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:
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”):
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:
- 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.)
- Find a post there that interests you.
- Write a thoughtful comment.
- Type your reCAPTCHA word (and number!) into the little box.
- Before submitting, copy/paste your reCAPTCHA word into a blank document.
- Submit your comment.
- 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.
- 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?
- Analyze your poem’s punctuation. Is it useful? Is it consistent? Is it grammatically correct (and, if not, is there a reason for that)?
- 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?
- When you’re satisfied, stash it away and read it again later, just to make sure you still like it. If not, revise again.
- 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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