ROUND ONE: 3-knack vs. 14-decaffeinated

[click image to view matchup in full screen in a new window.]

The Poets’ Challenge: Each poet is assigned a single word based on their bracket seed, ranging from 1 (intuitive) to 16 (seemingly impossible). Poets must write a kid-appropriate poem using the prompted word in under 36 hours. Once both final poems have been received, they will be pasted into the body of this post, and then the reader poll will be open for voting.

Voter Instructions: Read each poem as many times as you’d like. Then use the poll to express your preference. Votes are counted in real time and cannot be changed once entered. As a guideline for voting, consider the criteria on which the contestants on the cooking show “Chopped” are evaluated: presentation, taste, and creativity. Translated roughly into poetry terms, presentation might include technical aspects such as meter, rhyme, form/shape, etc.; taste might be the net effect — did the poem move you to laugh, cry, think, kill, etc.; and creativity might include the poet’s approach toward a certain subject, image evocation, clever wordplay, etc.

“This is awesome, where can I find more?”: All results and scheduled matchups, including a glance at the round-by-round writing windows and voting windows, are visible from the Live Scoreboard page. In addition, results will be tweeted from @edecaria as they become final.

Here are the poems:

Natural Talent
by Laura Salas

Sky has a knack for
pounding out rain
Ground has a knack for

Spring has a knack for
bursting out blooms
Seed has a knack for

by Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved


YA Vampire Novella
by Heidi Mordhorst
Bec LeCru rose at sundown as normal.
He dressed in black, as usual—formal.
He stopped at the all-night Starbucks for coffee.
He ordered espresso with two shots of toffee.
The barista’s mistake: serving decaffeinated.
Bec fell asleep with his face on the table;
Dawn found him dead, sadly decoffinated.



3-knack vs. 14-decaffeinated: Which Poem Did You Prefer?

  • 3-knack (Laura Salas) (67%, 102 Votes)
  • 14-decaffeinated (Heidi Mordhorst) (33%, 51 Votes)

Total Voters: 153

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  • Heidi Mordhorst

    “decaffeinated.” Well. Though I hope my poem will be decaffeinated as required, I don’t expect to be able to write it unless thoroughly caffeinated. Question: are the HELP bracket labels meaningful? Is my decaffeinated poem supposed to be humorous in addition to well-presented, tasty and creative?

    • Janet

      Hi Heidi! I am awaiting your poem! Have signed up at Juicy. Met you at NCTE: poetry on parade. Good luck with decaffeniated! I am eagerly awaiting these poems.

  • laurasalas

    Heidi–Somewhere earlier in the rules, it said those HELP brackets do NOT need to apply to your poem. I’m at a school visit all day and will write my poem after. Wish I could use knackered instead of knack:>)

  • Robyn Hood Black

    (I can’t wait to see what you two come up with. I have to conjure up something “unnatural….”!) ;0)

  • laurasalas

    Aw, Heidi–That is awesome. And totally not the kind of poem I expected from you. Love that you wrote something so different–how fun:>)

  • Susan Taylor Brown

    Oh these were both so clever. Laura, the seed believing. You got me in my gardener’s heart.

  • Renee LaTulippe

    “Decoffinated” is delightful, but “Natural Talent” was so surprising and lovely…!

  • laurasalas

    And, I should say–Of COURSE I expected a wonderful poem from you, Heidi. I just mean the style of it…I’m used to your nature free verse poems–that’s how I think you your poet you, ya know? But then you went and got all punny and funny on my *&^. Unfair!

    Renee and Susan, thanks! :>)

  • Jennifer

    Okay I really liked the ‘knack’ poem but I burst ou laughing when I read decoffinated so you won my vote.

  • Julie Larios

    I just love what both of you wrote. What fun!

  • Greg Pincus

    This one clearly is going to overtime as it’s an impossible match-up to see a clear winner in. Well done both of you!

  • Heidi Mordhorst

    Thanks to all and especially my worthy opponent. “Natural Talent” is indeed the kind of poem I’d like to have written, but my word required me to step out to my doggerel-house. Let’s hope evening brings some voters who will appreciate such foolishness…Laura should feel free to beat but not CREAM me utterly. ;)

    • laurasalas

      My daughter and I were talking about seeds, and to me, the worst thing about the seeding (ooh, I didn’t even realize maybe I wrote about seeds because I was thinking about this dang contest!) was that the harder words/seeds pretty much shoehorn poets into funny/silly/doggerel poems. Maybe it’s not your wheelhouse usually, but you did an awesome job. So clever!

      • Ed DeCaria

        While perhaps true, I hope that this is not too great a source of frustration. Navigating the range of words (as it relates to their appropriateness as a topic for kids) is challenging. In some cases a word is hard because it narrows the range of what the poet can do in terms of subject or style, and in others cases it is hard because the word itself is a particular nuisance.

        You may notice that I did not include many (any?) pure nouns precisely because I did not want to completely box people in, but looking at my final word list for Round 1 I do see that some words still did manage to do that, Heidi’s being one of them. I have been referring to the 13-16 words playfully as “seemingly impossible”, but I imagine it actually impossible to write an elegant poem like Laura’s “Natural Talent” using an oddball word like decaffeinated.

        Great matchup all the same. Thank you both for participating, Good luck in Round 2, Laura. And don’t forget, Heidi, as a non-winner, you get to submit one word that you want to be taken into consideration for the Final Four and Finals. Those words are out of my hands entirely!

  • Not Quite Shakespeare

    And see? This is why this is great: what Heidi said about “my word required me to step out of my doggerel-house.” Love both of these! (Irene Latham, who chose a moniker for Madness to break out of her own doggerel-house.)

  • Julie Rowan-Zoch

    Ooo, this was the toughest decision by far for me! I had to vote for ‘knack’ though (partial to germination!)

  • Pam

    Oh my goodness! OH MY GOODNESS! Genius ladies! One’s dark, but funny. One’s light, but sunny. I’m gonna have to come back to this one. TOUGH! GOOD STUFF! I mean really good stuff!

  • Pam

    oops, didn’t mean to say light, but sunny. just light and sunny..ooopsies!

  • Natalie

    Loved these!

  •!/WriterRoss Pamela Ross (@WriterRoss)

    I’m in love with these poetic challenges. Laura and Heidi absolutely rose to the occasion. I am so so so impressed!

  • tanita

    THIS is a really neat idea. These are the sorts of challenges that force new grooves into the brain! Or, something like that, but less painful…

  • Mary Lee

    I want TWO votes for this match-up! They are both FABULOUS poems!! There shouldn’t have to be one that doesn’t win!!

  • Laura Shovan

    I agree with Mary Lee. The poems are both wonderful and so different! One meditative, one hilarious. Both deserve to win.

  • Lisa Orange

    Hmm, tough call, ladies…

  • B.J. Lee

    They’re both so good…