Another Poetry Challenge

So here’s a little game for you, should you choose to accept it.  (I’m guessing at least one or two of you might.)  And it’s a contest.

It’s a popular technique these days to write poems which are inspired by fragments of poetry written by other people.  The idea is to build your own new poem around something you’ve seized upon, but to italicize the text you’ve borrowed so that it stands out from your own words.

I’ve done this below with some fragments of Sappho.  (The snippets I’ve chosen are italicized.)

Here’s your challenge:  You pick a poem, any poem, which has some words in it you like.  Then let your ideas grow around those pieces of verse into something else which is your own entirely.  Write in any form or style.  (The piece I’ve included below is a prose-poem.)  Then post your new poem into the comments section of this blog post.

I recognize writing a poem like this can take a while, so the contest will be open until the end of this month, midnight central time on the evening of March 31st.  Depending on how many entries there are, there may even be a readers’ choice run-off for the best poem.  The winner will win a lovely book — which book, I haven’t decided yet, because I’d like the prize to be tailored to fit the winning entry in some way.

Here’s an example for you, a prose-poem I wrote entitled (coincidentally) “Sappho’s Torque.”  (And yes, the poem was written before I began this blog.)  If you don’t know any other poems that you’d want to borrow text from, feel free to take the Sapphic snippets from mine here (or any other fragment of this poem, should you so desire).  Regardless of which poem you borrow from, be sure to acknowledge where your italicized stuff came from.

I’m looking forward to reading your entries!  Happy writing.


Sappho’s Torque

“It is too much to bear,” she said, “this weighing upon my mind.”

The roses in the garden burst in full floribundance, infusing the air with decadence and coloring the day and even the night with their velvet flesh.  “Beauty is as beauty does,” they told her, and she thought then that the garden must be the locus of outrageous fortune, a siren’s lair filled with killing thorns, slings and arrows.  So it is thus, she knew, that she first came to love the very idea of love, so often the gift of the image of a demi-god, tempered by the grotesquerie of real life.

“I am tired,” he intimates, while she relents for the love of him.

Eros, she thinks, melter of limbs, you who imprison me now again, are the sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in, who ignites my dependence and fuels it with my passion; you burn me.

She thinks that birds will fall into sea, that worms will climb the walls of the house, that lizards will come into the kitchen looking for food.  And only she will be awake to notice.

20 thoughts on “Another Poetry Challenge

  1. I call it ‘conscious intertextuality’ or ‘deliberate intertextuality’, and it is something I have played around with for a long time, picking words, phrase, and ideas from other poets (often with their permission, as in my poems which had Chez Harvey’s poetry as their springboard; or without their permission, as in my replies to Emily Dickinson). Sometimes I use ‘conscious intermetricality’ as well, mirroring a rhythmic pattern rather than a phrase. I offer my own poetry to people who want to do the same.

    I may well play with this challenge once the chores of the day are over. 🙂

    Marie Marshall


  2. Melanie

    Night of Broken Glass
    Words taken from Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Facing It”

    My black face fades,
    hiding inside the black
    of the night
    untouched by the fire I see in the distance.
    I turn this way: I watch them smolder
    the Synagogues to the ground.
    I turn that way: there, owners dodge rocks
    thrown through windows
    as scraps of broken glass fly like
    the nearby flames.

    I’m stone, but I know these victims
    have nowhere to turn since weakened
    individuals allowed the world to turn its back
    on the fallen and desperate.

    I’m flesh; I try to move,
    half-expecting to find myself fading further
    into the night.

    From the store windows of those
    denied the ability to live,
    pieces of shattered glass continue to litter the streets,
    and deep into the night, I know it will be
    sometime before the sun rises again.


  3. Awesome poem, Melanie, thanks for participating! (Please double-check the italics for me; the formatting didn’t work right, and I had to go in and restore them based on the poem you’d emailed me.)

    For those who aren’t aware, Melanie has a book of poetry out right now entitled Four Feet from the Surface. Check it out!


    1. Melanie

      Whoops. Sorry, I didn’t realize it had taken out the italics when I copied and pasted it here. Thanks for going back and restoring the italics for me!


  4. Reblogged this on Sappho's Torque and commented:

    Just bumping this back onto people’s radars. You have a little over a week left to enter! I know (because I’ve heard from you on Facebook) that some of you are working on your poems but haven’t submitted them yet. I can’t wait to read them! 🙂

    Everyone jump on in, the water’s fine. 😉


  5. Cindy

    I had somehow missed this until today; what a lovely idea to inspire us! My entry is somewhat off-the-cuff, as some lines came to mind immediately, along with an image that those lines conjure for me.

    Here goes . . . think of it as “Tennyson Haunts the Nursing Chair.” 😉


    The clock above the door of the dusk-dimmed room
    marks the passing heartbeats, minutes I’ll never see again.
    I think of the novel lying near my left elbow,
    but I know that to reach it
    will mean waking her.
    So I close my eyes, dismiss the book,
    and replay the List of Important Things in my head—
    While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

    I have another child,
    waiting elsewhere in our small house.
    Her voice, her breath, that long fall of cornsilk hair
    are as cherished as this milk-drunk baby
    who now takes her rest.

    Rest, rest, on mother’s breast.

    Twice-blessed, I am, and more than content.
    The Important Things may tap their feet
    and look daggers my way,
    But this most intimate dinner for one
    and its sweet aftermath, all snores and sighs,
    Leave no room for the outside world
    and its mundane details.

    There will be time later for All That.
    This is the time for only us.
    Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.


  6. Alanna

    Madam Cherry, I Beg Your Pardon
    after a Weeping Higan Cherry Tree

    Forgive me, if
    I am underdressed.
    I simply cannot compete.
    It’s one of those brilliant days,
    you see. I see you
    have come dressed for the occasion.
    You’ve stolen the show with your shy weeping
    boughs, each petal a tear, against the sky blooming.
    Each bird an ornament.
    Each butterfly a prize to display.
    While the bees sample the array of nectars, I fear
    I have been sent before my time
    into this breathing world, scarce half made up.

    This is one of those brilliant days,
    when youths slowly peel away layers,
    and lovers, inhibitions.
    So pardon me, if
    I have offended. I merely wish
    to rest with spring, listening
    on quiet afternoons
    to the bumblebees as they sip.

    extractions borrowed from Shakespeare’s Richard III, I.i and Fady Joudah’s “Reistance.”


  7. And Again

    (After “Howl” Part I by Allen Ginsberg
    with selected phrases)

    I had been there before
    but not as me. Listening
    to the terror through the wall
    as the geometric wallpaper seeped hysterical
    and the shag rug coughed blood.

    when the fog stumbles in
    and I hear the siren but
    can’t see the bridge abutment –
    we are thrown in a winding, twisted
    spinning hold onto the shag episode.

    Questioning stopped when I hurled
    the pipe out the window and flushed
    the rest. Angel had cried
    so I flushed her through the back door.

    A dog or maybe a coyote
    whimpers below the bedroom window.
    A siren fades into the distance while the rising
    sun glows like the hot end of a punk stick.
    The absolute heart of the poem of life
    butchered out drying on the windowsill.
    The air sickly sweet.

    Scott Benner

    (the following should be highlighted “Listening to the terror through the wall” and “The absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out” – thanks)


  8. So this was a ridiculously hard decision to make! But the winner is Scott Benner. Congratulations! Scott, please send me a message with your mailing address, and I’ll get in touch with you about your prize.


  9. Pingback: National Poetry Month — Day 3 | Sappho's Torque

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