Shoot for the moon: a poetry challenge

On Sunday 20 July 1969 the very first humans stepped out onto the moon. To mark 50 years since the moon landings, we’re challenging young writers and spoken word artists to create poems about the moon and its place in world culture and history. Winning poets will be part of the Moon Festival: the largest event celebrating this mysterious rock in the sky.

photo of the moon

The challenge:
write a poem/poems inspired by the moon.
(You can follow our prompts below, or follow your own ideas!)

The nonsensical moon

Let’s start this poetry moon challenge by thinking about a well-known nursery rhyme:

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

What on earth does this mean?! Although there are lots of theories, many scholars think it’s supposed to be nonsense. Interestingly, many ‘nonsense poems’ also refer to the moon: for example, Edward Lear’s owl and pussycat danced by its light. Your first prompt? Write a nonsense poem using the moon. Nonsense poems can defy the laws of physics and sense. Check out this feature by Foyle Young Poet Tash Keary about nonsense verse for more ideas.

The mysterious moon

You could also write a poem that expresses the awe we feel about the moon. Before we landed on the moon, the moon was very mysterious. How did it stay in the sky? Why did it change shape monthly? What was it made of? (Wensleydale?)

Across the world and throughout human history, the moon has inspired a feeling of awe, mystery and magic. And isn’t it magic that you can be looking at the same moon as someone on the other side of the world? For inspiration, read Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’, a beautiful and gentle poem that ends,

‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

photo of jaffa cakes
Photo by vallgall via flickr.

The moon in different cultures

Your poem could respond to a piece of art, music or literature about the moon. Being a constant (but ever-changing) part of the world around us, the moon appears in absolutely every part of human culture – from English nursery rhymes to some of the most celebrated poems in Chinese literature; from Salvador Dalí and Van Gogh paintings to the DreamWorks logo and Jaffa Cake adverts. Get inspired!

You could write a poem about the moon’s place in your culture, or another culture. Why is the moon is so important to human culture? Think about its different meanings to different people. Read ‘Eclipse’ by Carole Bromley, who captures that momentary feeling of community as everyone watches the moon eclipse the sun.

Write about your culture’s admiration of the moon. All around the world, people have worshipped the moon. Many cultures have gods or goddesses of the moon: Chang’e in China, Selene in Greece and Sina in Polynesia to name just a few. Even today, many people in and from East Asia celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, a 3,000 year old relic of ancient people who worshipped the moon.

Write a poem about a myth associated with the moon. From werewolves to the Chinese mooncake, the ancient stories different people tell about the moon are endless.

photo of two round and decorated Chinese mooncakes

Describe how the moon looks to you, from your town. Have you ever noticed that the moon looks different depending on where you are in the world? This is a great opportunity to incorporate some of your local dialect or language. Read ‘City Moon’ by Francisco Aragón, which so perfectly conjures the moon over Madrid, naming landmarks in the city centre.

Perfect disc of moon, huge
and simmering
low on the capital’s filthy horizon— ¡Ay,
qué luna más hermosa! she says
pushing the stroller slowly down Atocha.

The phrases of the moon

You could explore words and phrases related to the moon in your poem. For example, think about the phrase ‘new moon’: why isn’t the opposite of a full moon an ‘empty moon’? What about the moon is ‘new’ when we can’t see it? Or is it us that’s changed? See how Allan Peterson thinks about this phrase in his poem ‘The Moon Missing’:

Still, the oldest trick is the moon missing,
then the “new” moon appears,
though we know it’s the old one, and we pretend
to be taken in like the mother or baby
behind the bath towel.

And check out this poem by Andrew Jordan, ‘The Phrases of the Moon’, going through each phase.

