THE FINAL FOUR: portmanteau vs. sesquipedalian

Click here for authlete instructions.

Voter Instructions:

  • The countdown at the bottom of each pairing indicates how much time is left to vote.
    • When voting closes, timer will disappear.
  • Read both poems as many times as you like.
  • Mark the poem you like best by clicking the circle next to its name.
  • Press the “Vote” button to record your vote.
  • Votes are counted in real time and cannot be changed once entered.
  • You can only vote once from a given IP address.
    • Classrooms should submit one vote as a class.
    • Students can then vote again individually from home.

Things to Consider in Making a Choice:

  • How well the poem incorporates the authlete’s assigned word.
  • Technical elements: meter, rhyme, form, shape, and other poetic standards.
  • Creativity: wordplay, imagery, unusual approach, etc.
  • Subtle elements that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Your overall response: emotional reaction such as admiration, tears, laughter, terror, or some indefinable feeling.

Here are the poems:

Poor Man Joe
By M. M. Socks

Have you ever met Poor Man Joe?
He lives in a town called Portmanteau.
He’s brilliant and wealthy —
He’s bought all the latest suits.
He hunts wild animals and makes them into boots.

Poor Man Joe has got the greenest yard
Surrounded by elegant statues constantly on guard.
He’s witty and funny —
He’s got the perfect life.
He found himself a lovely girl and made that girl his wife.

So why, you ask, is Joe so poor
When he lives his life in the midst of grandeur —
With money and power
And jewelry of every kind?
Because all these things exist only in Joe’s mind.

Joe has no money and there is no town —
He’s never been funny – he’s always worn a frown.
He walks the streets – his mind full of colliding streams
of dreams —
and dreams,
and dreams,
and dreams.


Vocabulary Test
By Dave Crawley

1. given to using long words.
2. (of a word) containing many syllables.


Forgive me for waxing sesquipedalian,
using long words, irretrievably alien.
Words with an etymological source
(polysyllabically speaking, of course).

But you, with temerity, dare juxtapose
my sluggardly speech with my ponderous prose!
Your effrontery’s neither polite, nor propitious.
To call you my friend would appear suppositious.

You say I’m recalcitrant? Stubborn? Contrarian?
Words of disparagement make me lugubrious,
fighting a syndrome that’s hardly salubrious.

Searching a cure for this grim tribulation,
I found a young doctor who promised cessation.
Shaking his head, he said, “This is no frolic.
You are a sesquipedaliaholic!”

He plied me with pills for the span of a week,
then said, “You are cured! I can prove it. Now speak!”
Monosyllabic, I started to talk:
“See Spot run. Puff has fun. See Dick and Jane walk.”

Doc covered his ears as he fell to his knees.
“The cure is much worse,” he cried, “than the disease!”
His expostulation caused me to walk out.
I still am long-winded, but cured of all doubt.

I no longer care if you choose to make sport of it.
That is the long (but never the short) of it.


*portmanteau vs. *sesquipedalian: Which Poem Did You Prefer?

  • *portmanteau (M. M. Socks) (50%, 1,082 Votes)
  • *sesquipedalian (Dave Crawley) (50%, 1,087 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,168

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  • Renee LaTulippe (@ReneeMLaTulippe)

    Yikes, these were tough words. You handled them with aplomb, guys! Alvaro, nice tugging at the heartstrings; Dave…you made me dizzy. :)

  • Catherine Johnson

    Alvaro nice twist and great use of the word and Dave your use of all those fancy words was so fun!

  • Alison Hertz

    Well done!

  • Carrie Finison

    Poor Joe — I thought he sounded too good to be true. And Dave, I thought you had me at you had me at ‘Antidisestablishmentarian’ — but then I saw ‘sesquipedaliaholic.’ So fun! And I loved your ending.

  • Buffy Silverman

    Dave, I think you could turn all your readers into sesquipedaliaholics! Your long-winded words sped by with rhythm and ease–well done! And Alvaro, you have painted a sad portrait of poor man Joe. He might have to pack up his troubles in his portmanteau!

