Madness Poetry Returns! Counting down my top 10 favorite poems from the 6 years I've competed.
I'm so glad I stumbled upon this event all those years ago in the basement of the UWEC campus library. I have my good friend Tiffany Strelitz to thank for that! I'm not sure what compelled me all those years ago to stumble upon her author page and discover a link she shared that would end up having such a positive impact on my life. At the time, I'd been writing poetry and short stories in rhyme for a few years. Never did I think I'd get chosen to be a part of something that included the likes of Kenn Nesbitt, Jane Yolen, and so many other published authors and poets. I was starstruck at the opportunity, and as my name flashed on the bracket reveal in the last possible slot as a 15 seed - I was ecstatic and excited to be a part of this.
The very first word I received in this tournament was "Meretricious," and in about 20-30 minutes it produced one of my favorite poems that I've ever written. My grandma told me it was a winner, and yet there I was spending the next 24-36 hours trying to make one better. I've now had the opportunity to do this 22 more times over the past 6 years. 23 submitted poems, but probably 3 times that many written thanks to poetry under pressure. I couldn't even tell you the last words I had, last tournament was honestly a blur to me. I wrote the first rounds poem on an airplane to Las Vegas. When I advanced to round 2, I was at home with the flu (likely covid). I wrote Camp Nevermore under that influence, and I'm not even sure how it happened. Bottomline, this thing even had me writing poems as a literal zombie - I owe Ed Decaria and Madness Poetry for about 90% of my poetry portfolio. Over the years I've had some memorable match-ups, some regrets that lead to lessons learned, and have met a lot of amazing writers that have helped me along the way. I've also read some truly FANTASTIC poems that may have never been had it not been for this jamboree of poetry!
And so, I count down 10 of my favorite poems written by my competition over the years - in no particular order. I couldn't possibly rank them. And I've probably missed some fantastic ones. These are just some of the poems that simply blew me away, or just left an impression on me. Many of them I wish I had written myself! I'm going to start with a poet that I actually expected to go up against in my first year competing in the tournament - Allan Wolf. Upon researching poetry of my competitors, he was one of the writers who intimidated me the most. He packed really clever punchlines into his poetry, and I just thoroughly enjoyed some of the poetry videos I watched of his prior to the competition. This poem was pretty much the perfect use of the word "inconsequential," and the ending stuck with me! Inconsequential
by Allan Wolf
Most things inconsequential go unmentioned in the news.
But a ray inconsequential lights a rainbow’s many hues.
A flame inconsequential lights a firecracker fuse.
And a thought inconsequential can become a poet’s muse.
A breeze inconsequential keeps a bird aloft in flight.
A drip inconsequential keeps a plumber up all night.
A dog inconsequential is a forest to a flea. What’s your inconsequential may mean everything to me.
The next one on my list left a similar impact. In fact, as soon as I read it, and that final line hit me, I knew I had lost. Sarah Meade's "Stainbow." Are you kidding me? How didn't I think of that? Hilarious and adorable at the same time, just hard to beat a poem like that. Joyful Jess Makes a Mess
by Sarah Meade
"Cookout day!" squeals Joyful Jess, Picking out her bright white dress. “Is a white dress wise?” asks Mom. “Sure!” says Jess, without a qualm.
Later Jess finds Mom is right. It all starts with her first bite.
A ketchup squirt, An orange drop, A mustard spurt, A relish plop, A purple patch, A blob of blue...
Her white dress marked with every hue.
“Are you sad about your dress?” “Not at all,” says Joyful Jess. “All these colors-- like a rainbow! Mom, I made my dress... a stain-bow!”
And that wasn't the first absolutely amazing poem that knocked me out, and it probably won't be the last. Prior to that one, I succumbed to an impeccable flow and maximum level cuteness by Laura Purdie Salas. About half-way through his poem, my heart sunk. Towards the end, I had to remind myself to breath - it would be okay, there is always next year. At the end, I smiled knowing that I was going down to one of the best poems in the tournament that year. A beautiful tribute to firefighters.
by Laura Purdie Salas
Burning pancakes. Oven sparks! Towel blazes. Rufus barks.
Swirling smoke. Sour smells. Eyes water. Mama yells.
Leaping flashes. Rushing heat. Gripping hands. Crowded street.
Where’s Rufus? Frantic barking. Screaming sirens. Flames arcing.
Neon jackets. Clomping boots. Metal axes. Heavy suits.
Hoods, helmets. Hoses, ladders. Walkie-talkies. Window shatters!
Water shooting! Fire dying. Night sizzling.
Giant lady. Helmet off. Blistered hands. Croaky cough.
Cradles something. Heart th-thumps. Rufus! Safe! Furball jumps.
Wagging tail. Licking me. Grimy. Here.
