FINAL FOUR: pusillanimous vs. barnacle

[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:

by Suz Blackaby

Coy koi and other mousy fish—
The timid, pusillanimous,
Unanimously gutless cowards,
Cowering in the reeds—
Stay steeped within the murky mix
(Above the silt/below the scum),
Supposing they are safely, soundly
Hidden in the interim.

Along the rim, a heron waits.
Pacing at a patient gait,
It waits to catch (so shy of sense)
The quick flick of a silver fin
Or crimson ribbon—just a glimpse!
As sheepish fish slip into sight,
It waits and, tasting victory,
Moves to strike.


The Sun’s Coming Out
by Stephen W. Cahill

My sulky big sister despises the beach.
She constantly moans and quite often she’ll screech,
“No way! There are crabs! They could snap at my toes!
And what if I trip? They could nip at my nose!”

“I’m staying right here, where it’s safe, on this rock.
Now where is my factor one hundred sun-block?”
My sulky big sister then spends the whole day
Sat down on her own and refusing to play.

But now it is late and the sun has descended.
Our one day a week with our Daddy has ended.
We pack up our things and we walk to his truck,
My sister complaining, “It’s covered in muck!”

He opens the windows to let out the heat.
She wriggles and jiggles around in her seat.
She cannot sit still and is cross all the way.
My daddy keeps asking, “You sure you’re ok?”

We pull up to Mum’s and my sister leaps out.
But something is different. My parents don’t shout.
They’re holding back laughter. I look to my Mum,
“Your sister’s a barnacle stuck to her bum!”



*pusillanimous vs. *barnacle: Which Poem Did You Prefer?

  • *pusillanimous (Suz Blackaby) (46%, 281 Votes)
  • *barnacle (Stephen W. Cahill) (54%, 333 Votes)

Total Voters: 614

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The average pairing in Round 1 generated 154 votes.
The average pairing in Round 2 generated 178 votes.
The average pairing in Round 3 generated 224 votes.
The average pairing in Round 4 generated 354 votes.

A nice trend!

Use the share buttons below and mention the madness wherever you go so that these poems reach more kids! And remember, encourage voting on BOTH of the Final Four matchups, not just this one!

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  • Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

    Oh golly, Suz. ‘Hope you’re not feeling timid. And Stephen, this was one of my choices too… This will be a great match to watch. Enjoy!

  • Debbie L.

    OK, I needed a dictionary. Good luck you two!

  • Kathryn Apel

    I thought you could really play with ‘pusillanimous’ – and its meaning, Suz. It sounded like such a fun word! (Though I didn’t have a clue what it meant until I looked it up!)

    Steven – a barnacle! That could be fun, too. For you!

  • Suz Blackaby

    You know how you feel when your mind goes totally blank and you think “This is how hamsters feel all the time”?
    C’est moi.

    • Amy LV

      I will now always think this! Thank you for such a funny thought.

  • Pam

    I’m glad I looked up pusillanimous and got the correct pronunciation. I was pronouncing it puss, as in that runny, infection. After looking it up, I’m imagining a battle of wits between Don Quixote and The Cowardly Lion.

  • Renee LaTulippe

    Ha! Suz, that is so funny! But don’t be faint of heart – that’s a great word I bet even the hamsters would like! And I love barnacle – what fun sounds to play with.

  • Tiffany Strelitz

    pusillanimous? really? #GoodLuckWithThat :-D

  • Debbie L.

    Love the imagery Suz! My dog looks at me like that.

  • Greg Pincus

    Wow. I am pretty sure I haven’t read a single children’s poem with “pusillanimous” in it. And I say that today, because by tomorrow, that won’t be true anymore! (It might also be true of barnacle, by the way, but I’m less certain). Good luck, you two!

