SPAM Poetry Challenge

As a human, certain things annoy me, and certain happenings frustrate me.

As a writer, those same things and happenings also always challenge me. While the human me wants to whine or complain or throw a fit, the writer me wants to step back and analyze and create something valuable from the experience.

I perceive most everything in my life from both of these perspectives. Even in my most human moments, my dispassionate writer self is standing in the back corner, just watching … thinking … looking for some new angle to be explored.

But through all of life’s fights and failures, insults and injuries — all of which give me at least some small drip of fuel as a writer — one thing stands out as a source of extreme annoyance and frustration that routinely leaves my writer self a writhing, hysterical, helplessly human mess:

reCAPTCHA

That’s right … reCAPTCHA. The squint-inducing internet anti-spam program that spews out nonsensical alphanumeric sequences and demands that I, a human, prove to it, a robot, that I am not a robot. The cruelty! The twisted logic!! The extra clicks!!!

But now, after years of yielding to my human self in the face of reCAPTCHA’s purposeful evil, my writer self has finally decided to stand up for itself.

But how? Naturally, no one wants to read a story or poem about inconvenient computer security software. So my writer self had to come up with some other way to turn this experience into something useful.

Then, the other night, as I sat staring at my screen deciphering the block of letters assigned to me upon attempting to leave a comment on a Blog That Shall Not Be Named, I did it. I took a step back. I tilted my head twenty degrees to the right. And I read my reCAPTCHA inkblot aloud as if it was a word.

A word. With consonants and vowels. With syllables and stresses. A word that meant absolutely nothing.

And I thought: How interesting …

I wonder if I could write a poem using my reCAPTCHA word along with other non-words, eliminating all possible meaning or interpretation, intentionally leaving only the sound of the letters together, the punctuation of the lines, and the meter of the stressed and unstressed syllables.

So I tried it, and here was the result (my reCAPTCHA word was “erytairn”):

Erytairn ace ra punkeeset-too;
Las nett, las nupp, aye gee yu.
Hackerdorn masterun felderaik mew;
Jonoscope mystonite funkerwet-loo.

It was kinda fun to write, so I wanted to do another one. I found another blog that I knew used reCAPTCHA, found a post I liked, left another comment, and got myself another word (this time “wehbahi”):

Saralisa wehbahi,
Sarawiba hee.
Maribito teenyby,
Maritino bee.
Ronahono verislew
Ronavoro say.
Petapita sorihew
Petasira hey!

Are these poems? Not really, no. But am I better for the experience? I will argue that I am.

One of the most challenging things that I had to teach myself as a writer of poetry was how to listen to the words on the page. Not to hear the words as they sounded in my head, but to listen to the words that I actually wrote on the page, as if I was reading them as a stranger for the first time. With REAL words, for a long time it was easy to stress and unstress and speed up and slow down as I wished to make my poems sound the way I wanted them to to fit my story/metaphor/message. It took me a long time to develop the ability to listen to what my poems really sounded like to other readers.

But what I discovered here is that with FAKE words, I am forced to listen to the words as they are. The only way to make the poem sound better — to smooth its edges, to refine its rhythm — is to change the words themselves, the syntax, the punctuation, or something else on the physical page.

And that’s how it is with real poems, too. The lesson is: You can’t just read and re-read a poem to yourself until it sounds better; you have to actually make it better.

So, for anyone out there who is looking for a way to practice writing using various poetic elements, or for those just looking for something fun to do with poetry, I challenge you to write your own SPAM (Sound, Punctuation, and Meter) poem. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go visit a blog that you enjoy that uses reCAPTCHA. (Hint: Look for Blogger blogs like Greg Pincus’ GottaBook, Laura Shovan’s AuthorAmok, or Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s Poem Farm, all of which use reCAPTCHA.)
  2. Find a post there that interests you.
  3. Write a thoughtful comment.
  4. Type your reCAPTCHA word (and number!) into the little box.
  5. Before submitting, copy/paste your reCAPTCHA word into a blank document.
  6. Submit your comment.
  7. Go to your document and write a real poem using fake words, including your reCAPTCHA word. Avoid using real words unless a certain combination of sounds that you want to use in your poem just happen to form a real word.
  8. Read your poem aloud and listen closely. How does it sound to you? Can you change any “words” (sounds) to create a smoother reading? Do certain sounds not flow well when put together? Do certain sounds not go well with the pace of your poem? What else can you rearrange to make it sound better?
  9. Analyze your poem’s punctuation. Is it useful? Is it consistent? Is it grammatically correct (and, if not, is there a reason for that)?
  10. Scan your poem’s meter. What rhythm and beat pattern do you set in the first line or two? Does that rhythm and pattern repeat precisely throughout the rest of the poem? If not, was the blip intentional, or does it need to be fixed?
  11. When you’re satisfied, stash it away and read it again later, just to make sure you still like it. If not, revise again.
  12. When you’re done done, think about the exercise and what you learned, if anything.