  • Pamela Courtney

    This was great fun to read. Alvaro, WOW, your poem has a bit of a Silversteinesque twist that allows you to think about the words in more than one way. Enjoyed it. Dave, WHOA and WOW! I’m amazed by the quality of work in such a short period of time. Duly impressed. You’ve both had a ball with this it seems.

  • M.Skelly

    Both poems were outstanding. I teach 4th grade and we (the class and I) have just begun to follow Think Kid Think. We are on spring break at the moment, but I see dictionaries breaking out when we return! BRAVO!! (I had to look up sesquipedalian!!! OH MY!)

  • Linda Baie

    Poems wonderful, vocabulary bountiful. Thanks for so much hard work to make them both “just right”.

  • Penny Klostermann

    Handled amazingly! Both poems are outstanding.

  • Marge Richardson

    Dave, even though Alvaro’s first name was my last…I still love you best!!! You never cease to amaze. Margie SHS’65

  • Melinda Harvey

    Great fun! Both poems are amazing, but I am a sucker for a sesquipedaliaholic!

  • Margaret Bush

    Dave – You’re already the champ in my book!

  • J. J. Close

    Okay, I’m going to be the harsh critic here.

    MM Socks poem lacks meter, in fact most of his poems this tournament have stopped me several times while reading. I liked his last poem (still voted against it), but this one just didn’t click with me.

    Dave Crawleys poem is good once read a few times. At first, I was thrown aback at the long words I’ve never heard of – I’d be interested to hear an elementary student read that out loud – then it made sense in the context of the poem. I liked it after reading it a couple times! I’ve liked all your poems so far Dave!

    I truly look forward to participating in this tournament again next year and in future years, and look forward to the day that the amount of people voting on this tournament far exceeds the amount of votes a person might get from a following of friends and fans.

  • David

    Although both poems are enjoyable, I am quite disappointed that M.M. Socks has not used the assigned word as defined. A portmanteau is a suitcase but it has been changed to the name of a town. He could have been given any word and stuck it any poem that way. The other semi-final has two impressive poems.

  • Alvaro

    Hi everyone. Hope everyone is enjoying this Easter holiday. I wanted to quickly reply to David – portmanteau is also the combining of two words to make one, like fog and smoke make smog. I took that same idea and applied it to Poor Joe combining his dreams to make one alternate life in a fantasy town. It’s not as literal as how the other poems used their words, but poetry is subjective and that’s how I decided to use my assigned word.

  • David

    Thanks Alvaro for making me aware of that definition. I looked it up on Wikipedia and see it comes from Through the looking Glass by Carroll – interesting. Still too subtle for me but sometimes subtlety is better than being hit over the head with the word as Dave Crowley has done!

  • Roger

    I can’t believe this is even close!
    Socks’ piece lacks any meter, is lazy, and basically ignores his assigned word. Cheaply using it as the name of a town? Cheap and cheap and cheap and cheap…..
    Well done, Dave. Funny, witty, great meter, great rhyme, excellent use of your word.
    If Socks wins this, he should gracefully decline, and give it to the real winner.

  • DianaM

    Ha! Love it. You’ve done what seems to be the impossible!

  • Robyn Hood Black

    Challenging words, both, and a tip of my hat to Dave for what he pulled out of his. (I remember, actually, loving the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” as a kid!)

    I do hope commenters can watch their words here – remembering when crafting opinions not only basic civility but that kids are participating and reading, too.

    • April Halprin Wayland

      Robyn, I think I love you.

  • Dave Crawley

    Hey, win or lose, it’s all in fun…let’s have a good time with this.

  • Mary Young

    I had to reread the rules to get a clearer understanding and I have to say that M. M. Socks’ poem is just too subtle when it comes to defining “Portmanteau”, which was his assigned style. On the other hand, Dave Crawley’s poem was extemely artistic and in keeping with his assigned theme. He cleverly wove several polysyllabic words into a poem that made sense and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by many children, as children are inquisitive and also love the opportunity to impress their friends. What better way than to open a dictionary look up a particular word and then just incorporating that word into his/her everyday vocabulary? Just think how wonderful it would be to see grade school sesquipedalians!