  • Janet

    Here’s my pusillanimous connection. I was studying for my SAT way back when, I mean in the 60s and looking through the dictionary (not an unusual occurrence for me) trying to learn new words. It was the first time I had seen or noticed this word. Sort of the kind that sticks with you…I mean do any of you other poetry-lovers have a similar memory for a word…. and you never know when you might encounter it again!!! There have been a few times I have seen it since then, but am waiting eagerly to see what you come up with Suz. Best of luck. I may be biased now, but I will do my best to give both poems their true due!!! Now barnacle…..I also am intrigued about this one. Best of luck to both.

    • Mary Lee

      I remember the first time I encountered “peony” in print. I had HEARD it all my life–we had them in our yard–but I’d never seen the word.

      • April Halprin Wayland

        Mary Lee…PUSILANIMOUS?!?! Your students are diabolical (which, come to think of it, would be another great word)!

        AMAZING work, Suz. Wowee!

        • Ed DeCaria

          No, no, ML’s students picked PANDEMONIUM for Greg.

          Diabolical as a word prompt? Noted.

          • April Halprin Wayland

            Oops! Duly noted as well!

      • Janet

        Hi Mary Lee…I am a teacher, too. I also have complete recall of INFRARED and MISLED. Both I mis-read for years. To this day I believe “to misle” should be a word as in “trick” and misl-ed is simply the past tense of “to misle”…….I love being able to help kids fall in love with words and language and not see it simply for its utilitarian purposes. Not to mention read correctly…..So bravo to kids who could come up with pandemonium in gr. 4, I am just happy to know they were not familiar with pusillanimous! Can’t wait to hear the “rest of the story” of the word selection. Loving this great game. And I agree with Heidi, I don’t think there are any losers here.

  • Robyn Hood Black

    Hear the crowd roar? Best wishes to both. Suz, you’ve proven you’re anything BUT pusillanimous.

  • Heidi Mordhorst

    So excited for this final matchup, and thrilled that I am a winner after all…”barnacle” was my word! (but also possibly someone else’s too?) Rock it, Stephen. Suz, based on previous performance, I’d say you’ve got this. Your inner hamster will rise to the occasion.

  • Suz Blackaby

    Way to drive the lane, Stephen!

    • Stephen W Cahill

      And may the road rise with you, Suz!

  • Channing Harris

    Your poem strongly reminds me of my first (and only, yet) pilgrimage to Vaux-le-Vicomte, taking in the elegant gem of the chateau, pristine garden terrace vistas, and, stooping over the bridge balustrade, reflection of sky on glassy surface, albeit murky, surrounding moat. Suddenly, challenging the static controlled composition big, really big, grey carp break the surface to gulp water sliders and warn, there are reasons for us all to be pusillanimous when facing animus (or deep, dark moats).

  • Mary Lee

    WOW! You did it, Suz!! Way to go!!!

  • Amy LV

    Two days at the water…once more the writers’ subconscious minds meet. Thank you, Stephen, for the giggle! ‘Barnacle’ was my second choice word for Debbie! (‘Serendipity’ was #1.) Suz – gorgeous and gripping.

  • Robyn Hood Black

    Kudos to both! Suz, your writing is simply enchanting – The quick flick of a silver pen!

  • Loretta Johnson

    These are great!

  • Melinda Harvey

    wow…you both so deserve to be here! Well done!

  • Colette Parry

    Help! Help! I’m trying to vote and failing miserably. Mom says the text “vote now” was hyperlinked when she tried, but clicking on it fails to produce a poll.

    • Ed DeCaria

      Poll is embedded directly within the post beneath the VOTE NOW text (which is pure text and not hyperlinked in any way). If you are using a mobile device, it must be java script-enabled or you will be unable to vote. -Ed

  • Kathryn Apel

    Yes! I knew it would be a fun word to play with. You did it beautifully, Suz.

    And Stephen – why did I think you’d have some fun with barnacles? ;) Of course you would – and did! When I first saw the word I was reminded of Pam Ayres’ Clamp the Mighty Limpet’ – stuck on you.