Parking lot. Safe location. Tears. Relief. Exhalation.
Enormous hug. Tight...tighter. Idol. Hero. Firefighter.
I think it makes sense to follow this one up with yet another soul crusher from an opponent. Emily Weaver's Lasso Kate had a very similar impact. From beginning to end, the flow was fantastic. The sing-songy rhythm was mesmerizing. I seem to remember several people commenting on how they'd wish they'd written that one themselves, and I agree! And yet again, another example of a round in which it probably didn't matter what I would have come up with. I knew I was losing the moment I read that final word, and it was slightly comforting to go down knowing I'd have had to written one better than one of the best poems from the tournament that year: The Legend of Lasso Kate
by Emily Weaver
In eighteen hundred eighty-eight,
There lived a gal named Lasso Kate.
And out along a wagon trail,
Is where you'll hear her twisted tale.
The day was warm, the sky was blue,
But in the distance somethin' grew.
Suddenly a storm was brewin',
Thunder crackin', lightnin' spewin'.
Winds were hummin',
Rain was drummin',
Kate was known both near n' far,
For lassoing a shooting star.
And when she saw that twister dip,
She grabbed the lasso on her hip.
Now don't you fret!
She told the crowd,
While lassoing the bucking cloud.
The twister growled,
It leered and twirled.
It kicked and reared,
It spun and whirled.
But Lasso Kate pulled straight and strong.
It swirled away,
Then both were gone.
And that is why some folks will say,
That even now
This very day,
You'll see within the clearing skies,
A shadow where a lasso flies.
You'll hear a cry,
Perhaps it's Kate's
As every twister dissipates.
She's ever there,
Her lasso swirlin',
That come a twirlin'.
The next one by Vikram Madan was a triple whammy for me. I love superheros, volcanoes, and perfect punch lines. This one was just so cool, and it was SHAPED like a volcano to boot. Super-Volcano-Man
by Vikram Madan
That’s what befell
me when I fell
Into one’s livid bowers
And now my gaze sets all ablaze
My hair’s a rage of fire
Hot lava drips from fingertips
My broiling breath is dire
Each time I sneeze a torrid breeze
Turns matter into ashes
There isn't much that I can touch
That won’t explode in flashes
I’d use my time to tackle crime
Instead here’s what I’m learning
Crime-fighting’s tough when in the buff For all my clothes keep burning!
Speaking of punch lines! Tiffany Strelitz is a master of them. I knew I had to include one of hers in here, and this particular one is my favorite of the bunch. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the ending of this poem, but I knew it would be good and it didn't disappoint. This one cracked a smile for sure, and was definitely memorable. So glad she had the opportunity to make it all the way to the end and finally get that Thinkier!
The Potential Danger That Can Result From Launching Gumballs Out Of Your Window Towards a Farm
by Tiffany Strelitz
Open window. Slingshot ready. Pull the band back. Hold it steady. Launch another gumball in the air.
Watch it fly. Relax my arm. It’s heading towards my neighbors farm. Uh-oh, please land anywhere but there!
Horses bucking. Cows are mooing. What are all those roosters doing?? Looks to me like one of them was hit.
“Sorry guys!” I shouted out. They hate me now without a doubt. I’m kinda sorta scared a little bit.
They’re racing towards me. Can it be, I’ve caused a mass catastrophe? Maybe gumballs aren’t meant to fly?
They’re getting closer. Faster now. A stampede led by Mr. Cow. “This can’t be how it ends for me!”, I cry.
I hold my breath. Count to 5. Hopefully I’m still alive. But then I hear a tapping on my door.
Quite confused. Filled with fear. I open up and then I hear, “Gumballs are the best- we’d like some more!”
Speaking of Thinkier's - another winner, Buffy Silverman, submitted this masterpiece in the finals, and it's probably on many peoples top 10 list for this tournament. A perfect ode to a gargoyle, and it even stuck with her nature theme. Yet another poem that many poets wish they had written themselves! Gargoyle’s Gloom
by Buffy Silverman
From the day she was carved in the side of the church
the gargoyle was frozen in stone,
watching the wind brush the leaves of the birch,
while feeling despised and alone.
The crows swarmed each evening and cawed in her face;
they slurped from her spout when it splashed.
They speckled her neck and she felt a disgrace,
her stoical dignity smashed.
Oh, how she yearned for her wings to unfold!
She’d soar while she warbled adieu.
But then she recalled what those cocky birds crowed:
There’s nothing those gargoyles can do!
Early one April, two wrens came along
as she watched from up high in her tomb.
Hearing their bubbly and chirruping song,
she wallowed in darkness and gloom
until she perceived a soft fluttering throb,
a beat in her cavernous heart,
a twisting and turning and light-feathered bob,
a warming that gave her a start.