  • Laurel Herman

    Agreed. Dave’s poem will inspire kids to become grade school sesquipedalians!

  • KatApel

    Congrats to all poets still participating in the tournament. I can only imagine that you’re feeling a tad wired/fried after sustained creativity and striving for perfection – writing to a timeframe under the global magnifying spotlight.

    You’ve done well!

    Also awesome to see the thousands who’ve come, read and voted.

  • laurasalas

    Great poems! Alvaro, I loved the ending of yours–so wistful and sad. And Dave, you had me at “Shaking his head, he said, “This is no frolic. / You are a sesquipedaliaholic!” “

  • Quinette Cook

    I admire that both poets wrote poems that challenge the reader’s idea of what a poem should be; that both poems appear to be written for an older audience; and that both poets “stretched” the definition of the word they were assigned, challenging the reader to think.

    The use of “portmanteau” in Poor Man Joe (for me) becomes a metaphor – a suitcase of dreams, a place in Joe’s mind” – a metaphor that even the poet may have only been vaguely aware of in writing the poem… A strong, emotional piece with a musical undercurrent.

    Mr. Crawley on the other hand was literal to the nth degree. Humorous, witty, and a word nerd’s dream. I can only imagine how many students will be pulling out their dictionaries to look up all of those words! (I did.) Well executed on so many levels.

    For me the beauty of poetry is that once you know the rules you can bend them, break them or make all new ones. Congratulations to Alvaro and David for making us think. Good luck to both of you!

  • Janet F.

    I composed a “tome comment” about the way I use poetry for literacy in my 3rd grade classroom and how I incorporate a fun twist on my “word of the day” activity to drive vocabulary knowledge and interest. But decided it was too long. If anyone wants to see it, please let me know! I have to say I absolutely second what Quinette wrote on 3/31 at 8:27 am.

    Children are capable of being interested in so much more than we might think. (If you don’t know Vygotsky, that’s where I am coming from!) By demystifying “big” words and making it more like a discovery of treasure, kids are on the lookout for interesting words in their every day world and transfer this to their reading and writing lives, too. Poems, all “kinds” on all kinds of topics interest them, too. My motto is to use a wide variety of poetry through-out the day and year with: no pressure, no test, no homework and no requirement to participate when we say the poems together. (And the amazing thing is they all participate and most come away loving poetry on some level!)

    My long career in teaching has taught me to never underestimate what children can do or be interested in, if presented in a kid-friendly, genuinely enthusiastic/natural way. For instance we learn to recite and enjoy “Jabberwocky” with ease in my class. (We also learn over 40 poems by heart years’ end.) That said, I would not hand out Dave’s poem in 3rd grade, for instance until I have read it aloud a number of times over a few weeks, if need be, and gained kids’ interest, but I would still share it because it is captivating and presents words in an engaging way. In a classroom you have a wide-range of interest and levels! You never know when or whom a particular work is going to captivate. I would also use Alvaro’s as a way to show how poets have “poetic license” and can use words in unusual and “out of the box” ways. Congratulations to all “authletes” on your hard work!!

  • Janet F.

    * typo…poems by heart BY years’ end.

  • Damon Dean

    Poems are not just word, but thought.
    Like grab bags–we might be
    surprised by what we’ve bought.
    So I liked both words.
    And both poems. And both ideas.
    And I like both poets.
    So don’t make me vote–ple-as!

  • Dave Crawley

    Who ever though poetry could be such asn exciting spectator sport? Well, Shakespeare maybe…but he played in a different league. Congratulations to
    Alvaro for a remarkable run! Congrats to all who ae participating. And most of all, congratulations to Ed for having the imagination and technical aptitude (two things which are not always linked) to put this remarkable tournament together!

  • Ed DeCaria

    Whoever ends up winning this scramble, just remember: the other person gets to pick your word as soon as this matchup is over! And you get to write one last time starting tomorrow!

