Style Conversational Week 1510: The Empress prepares dishes by invitation


” Do not do it. It will not work.

That was the warning I received from my predecessor, the Czar of the Style Invitational, when I told him about this week’s competition for Single and Single Vowel Poems, Week 1510.

Of course. Perhaps the Tsar forgot about the Cleverness x Art compounds that make up Loserdom’s body, especially in his regular Loserbards.

Imperial Scion Valerie Holt, who blogs on Tumblr about English history, drew my attention to an unambiguous poem she found there by anonymous talent Shimyereh, which should clearly go into The Style Invitational:

If I could sing in this thing I write – Could bind it, finish it in vivid ink; Bringing in the wild instinct, always striving, fighting Within this rigid limit (as I think In “i”)… It’s not stifling — it’s inviting: This twist, this trick will find its living connection . I’ll heed that limit, wind that twisted rope, until I find things inside that might sing.

A little high-flying to serve as an example for this week’s competition, but undeniable proof of what is possible within these constraints.

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

Also note that this time, unlike, say, our recent 100 Scrabble Tile contest, the title of your poem – if you choose to use one – must be subject to the same constraints; it just seemed too out of the spirit of the contest if the title had old vowels.

As always, try to have easy-to-read writing that sounds like English. I didn’t say it explicitly, but don’t make spelling mistakes to avoid using other vowels! You can use alternate spelling, but you cannot, for example, write “horrible” as “awfal”. Ugh, that would be awful.

Your poem doesn’t need to rhyme, but rhyming lines get the lion’s share of ink in our light verse contests, as do poems with clear, 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 limiting vowels will translate into much more verse. short and perhaps a little less fluid. Deadline Monday evening, October 24; link without paywall here.

MW.comedy*: The poems in new words of the week 1506

*Title not inked by Chris Doyle

If somehow I turned out to be too optimistic about this week’s contest, in four weeks I could still 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 many times now, and this week’s results might be the strongest yet. Sixteen poems fit on the print page of the Post’s Sunday Arts & Style section, and there are 23 in the web version.

It’s the second Clowning Achievement trophy, but the 15th all-time win, for Melissa Balmain, who’s been erasing puddles of poetry ink since 2011, recently hitting the 200 mark. Although I don’t want to dwell on on former White House occupant Melissa called the term Ketchup Tosser “all you can yeet” proved irresistible. Hall of Famers Mark Raffman and Duncan Stevens once again find themselves in the loser’s circle, but they’re joined by one of our most impressive rookies, Detroit-area Pam Shermeyer, who brought a bit of plain Midwestern language in its translation of “omakase” – a chef-chosen Japanese menu – as “sit down and dine.”

We didn’t have a first offender last week, but today we welcome David Mayerovitch from Ottawa, who gets his first ink with the latest poem I read this week: a great limerick using the term “greenwashing company window- dressing up on a company’s environmental record: “Companies that try to green / Their pollution can’t get a clean wash / From their bad reputation, / That stinks of the nation / Like a private who did a latrine wash.” Oooh, great punchline. People with almost unique names tend to Google me – and I found this delightful David performance of a song whose chorus begins “Did you have to name your daughter Granola?”

Back to Mrs. Balmain for a moment: Melissa, when not invited, not teaching at the University of Rochester or contributing poems and humorous essays to various publications, is also the editor of the online poetry magazine Light. And as long as you don’t drop the invite, I hope you send Light some stuff too. (We won’t be distributing each other’s published poems, although you are of course free to submit contest entries without inking.) Melissa was cooing over today’s invitation ink, so I’ve invited to invite you:

“As usual, I sneered at the work of my fellow Loserbards…and since the E recklessly allowed me to do so, I encourage you to discover the light and consider submitting some of your work (while, of course, continuing to participate early and often in the invitation). Many Loserbards have been published in our pages – both our semi-annual issues and our weekly news-inspired Poems of the Week – including Brian Allgar, Brendan Beary, Daniel Galef, Coleman Glenn (now a lightweight contributing editor), Stephen Gold, Chris O’Carroll, Frank Osen, Robert Schechter and Alex Steelsmith. And the late great Mae Scanlan was a star of Light. Here is a link to our submission system; my fellow editors and I blindly read the subtitles, but the cream is really rising…”

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

This Sunday: March on Gettysburg

I forgot to mention in recent conversations that this Sunday, October 16, loser Roger Dalrymple will host his twice-a-year lunch and battlefield tour at his base in Gettysburg, PA. Roger, an experienced guide, led a group of Losers on an illuminating lesson in the massive three-day Civil War battle. And it always starts with lunch in an informal but pleasant restaurant and often includes a stop for a fabulous local gelato. October is the perfect time to enjoy the Southern Pennsylvania countryside, much like July 1863.

Quoting Loser Events Guy Kyle Hendrickson’s announcement:

“Starting at noon we will have #LoserBrunch at the Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) at 259 Steinwehr Ave., Gettysburg PA 17325. After brunch some of us will be visiting something somewhere in or near Gettysburg. If you are considering joining, email [email protected] There is a chance you can carpool.

I can’t go this year, but I’ve enjoyed this day trip many times and highly recommend it.

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

The Style Invitational was inspired by/snatched from the venerable New York Magazine Competition, run by Stephen Sondheim’s girlfriend, Mary Ann Madden, for 973 columns from 1969 until her retirement in 2000 (when her principal inkwell, Chris Doyle, was become a Seriously Invite the Loser).

I debuted as an invitation-style Empress, deposing the Tsar with black pencil and a dismissive wave, in week 536. That would be 974 weeks ago.

Madden’s 2016 New York Times obituary reveals that when she didn’t have enough good entries in a certain week, a few extras would suddenly pop up with a “Grace Katz, NYC.” Madden had a cat named Grace. (I sometimes edit losers’ entries, but I don’t put my own. We never use false names – it’s against post office policy – unless someone cheats me, and please do not do that.)


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