She welcomed the wrens as they bustled inside,
busily building their nest.
She heard their eggs hatch with a stirring of pride
from deep in her stone-hearted chest.
She sheltered her friends until thunderstorms passed,
she covered her chicks till they flew,
she guarded them all, understanding at last,
There’s so much a gargoyle can do!
The next couple of poems on my top 10 list are odes to writing poetry, and I'll include them back to back. One of them, beautifully written by another Madness Champion Lori Degman. In this one she pretty much perfectly captured many authletes feelings during this competition. I am also never quite satisfied with my submissions. THE END . . . PRESS SEND
by Lori Degman
I’m the type of writer who is never quite contented, with characters I’ve written or with settings I’ve invented.
My verbs are lacking action and my adverbs fall down flat. My adjectives are nondescript – there’s nothing worse than that.
My plotting is so plodding and my dialogue is dreary. Deleting and rewriting has my fingers feeling weary.
So why I joined this Madness, I will never understand. My nonstop over-editing is getting out of hand.
Thank goodness for the deadline – now I’m forced to reach the end. I only have 10 seconds . . . here I go . . . I’m pressing . . .
And Amelia Shearer's "Rules of Poetry," was so much fun to read! And the message to it is basically a perfect definition of poetry, and it's similar to the message I tell kids when they ask what a poem is supposed to be like. The irony is that there really isn't any rules to poetry, and this poem does a pretty good job of making that clear!
The Rules of Poetry ...
by Amelia Shearer
You may have studied poetry and how to write it right
The guidelines to be followed if perfection’s in your sight
But poetry is anarchy, it must be self-expressed. And flouting all the rules may be the way you write it best.
It’s nice to know the status quo, the way it’s always been But never fear to break the mold when paper hits your pen
Acrostic poems should Make a word from Each line’s starting Letter. What If mine’s a zig And zag?
I think that might be better.
Haiku: they say it shouldn’t rhyme, but that’s not
How I feel - words heal
conceal, reveal ideals - real
zeal unseals appeal
I might choose to dance my words in bursts that fizz & sizzle
or eloquently paint a scene of slow ...
Rules are mere creative tools but They. Are. Not. The. Poet. WRITE IN CAPS - leave a gap - there's no wrong way to show it.
And if you're told it has to rhyme, remember sage advice: Poetry should always rhyme ... except for when it shouldn't.
Last but not least, my personal top 10 list just wouldn't be complete without including, in my opinion, one of the best poems this competition has ever produced in Samuel Kent's "A Letter on Behalf of Ampersand." I knew going into that matchup that I would be the underdog, and upon seeing that poem - I knew the run was all over for me. 2nd place was quite a personal achievement for me as a no-name unpublished writer from small-town Wisconsin. And I've been trying to get back there ever since. I'll never forget this poem, it completely crushed my seemingly clever attempt to use every single word that I'd received each round in that years tournament in one poem!
A Letter on Behalf of Ampersand
by Samuel Kent
Dearest teachers & assistants,
Please adhere to this insistence.
It’s our mission to petition –
for its overdue admission:
alphabetical addition of the letter Ampersand.
Though it neatly nestles nicely
‘twixt the “Y & Z” precisely,
and has a certain function
as a substitute conjunction,
we confess with calm compunction, it’s abused as merely “and”.
We believe we have a duty
to this hieroglyphic beauty.
Let its usage be expanded:
written right- or leftward-handed,
“a – n – d” is ampersanded! That’s our solemn, sole demand.
Think of effort we’d be saving
giving sentences a shaving,
making phrases much less “and”-y
& a lot more ampersandy
adding simple, shortened candy to the words we write by hand.
With accelerated fleetness
we’d complete with nimble neatness
every note or memorandum —
spelling wouldn’t seem as random —
with the ampersand in tandem at our everyday command.
With respect, we share our letter for this character that’s better.
Signed sincerely by
on behalf of Ampersand.
I've done a lot of reflecting on my time in this tournament. I've taken some big strides as a writer and a human-being over the course of the last 7 years. I'm not the same person today as I was back when I was tasked with sticking the word "meretricious" into a children's poem. I still have that strong desire to go 6 rounds of madness again, and finally come out on top. But it isn't important. I've taken great pride in knowing that many of my competitors over the years have been able to such fantastic works of art as my opponent. Four of those poems above sent me packing, snuffing my torch the minute after the matchup was posted to be voted on. I still held onto hope, but I knew in each of those cases that my time was up almost immediately. It's also great knowing that no matter who is writing each of these poems, there is guaranteed to be at least 127 new poems added to the world with every tournament. Likely double that number considering the amount of people writing 2 or more poems each round. I'm just happy to have been a part of it, and I look forward to adding to this list! Bring on the Madness 2021!