Poetry Challenge ‘American Gothic’


‘It’s American Regionalist artist Grant Wood‘s birthday today and it’s being celebrated over on Echostains!  American Gothic is one of the most iconic painting in the USA.  Much has been written about this painting, but in some ways it remains an enigma.  To read about the artist Grant Wood please see my corresponding post on echostains

The American Gothic House – also known as the Dibble house

Wood  got the idea for the painting American Gothic from a cottage he saw which had been built in the Gothic revival style.  The cottage can be seen in the background with its gothic upper window.  Wood tried to imagine the sort of people who would live in such a house.  He decided upon this rather stern and prim looking couple (modelled upon his own sister and his dentist).  The man holds a pitchfork and stand besides his spinster sister – though some see these two as man and wife.  if you look closely, the pitchfork shape is echoed in the farmers overall, the shape of the window behind him and even the shape of the mans face..  The pitchfork represents hard work.  Nan (Wood’s sister) is the model for the farmers spinster sister.  She is dressed in a Colonial print apron which mimic 19th century Americana.  American Gothic has been parodied a great deal, but I thought it would be challenging (and fun) to write a poem about this picture.  The poem can be long, short, a Haiku or even a limerick.  How do you see this couple?  kind? threatening? secretive?  Make the poem as serious or humorous as you like.  You may use my American Button if you want to 🙂

Grant Wood

Usual rules apply;

The idea behind the challenges is to publicise Bookstains  –  as well as having creative fun, so it is imperative that the poet link to Bookstains to further the challenge so you MUST have a URL.. BUT, echostains is about communication – so this is a two-way street:

In return for your poem  (which is always accredited to you) your poem is copied to the challenges particular page which is open indefinitely and the poets own website mentioned with a link and the poem critiqued on not only Bookstains but also on the poets own blog or website.  I shall give your poem a Tweet on Twitter to further promote it. I also update my Echostains blog frequently, regardless on what  the post is about –  I mention  if there is a new poem in the challenge.

Please note – and I only mention because I have had some of these….. If you wouldn’t put the poem on your own blog, please don’t send it to mine and expect me to promote it.  This is a genuine challenge – so please play fair 😀

Images from here here and here

Here’s a humorous one from Pamanner’s Blog by WordyWoman! Her blog is  about poetry, relationships, life, nature, and whatever else procreates on her computer screen.  Worth checking out 🙂

forget Mary and

your four kids

keep staring at her

perky milk jugs I

swear I’ll find a

new use for that


©Pamela A. Rossow

Well I stared and I stared at this painting for inspiration, and I looked into the couples faces hoping that they would tell me their own story.  I had a bit of a job getting them to spill the beans but don’t let those closed faces fool you – there’s a lot going on behind those net curtains:-

On your way stranger!

There aint nothing for you here.

You’re only courting danger,

I’m king of this frontier!

You’re talking to the fork!

And it won’t hear no blaspheming!

You’d better start to walk

(My sister – stop that screaming!)


Compose yourself my dear!

We just don’t want no trouble.

Supplies will last all year

And we got more than double.

Remember when the law came by

Twas I that they did question.

Then you produced that hot meat pie

That gave em indigestion.

I aint seen no missing folk!

I told em loud and clear.

Yet still they all would prod and poke

Which filled me full of fear.


Stranger why you standing there?

Be gone into the rain.

And while you ride, just say a prayer

That you don’t  pass this way again.

©Lynda M Roberts 2011

This contribution is from Adam Dustus who has the most wonderful poetry blog, full of challenges and delights!  Well worth checking our here AND with the added bonus of actually hearing the poems read by the author!

Approximately 650 miles from Winesburg, Ohio
Much nearer sticks to hospitable care
When boring wood lampooned beliefs
You may feel free
Bury me there

Ulysses & Grant would go home again
Iowa forgiving prodigal pride
Blond Emily Dickinson stares into oblivion
Poseidon’s prop gripped by father time

Behind them lies someone’s home
Spring arresting American plum
Sprouting hawthorn of unmentionable kinds
Reckoning they did die here too

©Adam Dustus 2011

Our next unique poem is from  poet and writer Jenne Rodey Andrews who has several blogs here and they are all well worth checking out too especially if you love poetry!

You search those sere faces
for any quiet declaration
like laugh lines
of wincing,  spending
mutual hunger
Just as holding the porcelain tea cup
on your knee in its quivering saucer
at Aunt Bessie’s just so, Mother watching,
Uncle Roy slumbering in the family graveyard
under the Sandia mountains
You wondered
about the rosy Venus  she had surely been
having conceived strapping sons
now a yew-crooked hostess pouring oolong
in mute and tremulous decorum
So it is with American Gothic
Miles, or Jared.
He stands composed, in solemnity
as if he slept in his suit
and had never cracked a joke
in all his days
And she, Naomi,  or Mary+
had babies via
spontaneous combustion
A pop of the tractor’s exhaust pipe
and presto
an infant in a christening dress
in the drawing room hand-hewn oak cradle
and everyone singing, old pipe organ
belching resurrected dust
shall we gather at the river.
Now or later.
One day in the country
an old man I knew went running
down the road talking to his hands
shaking them
as if they were bound with cobwebs
At his back
his small, plain clapboard house
the lawn freshly barbered.
Then I saw the coroner’s van
pull in and I conjectured
that she who lived behind the curtains
unwrapping store-bought cinnamon rolls
every morning
Had settled into the good sleep
under the quilt she and other
girdled Lutheran women made one spring
in the hen-house coffee-scented
ambience of farm wives
But did those hands of the archetypal
rural patriarch
that grip the trident of his pitchfork
in that painting that scares us all
about the Puritan strain
we bear within us
Ever please her
ever tend, placate
or wipe away a tear of hers.
copyright Jenne’ R. Andrews 2011
What I love most about the challenges is how everyones who participates brings their own  special  and original style and interpretation to the poems.  This next one is by Olivia from
Olivia’s In-Mind  Whirls is called ‘Conflict’.  Please be sure to visit her blogs 🙂
Aspiring Big throughout our lives;
Then losing it all at once!
It may be an American Lifestyle
To Me, it’s a Gothic trance.
I am left with this pitch- fork-
To dig my own grave..
It may appeal to you as American,
But I live in a Gothic cave!
© Olivia 2011
Another wonderful poem has entered the challenge!  This one is from Kavita who has a great poetry blog full of humour and thoughtful posts.  Please look at How I write is mine…How you  read is yours
Square Feet of Roofing
He: Change is a good thing
when it is for the better
She: What use is this quiet
if it becomes another fetter
He: Our boring lives will now
take on a brand new color
She: If blue turns to grey,
things can only get duller

