The Commuter Challenge

3 July 2007

The July 2007 Challenge

by CC @ 09:12

Pick a painting, drawing, photo, poem, story, novel, song, film/video, or anything else that is in the public domain. If it is a poem, story, novel, or song, create one or more illustrations (or photo, or video) for it. If it is an image or film/video, write a poem, short story or song for which that image will be the illustration.

The Results

Brian Raiter

Original: untitled illustration by Sir John Tenniel, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1866)


The eager eye explores the world for faces,
And will until the day that it falls blind.
The people that one knows have left their traces:
Their lineaments leave footprints in the mind,
And are entrenched with every repetition,
Enough so that an aimless scene can find
A knot of neurons primed for recognition.
Some clouds amassed above the cityscape
Can form a temporary apparition,
Or sunlight spattered on a window drape:
A scattered half-pattern, shuffled by the breeze,
That briefly hits upon a certain shape.
It’s scarcely abnormal that one sometimes sees
The face of a former cat among the trees.

1 comment

  1. I thought this was a great Challenge idea. It’s very open-ended. So I was surprised that I was the only entrant. Maybe it was too open-ended? Regardless, I think this is one that we ought to return to someday.

    I was guided to this idea by the requirement that the source material be in the public domain. Of course that was put there just so we could include it on the website, but it put me in mind of Tenniel’s Alice illustrations, because I already had several of them sitting on my hard drive. I mentally reviewed them, trying to figure out how they could refer to something other than Wonderland, and the half-dissolved Cheshire cat being an illustration of an optical illusion occurred to me. Pareidolia also has the advantage of being rather topical these days, with the recent spate of people seeing holy figures in their food and whatnot.

    The sonnet uses a non-standard scheme. I’m a big fan of terza rima as a rhyme scheme (i.e. ABA BCB CDC DED etc.), but it seems to have enjoyed very little use outside of Dante, and I don’t know why. So this was my attempt to apply the form to the sonnet. My rhyme scheme is ABA BCB CDC DED EE. One of the reasons I like it is that at certain points it sounds like a typical stanza (e.g. at BCBC, or at ABCB), but then one of the rhymes appears again in the next line. One doesn’t really notice that it’s a terza rima form, just that it sounds very interlocked.

    I wrote the last line first, thinking of my illustration (and of iambic pentameter). I then wrote the second-to-last line by having it mirror the last line in stressed vowel sounds. That is, the stressed syllables of the last line has the vowel sounds -AY–OR-AH-UH-EE, with dashes marking unstressed syllables. I spent some time playing around with various phrases until I hit upon one that fit perfectly. (Actually, my original last line was “The face of a former cat up in the trees”. I changed “up in” to “among” to match the vowel in “sometimes”.)

    I then wrote various likely-sounding lines to collect some possible end words (faces, shape, recognition). For each end word I listed the possible rhymes to see if I could find two other words that seemed to fit the subject matter. This would then suggest the direction that the text should take. The strongly interlocking nature of the rhyme forced me to put most of the rhymes in place before writing the actual lines. A demanding approach, but all in all it wasn’t a bad one.

    by breadbox — 13 February 2008 @ 14:26