In addition to the scientific words to describe the moon, we use the image of the moon in lots of everyday phrases. You can be ‘over the moon’, ‘shoot for the moon’, go on a ‘honeymoon’, drink ‘moonshine’, ‘moon over someone’, do something ‘once in a blue moon’, or be as mysterious as the ‘dark side of the moon’. How can you make your reader think again about these phrases of the moon?

different photos of moons at different phases

The moon as a person

Write a poem about the man (or something else!) in the moon. Many people see a face in the shadows and highlights made by lakes, hills and caverns on the moon. But it’s like a Rorschach test – you can see anything you want in the blots on the moon. In East Asia, many people see a rabbit, for example: see just a few different interpretations here. What do you see when you look at the moon?

You can also personify the moon in your poem – it’s been watching over us for so many years; what would it say if it could speak? Read this poem in which Emily Dickinson recounts what happened when she met the moon, and more poems that personify the moon:

  • In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘To the Moon’, the speaker speaks directly to the moon, as if the moon were a (hu)man, or a god(ess).
  • In Frederico García Lorca’s poem ‘Ballad of the Moon Moon’ the moon is personified as a seductress: ‘Moon crosses the sky / with a boy by the hand’. (Contains strong language.)
  • What happens when you imagine yourself as the moon? Read Alice Oswald’s poem for ideas.

We’ve just included a few ways to respond to this challenge, but we welcome all kinds of poems and spoken word pieces about the moon. Get writing!

Prizes

Selected poets will be published on Young Poets Network and sent an exclusive Young Poets Network notebook as well as poetry goodies. The winning poets in this challenge will also be invited to perform at a special Poetry Society event at Moon Festival in Greenwich, London, on Friday 19 July 2019. We will cover travel expenses up to £50. The challenge will be judged by poet Nii Parkes.

moon festival logo

Moon Festival is a seven-night celebration of the Moon across time, cultures and subjects in coincidence with the 50th anniversary of the first Moon Landing. From astrophysics to mythology, politics to poetry, Moon Festival draws on humanity’s eternal curiosity for the Moon to bring Londoners together at night. Our events include a street party, talks about women and the Moon headlined by Margaret Atwood, an immersive club night, a museum takeover, Moon gardening workshops and much beyond. Tickets and more information here.

How to enter

This challenge is for writers aged up to 25 based anywhere in the world. The deadline is midnight, Sunday 16 June 2019 (a full moon). You can send a poem written down, or a recording as a video or as an audio file. You can send as many poems as you like. We welcome submissions in English and in British Sign Language (BSL), and as always we welcome spoken word responses.

If you are sending a written version of your poem, please type it into the body of your email. If you are sending a video or audio file, please attach it to the email (making sure it’s no bigger than 4MB or it won’t come through) or send us a link to where we can see/hear it.

Send your poems to educationadmin@poetrysociety.org.uk with your name, date of birth/age, gender, and the county (or, if you’re not from the UK, the country) you live in and the subject line ‘Moon challenge’. If you are aged 12 or younger on 16 June 2019, you will need to ask a parent/guardian to complete this permission form; otherwise, unfortunately we cannot consider your entry due to data protection laws.

We welcome entries from schools and youth groups. Use this entry form to enter students from your class.

If you would like us to add you to the Young Poets Network mailing list, include ‘add me to the mailing list’ in the subject line of the email. If you would like us to confirm that we’ve received your entry, include ‘confirm receipt’ in the subject line. You may refuse to provide information about yourself.

You might also want to enter this poem for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, with a chance to win some amazing prizes and further development opportunities. We can do that for you. If you are aged 11-17 on 31 July 2019 and would like us to automatically enter your poem into the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, please write in the subject line ‘Enter me into Foyle’ and provide us with your date of birth and postcode/zip code in the body of the email. Please note: published work is not eligible for entry into the Foyle Award, so winners and commended YPN challenge poems will not be entered into the Foyle Award.

By entering, you give permission for Young Poets Network, The Poetry Society to reproduce your poem in print and online in perpetuity, though copyright remains with you. Please do be sure to check through the general Terms and Conditions for YPN challenges as well.

If you require this information in an alternative format (such as Easy Read, Braille, Large Print or screenreader friendly formats), or need any assistance with your entry, please contact us at educationadmin@poetrysociety.org.uk.

Published May 2019

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