Feel free to post your SPAM poem in the comments below. And tell me what website your reCAPTCHA word came from, too!

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  • http://www.poetrytalents.com Gloson Teh

    You sir, come up with the best acronyms!

    This sounds pretty fun. Will give it a go when I have time.

    It’s not about the meaning, it’s about the sound! :D

  • http://deborahholtwilliams@blogspot.com Deborah Holt Williams

    I got the words dertsIn 6001 from the Poem Farm’s reCAPTCHA. I found it was much harder to make up fake words (dertsIn schmertsin, pammlety foo, klertsin, quertsin, vamvetty ploo) than it was to plug a fake word into a poem with real words:

    Oh, the cat’s in the cradle but the dertsIn the crib.
    The proof is in the pudding but the dertsIn the bib.
    The power’s in the pen but the dertsIn the nib.
    There’s wind in the sails but the dertsIn the jib.

    • http://www.thinkkidthink.com Ed DeCaria

      Nice, Deborah.

      And yes, your definition of SPAM may vary!

  • http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com Ms. Yingling

    Quite fun! Much more technically improving than book spine poetry, which is the other thing I meant to try this month. Interesting how my mind went immediately to dactyls, prompting the line to pop into my head: “Do we daily dream in dactyls, or do iambs rule our souls?” Run with it!

  • http://www.MichelleHBarnes.com Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

    What a brilliant diversion- I love it!

  • http://www.irenelatham.com Irene Latham

    Nonsense words! Such fun, and how free-ing. I am always so pressed for time (aren’t we all) that Captcha does have the power to ruffle me — esp. when half the time my first effort at deciphering is wrong! Grrrr…. way to have fun with it, Ed.

  • http://www.mainelywrite.blogspot.com Donna

    The teachers who link to Two Writing Teachers write each day in March as a Slice of Life, and a couple of them have written CAPTCHA poems last year and this. Very entertaining stuff those CAPTCHAs.

  • http://www.mainelywrite.blogspot.com Donna

    Oh, oh, my! You have to go here. This guy has recorded the CAPTCHA in audio and compiled it as a poem! http://transmissionarts.org/work/snencr then click on the audio tab to get to the two “audio captcha poems. Sounds like he’s speaking in another language.
    These links to straight to the files if you want to skip the description of how he did it: http://data.free103point9.org/r/06/g1/sm/Captcha%20Poem%20B.mp3
    http://data.free103point9.org/r/gr/qg/9p/Captcha%20Poem%20A.mp3
    Just another way of looking at poetry!

    • http://www.thinkkidthink.com Ed DeCaria

      Whoa. Those are “out there”. My examples are fairy tales compared to those audio compositions!

      Thanks for sharing, Donna.

  • http://catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com Catherine Johnson

    Oh how fun are they! I bet Renee likes those, she’s great at nonsense words. Captcha codes are so frustrating. Great idea, Ed!

  • http://www.mattforrest.com Matt Forrest Esenwine

    Wow, Ed – I give you credit. These are fun and creative, certainly…but are far too annoying for me to have even bothered thinking about them as poetry. It IS a fun exercise…but good grief, I hate them. In fact, many blog posts I’ve visited have gone comment-free after I spent the time writing my comments – because I gave up trying to decipher the reCaptchas after the 2nd try!

  • http://www.teacherdance.blogspot.com/ Linda Baie

    Okay, Ed, here’s one. BTW, in the captchas, you just need to type in the letters & can ignore the numbers.

    Actually rather fun, especially to read aloud. In mine, the “o” at the end is a long o sound.

    avilabi, avilabi, renexif ah la do
    weven tig, sa le ta lo,
    enaiken rensamo
    avilabi, avilabi, en aberage cahto

  • http://www.animalhero.com Dave Crawley

    “Pubweet” the tweet so sweetly sings.
    “Pubweet!” It soars, on angel wings.
    “Type these two words” the link commands.
    But how to answer such demands?
    Alas, when all is said and done,
    “pubweet” is not “two words.” Just one.

  • http://twitter.com/ana_paest Ana Paest

    upon igansitu
    augusta embridu
    was specura jura htaove

    Dirichlet dedtedo
    movedcal vieissio
    was ityNoli isracommov

    i’d do this for hours
    but i need a shower
    cuz yesterday’s in today’s hair

    ed i ain’t mad at ‘cha
    just need to reCaptcha
    the grime that i’m priming up there

  • http://teachingyoungwriters.blogspot.com betsy

    This made me laugh. There is actually a song called, I Am Not a Robot!

  • http://authoramok.blogspot.com/2012/11/poetry-friday-songwriting-with-mary.html Laura Shovan

    I agree with you, Ed. Some of the nonsense words CAPTCHA invents are delicious or weird or just close enough to real words to rise above nonsense. “Pubweet” reminds me of a bird call. This whole conversation reminds me of “Jabberwocky.”