“Black Twitter Is The Internet At Its Best” (a villanelle)

“The following alert is not a test”,
The TV said–We knew that they were wrong:
(Black twitter is the Internet at its best.)

When ranks of cops, in riot gear were dressed,
They tried to quell the crowd with this strange song:
“The following alert is not a test!

We urge you to comply with our request!”
“Request”? A lie, but not for long:
Black twitter is the Internet at its best.

The propaganda leaves us unimpressed—
A fading view they’re trying to prolong–
“The following alert is not a test”

But… yes, it is; it measures the unrest,
The inability to “play along”…
Black twitter is the Internet at its best

Black twitter sees the marchers, ten abreast,
As canisters of tear gas hit the throng…
The following alert is not a test:
Black twitter is the Internet at its best [Read more...]

Today Is Limerick Day?

I’ve been busy–I only just heard–
They’ve been horrid at spreading the word
But it’s limerick day!
(I’ve just one thing to say…
Just one day? Why, the thought is absurd!)

Thanks to commenter “williamhumenansky”, I hear that today is Limerick day (Edward Lear’s birthday, appropriately, although Lear’s limericks are actually not very good limericks for the most part). I have written well over a thousand limericks, over the past two or three lifetimes, and that makes me an absolute lightweight when compared to the good folks over at the OEDILF. The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form is a thing–a very real thing, and a very cool thing. And, actually, a thing that could use your help, if you happen to be a fan of limericks.

Ok, That’s A First

Twice today, students asked questions that I had previously examined on this blog, such that my immediate thought was “oh, I’ll just recite this verse”. Which, of course, I did not. I gave a nice, thorough, completely prose response.

I need to get more people reciting my verses as answers to classroom questions, so that I can do so without raising suspicion.

In the future, anapestic tetrameter will replace powerpoint as the go-to presentation format.

A Humanist Prayer In The Arizona House Of Reps

Ok, this is really beautiful. Via Matthew Hendley writing for the Phoenix New Times blogs, we read that a second humanist representative, Juan Mendez, has had the chance to deliver the opening prayer for the Arizona House (the first was last May). Monday’s prayer wonderfully combines William Cleary’s “Grace to Shout” with Audre Lorde’s “Litany for Survival”, and it is, to my ear, a far more appropriate opening message for a legislative body than any supplication to a deity could possibly be:

In keeping with the spirit of the Opening Prayer during which we make a petition honoring our most sacred beliefs, I share with you a poem I adapted after hearing it from someone I respect — a prayer from my Humanist worldview that appeals to all our common humanness.

Today I ask for us all
the grace to shout
the grace to shout when it hurts,
even though silence is expected of us,

and the grace to listen when others shout
though it be painful to hear,

the grace to object, to protest, when we feel, taste or observe injustice
believing that even the unjust and arrogant
are human nonetheless
and therefore are worthy of strong efforts to reach them.

Do not choose a path that leads to the heart of despair
but choose to fill yourself with courage and understanding,

Choose to be that person who knows very well
when the moment has come to protest

I ask for us all the grace to be angry
when the weakest are the first to be exploited
and the trapped are squeezed for their meager resources,
when the most deserving are the last to thrive,
and the privileged demand more privilege.

I ask that we seek the inspiration we find inside each other to make our voices heard
when we have something that needs to be said,
something that rises to our lips despite the fear that was created in hopes to silence us,
to make us feel unwelcome

Audre Lorde, writer and civil rights activist asked us,
To remember that when we are silent we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

And so in closing I ask for us all to have the grace to listen when the many finally rise to speak and their words are an agony for us.

Beautiful and appropriate.

We can’t have that. Cue the obligatory commenter, reminding us that we are guaranteed freedom of, not from, religion, and suggesting that representative Mendez…, well, let’s let the commenter speak for himself:

This idiot athiest must be put shown the door and put on the next bus back to Mexico where he came from. His kind is not welcome here.

The good news is, the other commenters are not agreeing. The bad news is, you don’t have to look far to find scores who do.

Constrained Writing (or, Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!)

Constraining one’s writing
Can make it exciting
Constraints make it better, not worse
It requires more thought
(Or, they tell me, it ought)
To express what you want, say, in verse.

But I’ve just seen an ode
Nearly written in code–
With multiple layers of constraints
Take a look, if you will,
At this beauty and skill…
And the literal picture it paints

So, yeah, I write with constraints. Often. Rhyme and meter are each constraining, and we can add to this the constraint of topic–my verses are usually commentary, first and foremost. Sometimes I am translating a real story into verse, and have no freedom to change crucial details. Choosing a particular verse form, like a sonnet or a villanelle (or even my own, still-unnamed, form) is a further constraint–and since today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, I can also mention my verses based on The Bells and The Raven (both of which tell real stories in a very specific and recognizable rhyme and meter format). Poe also liked to hide names or phrases in the initial (or later) letters of his poems’ lines–I have done that on occasion as well (I can’t remember any examples I have posted on this blog, though)–it is a fun challenge. I’ve written (again, not here) sonnets that were constrained by having the same number of characters in each line. Verses where the number of letters per word just happened to match the digits of pi.

But (Cuttlecap tip to Pierce R. Butler via email) I’ve just seen an example of constrained writing (“The Extra-Constrained Anagram”, by Mike Keith) that puts them all to shame. And it is Poe-related, so it is perfect for today.

Consider. Take a poem written by Poe himself. Use the letters in that poem (and only those) to write an anagram (constraint 1), itself a poem (constraint 2), telling the story of the author’s pilgrimage to Poe’s grave (constraint 3), with the last 13 lines beginning with EDGAR ALLAN POE (constraint 4).

Enough? Certainly…

But none of these is the real constraint. Consider the following scheme for turning a piece of text into a grayscale picture:

(1) Break the text up into its sequence of words. This sounds trivial, but some rules have to be settled on to avoid ambiguity or illogical results. I decided on these rules as being the most natural:

(a) Apostrophes do not (of course) cause a string to be split. E.g., “love’s law” is a 5-letter word followed by a 3-letter word.
(b) The hyphen (“-”) is a delimiter. “Half-paid stone” is three words, not two.
(c) All other punctuation is ignored.

(2) Take each word of three or more letters and do the following:

First, sum up the values the letters in the word (with the usual A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.).
Then, reduce the sum modulo 9, giving a value in the range 0 through 8.
(Note that the second step is equivalent to continually together adding the digits of the sum until a single digit is left – i.e., “casting out nines” – except with that method, if the final result is a 9 it is replaced with 0.)

(3) Take the resulting series of 0-to-8 values and arrange them in a two-dimensional grid. The dimensions of the rectangle will in general be ambiguous, so it either has to be specified or you can just try various different possibilities and see if any of them are interesting. The one to try first, we suggest, is the rectangle with the largest possible size in X such that the X size is less than or equal to the Y size. For example, for 396 this would be 18 x 22.

(4) View the result as a gray-scale image, with 0=black and the other values evenly distributed up to 8=white.

That’s right, the entire poem produces a literal picture (constraint 5 through infinity). A very specific, very recognizable picture.

Take a look. Absolutely astonishing.