The Commuter Challenge

3 May 2012

The May 2012 Challenge

by CC @ 11:33

Be a favorite dead poet (almost).

Write an original poem, in any format and of any length, in the style of one of your favorite dead poets. Try to emulate that poet’s style as convincingly as possible. If you prefer lengthy/epic poetry, a shorter version (in that poet’s style) is acceptable. Or you can provide an excerpt of a poem whose original version may or may not actually exist, or you could create a ‘missing verse’ to a famous poem. Other than style, the only constraint is to include at least one element that ruins the illusion – for example, if you are borrowing the style of Sappho (d. circa 570 BC), include a reference to Oklahoma (est. 1907). Or if you are emulating Allen Ginsberg (d. 1997), mention the Patriot Act (2001).

The Results

Brian Raiter

Dedication, by Not Lewis Carroll

Late the hour, but mind it not,
And to the clock’s bell close your ear.
Delphian maid, uphold this thought:
Your soul was made to bring you here.
Give no heed to distant calls,
And let your heart dwell in this place.
Gladness reigns within these walls,
And we shall simply move in grace.
Ryan Finholm

I Saw A Cornerfold Of Gray, by Not Emily Dickinson

I saw a cornerfold of gray
Upon the windowpane.
I raised my arm to pluck it,
And it fluttered, but remained.
The ashy guest was plainer than
The dullest butterfly,
Yet the mosaic of its span
Entranced my probing eye.
For hours the moth lay motionless,
And me, her audience,
Unfocusing, hoping it’s like
Those cool Magic Eye prints.

The Wind Portends A Dim Affair, by Not Emily Dickinson

The wind portends a dim affair.
The pollen whirls beneath
The reddened canopy of dusk,
And sweeps chaff into breath.
The clover folds onto its stalk.
The droning of the bees
Cedes to silence, sensing this
Epistle on the breeze.
Murmurs on the currents trill,
Like spills from Bacchus’ flagon:
“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu
R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”


  1. Lewis Carroll wrote a number of short poems like this one, it seems. I don’t know if it was specific to him, or just the fashion of the times he lived in, but they seem to all be in basic ABAB tetrameter, masculine rhymes (seriously, were the Victorians allergic to feminine rhymes or something?) — and so often they contain (or are composed entirely of) a melancholy contemplation of the inevitability of the passing of time. The most common place one finds them is at the front of his nonsense books, where they serve as a dedication, with the dedicatee’s name embedded in the poem as an acrostic.

    The second stanza is sort of a reworking of the refrain of a pertinent song. Hopefully it’s not too hard to tell which one. As an added bonus, one or two phrases also refer obliquely to other song titles.

    I had originally planned on creating something much closer to Ryan’s creations, so I was as surprised as you at the form of my actual submission.

    by Brian — 1 June 2012 @ 00:43

  2. For most of the month I was working on a poem to emulate the style of E. E. Cummings. The foil was to be a reference to the Quebec sovereignty movement of the 1980s. The whole thing would have been clever as a puzzle, but completely uninteresting as a poem or statement. It would have been way too esoteric, and I was not feeling very excited about it.

    But having done much of the legwork early in the month, I was determined to go through with the plan and finish off the poem, which was not quite complete by the time I packed up for a work trip the morning of May 30. Getting my draft, notes and reference materials together, I couldn’t find my copy of “Selected Poems of E. E. Cummings”, so I grabbed my “Pocket Book of Modern Verse” (‘modern’ circa 1954, anyway) instead, which includes nine poems by Cummings that are pretty representative of his style. The book also has poems by around 120 other poets, and while flipping through it on the way to the airport I landed on the Emily Dickinson section and inspiration hit.

    I abandoned the Cummings idea and went straight for Emily. I have an odd attraction to Dickinson: she was one crazy, intense, reclusive broad, and her slant rhymes inspire in me a perverse combination of admiration and pique. I thought the first poem seemed to fit because I can easily picture her spending hours and hours staring, crosseyed, at the patterns in a moth’s wings. The second poem is also pretty punchliney, but both Dickinson and Lovecraft had that century-old northeast anxious, eccentric prude thing going, so I thought it was a good match. Too bad Emily died four years before H.P. was born (and 40 years before Cthulhu was created).

    I found that attempting to copy another poet’s style was enlightening, in the same way that I had gotten some insight into the comparative qualities of Picasso’s and Rivera’s cubist works last month. Before I abandoned Cummings, I got to appreciate his mastery of vocabulary and his deceptively structured compositions. To emulate Dickinson, I started out writing flitty, florid, introverted, quirky nature poetry, but when I took a closer look at her poems I had to change my approach and re-write everything – her works are composed of distinct, discrete sentences that tell a story and/or describe a scenario or a quality/virtue. She wrote to creatively communicate, and she wrote from her inspirations. That, of course, is entirely foreign to me; I only write when compelled to do so, due to a deadline.

    by RyanF — 1 June 2012 @ 12:50