Mother's Day Inspires WNIJ Poetry Contest

Apr 3, 2017

Every Mother's Day, millions of Americans take Mom to brunch. Kids try to repay a year of home-cooked meals with breakfast in bed. And those remembering a departed mom place flowers at the cemetery or raise a glass to her portrait.

This year, WNIJ listeners can write a poem and maybe read it on the air. We launched our first-ever Mother's Day Poetry Contest this morning.

Our judge, Susan Porterfield, suspects early drafts will overflow with emotion -- positive or maybe even negative -- so she offers a caution. "The challenge is to strike a balance between the tendency to be over-emotional," she says. "Obviously you don't want to be under-emotional."

Porterfield is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Dirt, Root, Silk. She's also the poetry editor for the journal Fifth Wednesday. As a daughter, she's also keenly aware of the difficulty of distilling all those feelings about the person who carried you inside her for nine months, gave birth to you, fed you, clothed you, comforted you, drove you to countless music lessons and sporting events -- and who might still have reservations about the clothes you wear or the person you married.

And that tattoo.

"So you have to take something small and attach all the emotion you feel," Porterfield says. She explains how she would approach a Mother's Day poem.

"My mother was a ballerina when she was younger," she says. "I may write this poem some day, and it would be about her ballet shoes which were in the back of her closet. Once she got older and had four kids she no longer was a ballerina -- although she would use the kitchen counter as a bar and do ballet exercises."

Porterfield says a simple object, like a pair of shoes, can convey a great deal of emotion to a reader. To illustrate her point and set the tone for this contest, Porterfield brought a poem written by Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney. The late Irish poet wrote "Clearances" for his mother, Margaret. You can see Porterfield read Section 3 of this poem in the video link below.

Heaney's poem is a sonnet. You may choose a sonnet, limerick, haiku -- or use one of the dozens of other poetry forms. But if you're a beginning poet, Porterfield recommends you start with free verse.

"Just put down something that characterizes your relationship with your mother," she says.

Porterfield expects a range of poems about mothers, grandmothers, or motherhood. We ask that you limit your poem to about 20 lines. Porterfield will select up to five winners who will get to read their poems during WNIJ's broadcast of Morning Edition the week of May 8.

When you submit a poem, you'll be asked to fill out a registration form. You'll find the contest rules here. The deadline is April 24th.

We look forward to receiving your work. And best of luck!

Oh, and don't forget: Mother's Day is May 14.