Poetry goes Boing!

The poetry competition announced in We can has games has been a huge success. We must have more of these, and soon.

The game this time was to write verse poetry about one or more recurrent Boing Boing obsessions, with the winner to receive a Gears of War 2 Special Edition Zune 120 GB. Readers responded with a thread over two hundred messages long that's full of charming, surprising, and even impressive poetry. And if you don't read the whole thing, you have only yourself to blame.

Picking the winner was tough. At great effort and expense, I brought in the head of the science fiction line at the world's largest English-language science fiction publishing house to help me judge it, but it was still hard to narrow the choice down to a single poem. Nevertheless … (picks up envelope) … the winner is:

SpatulaLilacs @41, "Sestina of a Reluctant Copyfighter." Which, O my word, is a rigidly formal sestina that maintains both natural language and perfect iambic pentameter while developing a coherent argument about copyright issues.

That's something you don't see every day.

Sestina of a Reluctant Copyfighter

I download stuff. Not all of it is "free" --
Or meant to be, at least. But people share.
It's all right if you take what I create.
I'd never copy-shackle my own art.
I have a hankering for the obscure,
And I will stay obscure as well, by rights.

I know, of course, i haven't got the right:
no "information-wanting-to-be-free"
or any other jargon can obscure
the fact that when we, as we put it, "share,"
we replicate another person's art.
Are copies something I should not create?

But in the past, we couldn't just create;
the learnéd men who scribbled out our rights
did not foresee this replicable art,
which makes another of itself for free.
And if they did, why tell us not to share?
Conspiracy? Some purpose more obscure?

I know, the artist's needs are not "obscure."
But I don't see the people who create
receiving, from the middle-man, their share --
they've all too often signed away their rights,
and found themselves endeavoring for free
to do a deed that's less and less an art.

But certainly this isn't all of art;
just most of art that isn't so obscure.
The margins (blesséd margins!) leave you free,
uncensored and unhindered, to create.
But on the margin, who protects your rights?
Forget your rights. Embrace your fanbase. Share.

If just a thousand, seeing that you share,
decide they love you and they love your art,
then you won't need to sweat about your rights.
You can be happy, healthy, and obscure,
as long as you remember to create
at least a couple things that aren't free.

So free your mind before you grab your share.
Don't litigate, just go create some art!
And let the lawyers sort obscurer rights.

The top ten other poems from the thread, not in order of merit:

JustKristin @28, "We heard a crunch before it died." Emily Dickinson does tech support. (You should get a look at Kristin's other pastiches. She has a fine ear.)

Olof @29: Boing Boing does Jabberwock, or possibly Jabberwock does Boing Boing.

Cloudform @74, "Annabel LED." A popular favorite, and definitely one of the poems that made it hard to pick a single winner.

Madeley @80, "Web Zen." A small but very cute pantoum. (Note: Be impressed. Pantoums are hard, like villanelles only more so.)

Rachelboing @84: a sonnet on feet.

Lumi the Valiant @85, "The Charge of the Boing Boingers," with muttered apologies to Tennyson.

ELloyd74 @114 had the sleekest rhymes.

TDawwg @113 argued with me, elegantly, in "A Poetickall Epistle Direckted at Our Moderator By Way of Metrickall Clarification."

HKDailo @130 rapped, inventively.

Jfaehnle @168, "Sex-Bot Villanelle; or, VW5yZXF1aXRlZCBMb3Zl.".

Other notables achievements:

Props to David Carroll @43, for constructing a crossword puzzle (and later, posting the solution).

Props also to Shutz, at various points in the thread, for doing some real thinking about future games.

As was only appropriate for a competition that started on 11/11, we got three notable pastiches of famous war poems: Mel Rodriguez @50 did Wilfred Owens' "Dulce et Decorum Est"; Jazzbo @134 did John Gillespie Magee's "High Flier"; and TaoArt @150 did John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields."

Some of the best poems in the thread were written by first-time commenters. I don't yet have a complete list of them, so I'll put that in the comment thread.

Kieran O'Neill @142, "Your country's gender disjunction," was the best poem written as a comment in a current thread. Second place in that category goes to MXJohnson @132 for From "Your shoe is jacked into my eye" and "Call to makers: woman wants webcam to replace lost eye".

Oskar @33 is to be commended for his presentation, and his attitude. Entertaining your readers by showing off really well is at the heart of the game.

Triscuit @72 wrote the best haiku.

Foetusnail @187 wins for Most Improved. Second place for Most Improved: JanusNode @151, "Ode to Boing Boing."

Frazbin @202, for the tidiest poem on the least hygienic subject.

MinTphresh @91 and @183, for spiritual truth.