He: Wind plays many tricks
on creaky wooden stairways
She: There’s more than just wind
in the deceptive empty hallways

He: For my safety, I have
a pitchfork turned candle holder
She: But it’s always safe
to look behind your shoulder

He: It is now all ours;
this giant old house
She: But here’s known to live
the ghost of a vicious mouse


©Kavita 2011

46 thoughts on “Poetry Challenge ‘American Gothic’

  1. OH I so wish you had NOT identified the man and woman–the “sister”–the very word–well, hmm–and a “dentist”–oh my! Sexual frustration abounds! LOL. OOO the possibilities, Lynda.

    1. Great stuff Jessica! I thought those stern faces might frightening people 😀
      “Progress bypasses” – it seems to have bypassed these two! Good Haiku that sums that shut out feeling that the painting gives!
      Still working on mine (which is proving harder than I thought)
      Thanks for joining in with this challenge Jessica 🙂

  2. I am new to wordpress as of a couple days ago, if you can give me advice to make my blog better, let me know.

    1. Be original, post regularly and comment on blogs you like – hopefully they will answer back. Be patient, it takes time to get visitors. if you keep posting – they will come. Good Luck!

    1. Thats right Val, glad you joined in – it’s great fun isnt it 😀 Wilbur and Orson lol what great names! I LOVE the ending to this! Poor old Grant Wood – what a reward for all his hard work 😀 Great poem Val – Thanks!

    1. I’ll look foward to that Adam 🙂
      I seem to have started a murder theme off with my mention of that hot meat pie which gave those law officers such indigestion 😀

        1. Great poem Adam! I love the reference to Ulysses returning home too and the earth (land) 🙂 Poor Grant Wood – he doesn’t seem very popular with Americans does he 😀
          An interesting piece whose words seem to have hidden meanings 🙂 Thanks for joining in Adam – it’s always appreciated!

  3. This is most interesting, Lynda!! Can’t wait to write for this one…. will post one soooon, and link back too!!!

    Thanks for these superb challenges, my friend!!
    And for now, I am going to pretend I didn’t read the background you gave us on this picture, and write! teeheehee 😉

      1. American-Gothic inspired poem finally posted!! Yaaaayyy!!! I am soo glad I did this one!! Cuz it was real fun 🙂
        I have linked back to the challenge from my blog…
        And THIS is the link to my poem.. 🙂
        Thanks for these superb challenges, Lynda…

    1. Great stuff Jenne! Favorite lines include;-

      “And she, Naomi, or Mary+
      had babies via
      spontaneous combustion
      A pop of the tractor’s exhaust pipe
      and presto
      an infant in a christening dress…”

      I feel I’m really getting to see what Wood saw when he wrote this poem – the kind of people involved 😀 Thanks for joining in – it’s valued!

  4. Hello Lynda,

    Here’s what I did with this painting!
    Thank you for posting this challenge here. Discovered pretty late- but now that I have (through my beautiful friends), I’ll keep coming back for more.. 🙂

    Good that I didn’t read the background till now or else it would have lingered upon. I am barely able to stop myself from loving the house. I see a detailed image posted too. Wish I lived there- I would have handled the Gothic Oldie anyways.. 😀


    Warm wishes

    1. You’ve certainly given the painting a highly original take Olivia! No wonder those people look as they do 🙂 I love that house too – beautiful, you can see its their pride, but not much joy has been had trying to hang onto it 😦 I like the Gothic trance line – good touch Olivia! Thanks for joining in – much appreciated!

      1. Thank you so much Lynda!

        I am glad you liked it- I wanted to stick to the very painting instead of weaving a story around.

        It is completely my pleasure to link in- will always do.. 😀

        Thank you for posting me here!!! Much honored.. 🙂

        Warm wishes

    1. This is great Kavita! There’s so many great lines in this poem;-
      “He: Wind plays many tricks
      on creaky wooden stairways
      She: There’s more than just wind
      in the deceptive empty hallways”……I’ll never look at that couple the same way again 🙂
      Thanks for posting this – appreciated 🙂

    1. Hheh there is an old saying about not frowning and pulling faces because if the wind changes your face will stay like that! Looks like it wasn’t an old wives tale after all – judging by these two 😀 Thanks for joining in – appreciated 🙂

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