Style Conversational Week 1510: The Empress dishes on the Invite


“Don’t do it. It’s not going to work.”

This was the warning to me from my predecessor, the Czar of The Style Invitational, when I told him about this week’s contest for single-vowel, or univocalic, poems, Week 1510.

Aw, sure it will. Perhaps the Czar has forgotten the Cleverness x Art compounds that constitute the body of Loserdom, especially in its regular Loserbards.

Imperial Scion Valerie Holt, who blogs on Tumblr about English history, brought my attention to a univocalic poem she found there by the anonymous talent Shimyereh, who clearly ought to be entering The Style Invitational:

If I might sing within this thing I’m writing —

Might bind it, finish it in vivid ink;
Bring wild instinct in, still striving, fighting
Within this rigid limit (whilst I think
In “i”s)… It isn’t stifling — it’s inviting:
This twist, this trick will find its living link.
I’ll mind this limit, wind this twisting string,
Till I find things within it which might sing.

A bit high-flown to serve as an example for this week’s contest, but undeniable evidence of what’s possible within these constraints.

Note that this time, I sidestepped the what-counts-as-a-vowel issue with this direction: “This week: Write a humorous univocalic poem — one that uses only one of the vowels A, E, I, O or U …” So feel free to use Y’s and W’s however you wish.

Also note that this time, as opposed to, say, our recent 100-Scrabble-tile contest, your poem’s title — if you choose to use one — has to be under the same constraints; it seemed just too much out of the spirit of the contest if the title had any ol’ vowels.

As always, strive for easy-to-read writing that sounds like English. I didn’t say this explicitly, but don’t misspell words to avoid using other vowels! You could use a variant spelling but you can’t, for example, write “awful” as “awfal.” Ugh, that would be awfal.

Your poem doesn’t have to rhyme, but rhyming verse gets the lion’s share of the ink in our light-verse contests, as do poems with clear and consistent meter. There are always exceptions, especially when the rhyme or meter is bent for humorous effect. If you’re new to the Invitational, today’s inking poems are a good guide to what I like, though I expect the vowel limitation to result in much shorter and perhaps somewhat less flowing verse. Deadline Monday night, Oct. 24; paywall-free link here.

M-W.comedy*: The new-word poems of Week 1506

*Non-inking headline by Chris Doyle

If somehow I am indeed proven overly optimistic about this week’s contest, in four weeks I could always fill the page with more poems from Week 1506, which featured some of the words recently added to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. I’ve run these new-word poetry contests several times now, and this week’s results might be the strongest yet. Sixteen poems fit on the print page in The Post’s Sunday section Arts & Style, and there are 23 in the Web version.

It’s the second Clowning Achievement trophy, but the 15th win all-time, for Melissa Balmain, who’s been blotting up splatty puddles of poetry ink since 2011, recently hitting the 200 mark. While I don’t want to dwell and dwell on the former White House occupant, Melissa’s characterizing the term of the Ketchup Tosser as “all you can yeet” proved irresistible. Hall of Famers Mark Raffman and Duncan Stevens find themselves once again in the Losers’ Circle, but they’re joined by one of our most impressive rookies, Pam Shermeyer of the Detroit area, who brought some Midwestern plain-spokenness in her translation of “omakase” — a chef’s-choice Japanese menu — as “sit your butt down and eat dinner.”

We didn’t have a First Offender last week, but today we welcome David Mayerovitch of Ottawa, who gets his first ink with the very last poem I happened to read this week: an excellent limerick using the term “greenwashing,” corporate window-dressing on a company’s environmental record: “Corporations attempting to greenwash/ Their pollution cannot get a clean wash/ Of their foul reputation,/ Which smells to the nation/ Like a private who’s done a latrine wash.” Oooh, great punchline. People with close to unique names tend to send me Googling — and I found this delightful performance by David of a song whose chorus begins, “Did you have to name your daughter Granola?”

Back to Ms. Balmain for a minute: Melissa, when she’s not Inviting, teaching at the University of Rochester, or contributing poems and humorous essays to various publications, is also the editor of the online poetry journal Light. And as long as you don’t forsake the Invite, I hope you’ll send stuff to Light as well. (We won’t run each other’s published poems, though you’re of course free to submit non-inking contest entries.) Melissa was cooing over today’s Invite ink, so I invited her to invite you:

“As usual, I’ve been cackling at the work of my fellow Loserbards … and since the E has rashly allowed me to do so, I encourage you to check out Light and consider submitting some of your work (while continuing, of course, to enter the Invite early and often). Many Loserbards have been published in our pages — both our twice-yearly issues and our weekly, news-inspired Poems of the Week — including Brian Allgar, Brendan Beary, Daniel Galef, Coleman Glenn (now a Light contributing editor), Stephen Gold, Chris O’Carroll, Frank Osen, Robert Schechter, and Alex Steelsmith. And the late great Mae Scanlan was a Light star. Here’s a link to our submissions system; my fellow editors and I read subs blindly, but cream really does rise …”

What Pleased Ponch: Ace Copy Editor Ponch Garcia found his faves in the honorable mentions this week: Jeff Rackow’s warning against potentially janky condoms from the dollar store, and Michael Stein’s terse verse, “A Bostonian’s Critique of a Mexican Restaurant”: “Their birria/ Is infirria.” (Which edged out another very good entry rhyming it with “superia.”)

This Sunday: March on Gettysburg

I’ve neglected to mention in recent Conversationals that this Sunday, Oct. 16, Loser Roger Dalrymple will host his twice-yearly lunch and battlefield tour in his home base of Gettysburg, Pa. Roger, an experienced tour guide, has led a group of Losers on an enlightening lesson about the immense three-day Civil War battle. And it always begins with lunch at an informal but nice restaurant and often includes a stop for fabulous local ice cream. October is prime time to enjoy the southern Pennsylvania countryside, much of it looking as it did in July 1863.

Quoting from the announcement by Loser Events Guy Kyle Hendrickson:

“Starting at noon, we’ll have #LoserBrunch at the Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) at 259 Steinwehr Ave., Gettysburg PA 17325. After brunch, some of us will tour something, somewhere in or near Gettysburg. If you plan to join us, send an email to” There’s a chance you can carpool.

I can’t make it this year, but I’ve enjoyed this day trip several times and heartily recommend it.

And my dear, I’m still here … (974 times over)

The Style Invitational was inspired by/ ripped off from the venerable New York Magazine Competition, run by Stephen Sondheim’s pal Mary Ann Madden for 973 columns from 1969 until her retirement in 2000 (at which time its major ink-getter, Chris Doyle, became an Invite Loser in earnest).

I debuted as Empress of the Style Invitational, deposing the Czar with a black crayon and a dismissive wave, in Week 536. That would be 974 weeks ago.

Madden’s obit in the New York Times in 2016 reveals that when she didn’t have enough good entries in a certain week, a few extras would suddenly appear by a “Grace Katz, N.Y.C.” Madden had a cat named Grace. (I tweak Losers’ entries sometimes, but I don’t put my own in. We also never use fake names — it’s against Post policy — unless someone’s tricking me, and please don’t do that.)

Source link

Leave a Comment