feeling now.

~ MW Flannery


It is stretching the category for this post a bit to include Angela Hoffman’s poem: it wasn’t just the poets Rumi and Mary Oliver who inspired her writing. It was the pandemic and something some would consider mundane because they are so plentiful and recognizable: a robin. A robin and a silver globe. I think you will enjoy what she wrote:

Gazing Globe

That first spring that the pandemic was in full swing,
I spent mornings reflecting in my room with a view
of my front yard where a robin showed up and never left.

She would spend hours pecking at her image
in the silver gazing globe,
or perhaps she was thinking it was a mate
who would respond, make her happy.
She would take a break, dig among the mulch for worms.
It become disturbing; the globe covered in droppings,
reflecting the surrounding muck.
All the while I sipped solitude, read Rumi, Oliver,
placing their words on my tongue, swallowing the verse,
giving them time to digest, resonate, make sense.
It was that April that I wrote about this; my first poem, 

while at the same time, I was picking on what I saw
in myself and obsessing about if onlys
and thinking someone else could make me happy. 

The following year that robin returned,
took part in the very same ritual but departed sooner.
This third spring she remained for just a few days, leaving
her impressions behind in the mud.  

As the years rolled into two, then three,
I followed her lead.

I continued showing up each morning,
leaving my own markings of verse in my journal,
spending less time picking, more time flying. 

~ Angela Hoffman


Although Alex Andy Phuong credits his willingness to submit poets for publication—which always includes the risk of rejection—to the actress and singer Emma Stone’s rendition of “Audition,” credit needs to be given also to the poets who provided the words, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and to the composer, Justin Hurwitz.

Beyond Receiving an Easy A in English 101

From Phoenix, Arizona,
to becoming a modern Hollywood starlet,
While also being much more modern
than an O’Hara named Scarlett,
And as Emma Stone metaphorically threw a stone
Into the waters of cinema
To create a ripple effect
Unlike any other,
An Oscar-winning performance left a lasting impression
Upon an English Major who did much more than read
First Impressions,
And by falling under the spell
Of the ethereal La La Land,
Emma Stone’s performance full of elegance
Actually does inspire artists to dream
With hope and creativity
No matter how hard life might seem,
So dream the dream
That has never gone by
While doing much more
Than wonder why
How years flew by
Ever since acing English 101
While knowing that writing creatively
Really is a lot of fun!

~ Alex Andy Phuong


Poets retain copyright on their own work.



An award-winning poet and Pushcart Prize-nominated author and poet Bakul Banerjee, enjoys telling her experiential stories through poetry, essays, and short stories. She has two collections of previously published poems, titled Bathymetry: Poems (2017) and Synchronicity: Poems (2010). For the past twenty years, her poems, essays, and short stories appeared in literary magazines and anthologies throughout the U.S. and India. She also co-authored a medical novel. She has been featured at multiple readings and workshops.

MW Flannery lives a simple life with her husband and dogs on a small homestead in the Georgia foothills. She has been writing poetry for more than 50 years, honing her craft in relative isolation. Her work speaks from a lifelong observation of inner motivation and the emotional self, taking snapshot moments and expounding on their meaning and effect. She was recently selected for publication in October Hill Magazine.

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.  

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University—Los Angeles in 2015.  He was a former Statement Magazine editor who writes passionately and daily.  Emma Stone inspired Alex to submit writing actively to publications after hearing the Oscar-nominated song, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from the “Best Picture” nominee La La Land (2016).  He now writes hoping to inspire the ones who dare to pursue their dreams.

Christian Ward is a UK-based writer who has recently appeared in The Dewdrop, Dodging the Rain, Blue Unicorn, The Seventh Quarry, Bluepepper, Tipton Poetry Journal, The Amazine and Rye Whiskey Review