    I am also going to go ahead and “announce” something now (with a half hour left to go in the lachrymose-vs-canoodle matchup, one hour yet to go in this matchup, and the Finals yet to come), so that people understand that it is being driven by process and NOT by outcome: In 2014, I will likely make some changes to the method by which the winner of each matchup is ultimately determined. Voting will still be front and center, but as this gets bigger and bigger, leaving it entirely to an open internet vote is probably not in the best interest of the event, the authletes, or to kids. So, ENJOY this final hour tonight and of course the Finals next week, and then we’ll regroup when it’s all over to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and adjust accordingly.

    Most of all, thank you for reading poetry!


  • Ed DeCaria

    Sweet, I was looking forward to the day that one of my pages/posts flipped to the “1k” counting stage of Facebook shares. Well done, authletes!

  • Patti Baker

    You’ll win, Dave! Yours was best.

  • Ed DeCaria

    If I Google+ this link, do you think we’ll double the vote total?

  • DomD

    Wow – I go away for a travel weekend and THIS is what happens when I’m gone?!? I feel a hearty and well deserved CONGRATULATIONS goes out to both Alvaro and Dave for bringing so many new people to this poetry tournament!! You guys and your droves of fans and followers ROCK! Now if only they could be there for the early round voting… :) Also congratulations to Ed for drawing so many talented poets to participate and bring such an interest to this genre. Outstanding effort by all – it has been a joy to watch and read with my kids!!

  • Suz Blackaby


  • Carole DeAngelo

    Dave Crawley’s was amazing! Clearly he is the winner, hands down!

  • Ed DeCaria

    I can’t wait to hear from my web host’s “abuse team” again tomorrow …

  • Cheryl Lawton Malone

    Dave and mm socks, you guys rock. This contest is exactly what poetry is about!! I can’t predict. Best to both.

  • Ed DeCaria

    My F5 button hurts …

  • Ed DeCaria

    Remember, the matchup ends when I close the poll. So if your screen blanks out, mine does too, and I will tell you who won as soon as it is restored. -Ed

  • Debbie LaCroix

    That was fun! :-D Congrats to both of you.

  • Ed DeCaria

    Well, I’m no historian, but that may have been the most exciting two minutes in the history of kids’ poetry.

    (Other than, you know, reading a good poem.)

    The FINAL score, even if other votes come in via stale connections, was:

    1,087 sesquipedalian
    1,081 portmanteau

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go raid my secret portmanteau and have a sesquipedalian sip of something refreshing …


  • Dave Crawley

    Wow! What a rush! Congrats on a memorable experience, Alvaro!

  • Alvaro

    THAT WAS AWESOME!!! Congratulations Dave! Today poetry won, communication won, friends won, the human spirit won. And of course Dave won!! What a great day.

  • Ed DeCaria

    Thank you both so much for this weekend of MADNESS and for your poems and positive energy throughout the event. While I’m guessing that 98% of the vote here came from adults, I’m also guessing that many of those adults have kids or grandkids, and hopefully these poems (and others) may have reached many of them, too.

    Dave — see you tomorrow. One last poem …

    Alvaro — check your e-mail soon! You get to pick Dave’s word for the Finals from the list that I provide.


  • Bob Spencer

    Dave, thanks for sucking me into a most interesting past time. Who knew kids’ poetry could be such fun?! The comments from the educators are especially heartening. I can’t wait to see the final matchup.

  • Renee LaTulippe (@ReneeMLaTulippe)

    Congrats to you both on a good round! Good luck in the finals, Dave! :)

  • juliekrantz

    Wow–can’t believe how close this match-up was! Bravo, poets!

  • kai

    amazing work guys!!!

  • Donna Smith

    In the words of the A to Z Challenge now going on…Zounds! That was A-mazing!

  • Damon Dean

    Fantastic finish….nose to nose,
    two poets ran like lightning goes,
    and ear to ear, and chin to chin,
    a nostril hair caused one to win!

    Congrats Dave, and Alvaro, what a race!
    You both are of champion breed!