    Another great match-up! My vote’s in. :)

  • Catherine Johnson

    I can so relate to the beach one, great job both of you!

  • Susan Taylor Brown

    Great job to both you talented poets! Man, Suz, I would have melted if I had snagged your word.

  • http://none K.T. Lund

    Suz. I love the ambience of your poem “pusilanimous.” I especially am rooting for the heron to conquer its’ pusilanimous mood and strike. You did a fine job and I’ll be looking forward more of your poems with their unique viewpoints. Nothing like a challenge to bring out the creative. I’m looking forward to more of your poems. K.T.

  • http://none K.T. Lund

    Adrienne Rich would be proud of you Suz. What a unique response poem to pusilanimous. Great work. Keep it up as I know you will. K.T.

  • http://none K.T. Lund

    Adrienne Rich would be proud of you Suz. What a unique response poem to pusilanimous. K.T.

  • http://none K.T. Lund

    Great job! I’m looking forward to your future poems. Each one shows your creativity. Thanks. K.T.

  • http://none K.T. Lund

    Suz, Someday I will figure out how to give one comment instead of four. There’s always hope. K.T.

  • Jone

    What a word Suz! Holy cow.

  • Irene Latham

    Now THAT is some fine wordplay from both! Funny barnacle and Suz, I am in awe. What a challenge, and how wild and creative your response. SO inspiring!

  • Greg Pincus

    What I love about both these poems – something that’s been a hallmark throughout the Madness, actually, pretty much everywhere – is that they don’t seem to exist because of an assigned word. They exist because they should exist. And with these two words, in particular, that is a testament to the poets’ skill, seems to me. Well done, indeed!

  • Mary Kate

    I have to say, Stephen’s poem has such heart and a delicately told backstory. Even though I like the other poem’s exuberance, that wins for me.

  • Michele Krueger

    Congrats to both of you, for such resiliency in the face of this challenge. Suz, I am a true admirer of your spin on reality, and Stephen, your rhythm and humor are brilliantly displayed! And Greg, I feel the same way- conscious of the fact that the assigned words are so well camoflaged, and woven into the poems’ textures, finding the perfect way to belong..

  • Mary Caditz

    Loved the imagery, Suz!

  • Jim

    Enjoying all the poems / Stephen is the one I am always looking forward to read!

  • Jim

    Would like to see Stephen take it!!

  • JpK

    Mr. Cahill, fingers X’ed buddy!

  • Anne Jackson

    I love the first poem for its richness of language but I have to say I think Stephen’s poem wins it for me with its touching story and its language accessible to children

  • Courtney

    Kids are proud to learn to use big words. My son was taught and then used the word “elixir” in nursery school. Go Suz.

  • Debbie L.

    This pairing is winning if you look at total votes! Go poets! It’s a toss up!

  • Dawn Babb Prochovnic

    This was a fun ride. Suz, your word inspired my blogpost today. My daughter impressed her teacher with the new word she learned on spring break because of YOU. He challenged her to use it in an essay along with her “regular” vocabulary words this week. You all rock!

  • Greg Pincus

    What a battle! Suz, it was a pleasure reading your poems (and comments) throughout. Stephen… I’m glad I get to see one more poem here in the Madness, and I look forward to seeing you more on Twitter, too. It’s been a pleasure being part of this Madness with you both!

  • Susan Taylor Brown

    Congratulations, Stephen. Suz, you really gave him a run for the money. Well played to you both.

  • dot turner

    suz, i honestly do not know just how often that I would use this new word in conversation as i have a hard time pronouncing it….but i want to practice saying it….however i do like coy koi….

  • Amy LV

    Congratulations to you both! It has been a pleasure playing with you…and then watching you play! Cheers! a.

  • Jim

    Well done Steve!

  • Renee LaTulippe

    Well done, poets! Congrats to both of you!