Friday, May 26, 2023

The Circus, Carnival, or Fair: Winning Poems for May 2023

Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando by Edward Degas

                                                                    National Gallery, London

Circuses, fairs, and carnivals provide a lot of stimulation—and good prompts for poems. It seems, though, that the trapeze artists are especially interesting to poets. At least to the poets who entered the May Poetry Challenge. Like other aspects of a circus, amusement park, carnival, or fair, the trapeze is useful as a metaphor as well as for poems actually about the trapeze act or artists.


The first of the winning poems this month focuses on the trapeze artists themselves:

Last Act

She swings back and forth
on the high trapeze waiting
for the sign her partner
is in time with her rhythmic
movement before she lets go
to fly with trust that his hands
will be waiting to catch her
as they've always done before.

The crowd below sits in quiet tension.
Trying not to visualize the potential
horror of a missed grasp and helpless
look on the performers’ faces as she
drops to the center ring far below.

She swings distracted by thoughts
and doubts: his recent coolness
and distant looks at a young girl
in the crowd before their ascent;
his questionable late night excursions;
and a realization she recognized the girl
as one who ducked out of sight as he came
toward the performance ring, head down.

His face is confused as he motions
her to let go but she pumps harder to
break their rhythm, instead swinging
back up to her starting platform,
her trust gone. The act done.

 She descends the tall ladder back
to the ground amid crowd noises
of disappointment and wonder.  She brushes
past the young girl without looking
and says "He's yours...for now,
but be ready to fall."

~ W.E. Hudson


This is a fine narrative poem.


The ambiance of the next poem is quite different:

Trapeze Act

Walking on a tightrope
above the laughing circus stars,
you balance your burdens
like a ball on a clown’s nose,
changing acts like clothes,
and with your head tilted, all eyes
on your outstretched arms,
you step, one inch at a time,
knowing that if you fall,
there won’t be an angel
to save you.

You are a Hungarian trapeze artist, 
on stage like a flying Wallenda,
every move a measure to perfection,
every misstep a reminder of who you once were.
You teeter on a wire of success,
balancing each pyramid of precision.

Which way should you go?
Don’t look down, or the distance will fool you.
Don’t look up, or the heavens will delude you.
The room grows as you speed up your gait,
with rouged cheeks and magenta lips,
dyed red hair and glittery leotard,
you pause just enough to wink
at the emcee, whose dark presence below
reminds you of all you have accomplished,
and all you stand to lose.

~ Caroline Johnson

I read this poem as a metaphor for life. Of how we all “change acts” and “teeter on a wire of success,” with all sorts of possibilities of missteps. If we don’t take risks, we won’t accomplish much, yet, we have much to lose.


The trapeze plays a lesser role in this poem:


The Greatest Show on Earth


I’ve done my share of juggling, performing magic, 

speaking in such a way that the voice 

coming out of my mouth seemed to come from a source 

other than myself — more like my mother!  

I’ve acted like a clown,

have tried to balance like the trapeze artist on a highwire, 

but at this stage of my life I am more like the tent.

I’ve had a lifetime of being set up, taken down.

I’ve unlearned the ways of relentless performances,

have opened the flaps of myself to what is important. 

Boys, girls, children of my children of all ages,

come sit with me in the center of this spacious tent.

Come hear the music, laugh, be thrilled, marvel.

The greatest show on earth is being a grandparent. 

~ Angela Hoffman

As a grandmother, I could not resist the surprise ending of this poem! I, too have “done my share of juggling,” and sometimes—especially when reprimanding my children—came out like the voice of my mother. And I want my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to “come sit with me in the center of this spacious tent.” Spacious? Yes, with room for more!


As is already clear from “The Last Act,” not all the poems were cheerful. This last poem, which gives us hints of what fairs and other such events are like in the United Kingdom (in contrast to the above poems written by North Americans), shows how they can be used as sources of negative metaphors.

At the Fun Fair

Dad shot the ducks
like my dreams. Left me
to retrieve their limp,
lifeless bodies. No prizes.
The haunted house
didn't scare me since
living with him acclimatised
me to ghosts and vampires.
Fluffy cotton-candy clouds
never drowned out the day.
I rode the merry-go-round,
wished my steed would ride me
away. It never happened,
so I slid down the helter-skelter
into adulthood, never anticipating
everything crashing into me
like dodgem cars.

~ Christian Ward

As I read Ward’s poem, I felt empathy for all children whose parents shoot down their dreams and haunt their lives instead of enhancing them. I don’t assume this is true of Ward—it could be a personal poem—but he has used the language of the “fun fair” to effectively express the plight of many young people.


