The Commuter Challenge

1 June 2008

The June 2008 Challenge

by CC @ 11:37

Write one or more poems, or a series of poems, that are genuinely instructive and/or educational on any level, preferably to some practical end. For example:

Write a sonnet that is also accurate driving directions somewhere.
Write a rubaiyat that is also a complete, followable recipe for chocolate chip cookies.
Write a series of limericks that, when read in order, teach someone how to program your VCR/DVR.

Use whatever poetic form you want, and choose whichever subject you like.

The Results

Ryan Finholm

Temperature Conversion Triolets

You cannot just directly correlate
When changing Celsius to Fahrenheit.
At first, you multiply by one point eight,
But cannot just directly correlate;
Add thirty-two (which will accommodate
The Fahrenheit offset) to make it right.
You cannot just directly correlate
When changing Celsius to Fahrenheit.
It is a somewhat tricky thing to do,
Converting Fahrenheit to Celsius –
First, take that number, subtract thirty-two,
Then here’s the somewhat tricky thing to do:
Divide by one point eight, and then you’re through.
The Celsius result can just be thus.
But it’s a somewhat tricky thing to do,
Converting Fahrenheit to Celsius.
Brian Raiter

How to Read a Book

Find a cozy place to sit with lots of light.
With your left hand grasp the book along the spine.
Turn the cover and the pages with your right.
Read from left to right the words within each line.
Authorial honesty cannot be guaranteed.
People write about the things they wish were true.
Therefore don’t believe in everything you read.
But imagine for a while that you do.


  1. I don’t really like my submission very much, because it kinds of cheats with the requirements, and as a result it comes close to being annoyingly cutesy. What I really wanted to do was a sonnet that explained how to estimate the square root of a number using Newton’s method, but my attempts at such came out muddled and confusing. As the end of the month loomed, I was forced to fall back on this one. (I also toyed with the idea of a poem describing in English a common algorithm, such as binary search or quicksort, but I figured that would wind up being too long.)

    The poem is in hexameter rather than pentameter, and that is pretty much entirely because of line four: “Read from left to right the words within each line.” I just couldn’t find a way to phrase that using only five stressed syllables that I still liked, forcing me to go back and rewrite the other seven lines. Hexameter doesn’t have the nice familiar cadence that pentameter does, but the extra foot did give me enough freedom to rework each line until I was happy with its rhythm.

    by breadbox — 1 July 2008 @ 19:20

  2. Originally I was going to do either “How to make a loaf of bread from scratch” or “How to fix a leaky faucet”, but my diddling with the ideas came to nothing. But every once in a while in my job I need to convert degrees F to degrees C out in the field, and I could never remember the conversion formula. It struck me rather late in the month that I could write a little poem that would fulfill the requirements of the Challenge and also potentially help me remember the way to calculate it.

    When it came to putting it on paper, I saw that each calculation wasn’t going to take much verbiage. Brian introduced me to triolets a few years ago, and I thought it was a charming form. The repeated lines in that format provided good filler for the subject, and I think it all worked out in a way that I’m pretty satisfied with.

    Up until the very end I was considering changing the lines around a bit. I even considered scrapping the form to change the two triolets into a single sonnet by cutting out the last two repeating lines of each verse for a total of 12 lines, and appending:
    “Then add two hundred and seventy-three
    point fifteen to get the Kelvin degrees.”
    after the F to C lines to fill out lines 13 and 14 of the sonnet, and thereby also providing a more complete set of temperature conversion formulas. But it seemed forced and awkward, so I stuck with the original submission. Also, though I LOVE sonnets, the Commuter Challenge is a little sonnet-heavy in general, I think.

    I liked Brian’s submission exactly because it sort of cheated with the requirements. Books haven’t quite yet gone the way of the Edison Cylinder or Ditto Machine (for which first-time users would probably need instructions). Anyone reading the poem would already know how to read a book. So the first verse seems more like an introduction to the second verse, which is really lovely. Like writing instructions on how to breathe as a preface to some comment on air quality, or writing instructions on how to put on clothes as an introduction to more interesting ideas about fashion statements and/or self-image.

    by RyanF — 2 July 2008 @ 10:20