Friday, March 15, 2013

process; product

It's Madness indeed--the March Madness Poetry Tournament hosted by Ed DeCaria!   On Monday evening I received my 10-seeded word--HYPOCRISY-- which in 36 hours I had to develop into a poem worthy of competition.  The word gave me pause, certainly; I worried that I would, like many with even more challenging, abstract words, have to spend my eight allowed lines defining it.  But my 10-year-old easily demonstrated his understanding of "hypocrite," so I forged ahead....
and wrote a rather serious, instructive piece that just didn't seem to be the right thing for the competition:

A Little Light Lying 

Your parents teach you social graces:
“Really—you look good in braces!” 

We say what we don’t really mean;
The edge of truth’s a touch too keen. 

But falseness leaves an ashy trace
A lasting mask tough to erase

Face the mirror, fail to see—
That’s genuine hypocrisy.
~Heidi Mordhorst 2013
So I decided to start completely over, with something involving a hippo.  Obvious, right?  And naturally comical.  And then--now that I review my Tuesday night train of thought, I can barely discern how I got there, but it had to do with reading a lot about hippos and watching a lot of amateur YouTube videos of hippos and crocodiles--a line of poetry came into my head:  "How doth the little crocodile..."  That was all I had at first.
Luckily, Google rarely lets me down, and soon I had the voice of Alice (yeah, the Disney Alice) reciting her whole poem from Chapter Two of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. 
How doth the little crocodile

Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale! 
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in

With gently smiling jaws!
Wikipedia similarly rarely lets me be, so there I discovered something I had forgotten--that Alice's crocodile recitation is her garbled version of a serious, instructive poem of the 18th century poet Isaac Watts.  His poem is about a bee and is usually titled
Against Idleness and Mischief
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower! 
How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes. 
In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do. 
In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.
Et voila!  A concept.  By only a couple of hours past my bedtime, I had borrowed Isaac's form and diction along with Lews's parodic twist and submitted this to the MMPT competition:
Against Falsity and Pretense

How doth the chubby hippo
Improve his shining hide
And bob the waters of the Nile
On every muddy side!

How lazily he opens wide!
How jolly seems to be!
Then crushes skulls of crocodiles
With sweet hippo-crisy.

Is that cheating?  I decided not (and it was, after all, AT LEAST a couple of hours past my bedtime).  While not wholly original, I reckoned that I had done enough creative reworking to justify calling it mine, and part of the work was a new appreciation for the historical antecedents of our modern poetry for kids. 
At this writing the competition is fierce!  I'm up against Alvaro Salinas Jr. (aka M.M. Socks) and his funny "LeeAnn's Farm," and after an early lead I find that the the voting is EXACTLY EQUAL!  Stay tuned to find out if my hypocritical bee/crocodile/hippo can garner enough votes to get me to Round Two!
And now we must give a bit of Poetry Friday attention to the PF Anthology for Middle Schools, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.  I'm wondering what would have happened if those clever editors had told us what the weekly themes in the book would be, so that all us poets could have written to assignment, as we're doing in the Tournament or may have done for the poetry tag e-books?  Would our pieces have been any better? Worse? More risky and edgy as we ventured outside our own comfort zones, as we're doing with these crazy words Ed has given us?  Process is soooooo interesting!
The Poetry Friday round-up is with Jone today at Check It Out!  See you there!


  1. But...but... my daughters really *did* look good in braces.

  2. I posted about my MM daffodil process today, too! So much fun to see how all these poems came to be. I like your first one, but the title of your second is hysterical, as is the poem. But you still changed it a bit, no? The one posted has "from side to muddy side" and simple "hypocrisy" at the end, I think. So methinks you did even MORE tweaking.

    Either way, I loved your hippo! It's a nail-biter!

    That's a great question about the PFAMS. I would have loved to have an assigned topic rather than shoot in the dark, but then again, I think they might also have let the poems guide the topic breakdowns. Who knows? I personally love writing to a given word or word list, which is what I do in my daily work. It's challenging but freeing at the same time.

  3. Heidi, I absolutely loved your hippo poem (what an astounding way make "hypocrisy" understandable to kids as young as seven years old!) and I voted for it. I know there are only a few minutes left to vote - oh, I can't stand thinking you might not be offering up excellent poems to entertain us all the way through to the March Madness finals! Seeing a favorite go down to defeat is harder than the whole poetry-under-pressure process of coming up with something to submit, in my opinion.

  4. Hi, Heidi. I love all of these writing process posts! You, Renee, Liz and I all shared poems we didn't enter or pieces of poems as they developed.

    Your hippo, that hypocrite, is adorable. Just naughty enough to be fun.

  5. I liked the hippo poem you wrote for the competion, but I like the un-entered one even more.

    I've also got two un-entered poems on my blog -- and I preferred both of the unentered ones to he one I entered but I picked the most kid-appropriate of the lot.

  6. I love hearing the back story and process that went into the tournament poems. Congrats for your poem entry - I loved it! =)

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the evolution of your hippo. I also watched you-tube videos (of dung beetles, not hippos) and readi up on wikipedia to find juicy tidbits to include. I loved and voted for your chubby hippo....drat, with your herculean effort and stellar result, I wish you were going on to the next round.

  8. Thanks for another (+Renee's) fascinating process post.

    I'm pouting a bit that your hippo didn't move you on...

  9. This MMPoetry tournament is so about Poetry Love and the posts I have read with the back stories makes it all the more interesting. I loved your hippo/hypocrisy poem and was pulling for you, Heidi!! I actually like the one here even better. Congratulations to any winners on this page. I don't know yet who won in R1 Fl2, must go and look. Heidi, I send out big hugs to you often. If it wasn't for you, I don't know when I would have found my poetry people in the Kidlitosphere. I'm even writing again. Glad to have you back. Do you have any reciters yet in your Kdg? I would love to visit when I get to my friend's in Baltimore some day!
    Janet F.
    PS This is in the "oh ye of little faith" first I thought the words for MMP were too hard and too obscure. Proved wrong, though I think slightly more usable and known words are better for kids. The authletes ROCKED the first round. All poems amazed for different reasons.

  10. It's so fun to see the process. Thanks!


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