I hope you have enjoyed these poems, and that you will be watching for the June Poetry Challenge. Congratulations to these four winners.

Each poet retains copyright to his or her own poem.



Angela Hoffman’s poetry collections include Resurrection Lily and Olly Olly Oxen Free (Kelsay Books). She placed third in the WFOP Kay Saunders Memorial Emerging Poet in 2022. Her work is widely published. She has written a poem a day since the start of the pandemic. Angela lives in rural Wisconsin. 

Bill Hudson lives in the Quad Cities, is a member of the Quint Cities Poetry Club, and has regularly had poems published in the Lyrical Iowa, The Rockford Review, and other places.

Caroline Johnson has two illustrated poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork, and more than 400 poems in print.  Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, she won 1st place in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row 2012 Poetry Contest, and her poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. Her full-length collection, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018) was inspired by years of family caregiving. She is part of the P2 Collective, a Chicago-area group of poets and photographers who present at area galleries, and online. Visit her at 

Christian Ward is a UK-based writer who has recently appeared in The Hemlock, South Florida Poetry Journal, The Dewdrop, Dodging the Rain, The Seventh Quarry, Bluepepper, Tipton Poetry Journal, The Amazine and Indian Periodical. His first poetry collection, Intermission, is out now on Amazon. He was recently commended in the 2023 Poets & Players competition.



© Wilda Morris

Monday, May 1, 2023

May 2023 Challenge: The Circus, Carnival, or Fair


At the Circus: Work in the Ring by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1899
In the public domain. From the Art Institute of Chicago

It is May—the month when families start planning for the summer. The children begin to dream of a trip to Grandmother’s, to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, Disneyland or Disney World. Or perhaps they are looking forward to the county or state fair, or expecting a carnival or circus to show up. Some children, especially in rural areas, are anticipating showing the animal they are raising, a cake they will bake, or various arts and crafts at the county and/or state fair. One of my best friends at Iowa City High School, was active in 4-H and won a blue ribbon for her angel food cake, made from scratch. In those days, City High sponsored a carnival (as a fund-raiser, I presume) each summer—an event we enjoyed each year.

Fairs, carnivals, and circuses date back a long time. Thanks to Jayne Jaudon Ferrer and her website, for publishing the following poem and thus bringing it to my attention.


The County Fair

Oh, let's go out to the county fair
And breathe the balmy country air,
And whittle a stick and look at the hosses,
Discuss the farmer's profit and losses.

We'll take a look at the country stock
And drink some milk from a dairy crock;
Look at the pigs and admire the chickens,
And try to forget it's hot as the dickens.

Forget there are any political rings
Just think of the butter and eggs and things;
So wash off the buggy and hitch up the mare,
And we'll all go out to the county fair.

~ Edwin Carty Ranck

This poem is in the public domain.


I loved hearing my dad tell me about attending a small traveling circus in his hometown, Solon, Iowa, when he was a little boy. Even in his later years, his eyes would light up as he remembered that day.  I put his story into a poem that was published by Cappers.

After the Circus
(For Dad)

See the little boy
hopping beside his mother,
chattering about the pony
that could add and count.
Chickens cackle and squawk
as he runs across the field
toward the outhouse,
shaking the stick
that holds his large red balloon.
He laughs out loud.
The circus will move on
to other small towns
but for eighty, ninety years
Orville Kessler will see
the circus train, tent,
caged animals, the pony
moving numbered blocks,
the red balloon on a stick,
cackling chickens
at the end of Third Street
in Solon, Iowa, and his mother
beside him, smiling.

~ Wilda Morris

“After the Circus,” Capper’s (August 1, 2005), p. 25.


The May Challenge:

The challenge for this month is a poem about a fair, circus, or carnival. Your poem may be literal (as are the two example poems) or metaphorical. They may be 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 May 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):

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, May 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 “May 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.



Wilda Morris grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, where she enjoyed the annual carnival sponsored by City High. She has wonderful memories of attending the All-Iowa Fair in 1956 with Donna, one of her best friends. It was an election year, and the two teenagers participated in the Popcorn Poll—Donna bought a box of popcorn with Dwight E. Eisenhower’s picture on it; Wilda’s box portrayed Adlai Stevenson. They did not let political differences divide them—and are still friends to this day. Her favorite ride is the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Edwin Carty Ranck (1879-1957) was born in Lexington, Kentucky. After completing his degree at Harvard University, he became a journalist and poet. Over the course of his career, he wrote for papers in Lexington, Covington, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Brooklyn (and perhaps other communities). He is considered important enough in the history of American journalism and letters that his papers are preserved at the Wade Hall Collection of Letters at the University of Kentucky.


©Wilda Morris