Other poems that a different judge might have scored higher:

TangoBrain @152, "Encryptus." :: Chriziem @141, Chriziem @141, "Steampunk Elegy." :: Jmanooch @167, "Carousel: On a Reading of Boing Boing." :: Aila @158, "Guerrilla Gardener." :: MFGG @48, a panegyric sonnet. :: CK @87, who is funny and accurate. :: Mr. Orion @104, who is also fun to read, and would undoubtedly have scored higher if he'd labeled his work as a haiku sequence rather than a series of one-offs. :: Deviant @107's heroic quatrains about a boy and his sexbot making a stand against the zombie apocalypse. :: Boba Fett Diop @111 doing Lucas via Homer via Richmond Lattimore. :: WillAlex @173, a zombie sonnet. :: Met Ower @131, "Lurker Lament."


  1. Thank you Teresa for this wonderful challenge. It is obvious that you spent a lot of time and energy on thoughtfully considering each and every entry, with spot-on results and rankings.

    Kudos! And let’s do that again!

    …my favorite? HKDailo@130. Awesome first post.

  2. Great contest Teresa! Do more of these! Not necessarily poetry, but other commenting-games.

    So happy to get at least an honorable mention, even though my poem was kinda terrible :)

    Kudos to the winner! That’s a great poem, a fantastic effort.

  3. Very well done, SpatulaLilacs! That’s a really fantastic piece of work. And thanks for the kind comments on my own entry.

    It’s good fun sometimes to wrap your head round strict poetry rules. Here’s something for anyone looking for a challenge: write in cynghanedd form. Tricky in Welsh, incredibly difficult in English.

  4. Laurels to SpatulaLilacs! It’s an honor being in such distinguished company and whatnot, and your sestina absolutely rocks. Congratulations to the rest of us!

  5. Well done all involved and a special well done to Spatula!

    I was flabbergasted at the level of commitment, people really worked hard on this.

    Also, a hearty thanks to Teresa for organising the game and finding a winner. The only thing left to say: More games please!

  6. Okay. Invent me some new comment games.

    You guys were great. That’s an amazing thread.

    I’m thinking about one I’ve seen played elsewhere, where you write pastiches of some designated author in the styles of other writers (the designated author that time was Tolkien), but don’t say whose style it is. Half the game was coming up with pastiches, and the other was competing to see who’d be first to correctly identify whose style was being used.

    Or is that too arcane?

  7. Teresa:

    It’s arcane, yet fun. I used to do precisely that in chat rooms, and even wrote software that analysed style. (Though it is possible to do this in software, it’s not a trivial task.)

  8. Teresa,

    That’s a wonderful idea, but get ready for a lot of Hemingway stuff. I’ve got a hunch boingers will use him as they did William Carlos Williams in the poetry game.

    Isn’t it odd that the good doctor from Paterson would be so popular today? Did everybody have to read “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just To Say” in high school?

    I never taught him.

  9. A fun game to play would be who can write an essay regarding Wordsworth’s and Clare’s poems against the Poor Laws and Enclosure. We could set the word limit to about 2000 words and entries need to be in by 3pm tomorrow or I am up a certain creek minus a paddle.

    Just a thought :)

    (K, back to my essay)

  10. Congratulations to the SpatulaLilacs, what’s a sestina?

    Teresa, thanks! Most Improved, in your face mom!

  11. Teresa,

    Count me in the enthusiastically-approves-of-the-pastiche-game category. A relatively short word count would require spot-on mimicry.

  12. Well done SpatulaLilacs! I envy anyone who can hear the iambs.

    And thanks to Teresa for the contest. I’m rather surprised to see my name up there. :)

  13. It was great fun reading through all the posts, and congrats to all who shared their poetry!

    How about mish-mashing a short story from all of the headlines for a particular day? Extra points for correct chronology?

  14. thank you, everyone.

    feoteusnail, a sestina (also called by the hilariously awesome name sextrain) is a poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a three-line stanza (the tercet). The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. The six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line containing 1 and ending with 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6. English sestinas are usually written in iambic pentameter or another decasyllabic meter.

    You wanna ride the sextrain?

  15. teresa, killer contest! congrats to spatula and her/his sextrain! my fave was olaf’s omage to “the jabberwocky” . thankfully i read it before attempting my own lame version! however, i can haz honorable mention! now, hopefully, some cake!

  16. MinT, I fear you shall never get your long lusted cake. Someday, my friend, I shall give you cake.. I promise.

  17. #14Lumi the Valiant,

    “I envy anyone who can hear the iambs.”

    You wanna hear the iambs? Listen to your heartbeat; it beats iambically: ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk….

    You’ve been hearing/feeling iambs all your life.

  18. What an exhaustive post! And as it should be, everyone put in a terrific entry.

    Congrats, SpatulaLilacs! well-earned!

  19. just curious if anyone caught the meaning to the 2nd title of my poem, “Sex-Bot Villanelle or VW5yZXF1aXRlZCBMb3Zl.” Hint: Base64.

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