The world's most dangerous poetry contest is back.
The Sixth Annual Roger Simon Greater Eastern Seaboard Poetry Contest is about to begin.
As in past years, the contest has a theme. We have a theme to keep the contest current and creative, and mainly to keep you from copying poems out of your high school poetry book and trying to pass them off as your own.
This year's theme is: hard times.
Saddam Hussein has the world on the brink of war. Gasoline prices are skyrocketing. People can't sell their homes. Congress is paralyzed. The savings and loans are collapsing. The White House is in confusion. And I don't feel that well myself.
Your poems must be on any one of these or related topics. They need not be gloomy. They can suggest solutions or be hopeful. What do you care if everybody laughs at you?
Just because the rest of the world is in chaos, however, does not mean this contest is. No, we have rules.
RULE ONE: All poems must be either limericks or haiku. A limerick has an instantly recognizable rhyme and meter, and your crazy Uncle Lou probably remembers hundreds of dirty ones from the Great War.
Here is an example of a hard times limerick:
There was a young man and his spouse,
Who were trying to sell off their house.
"We need all our dough,
"To make our car go,
"And make the gas station guy richer, that louse!"
See, that's a limerick. The endings of the first, second and fifth lines all rhyme. The third and fourth lines also rhyme. A lot of you have tended to miss that in your past limericks. In fact, a lot of you have tended to miss things like rhyme, meter, and the English language in general.
Now, let's talk about haiku. Writing haiku is both easy and difficult. Schoolchildren often write terrific haiku.
A haiku is a poem of three lines. The first line has five syllables. The second line has seven syllables. The third line has five syllables.
(For those of you who are already confused, write for my free booklet: "Hey, What's A Syllable?" Please enclose $32.50 for handling.)
A haiku has no rhymes. And it must express a single, penetrating idea. Here is a haiku:
"High winds, 10,000 degrees,
"Channel 3, Baghdad."
At this point, you might be saying: "Hey, that haiku really bites. And that limerick isn't much better."
And you're right. You can do much better than I. So get out your pen, pencil or crayon and do so.
RULE TWO: Here is the rule you seem to have the most difficulty with. Your entries must be on postcards. That's because one year I had to open a kazillion envelopes and I had so many paper cuts that every time I walked past the National Aquarium, the sharks would go into a feeding frenzy.
So, postcards only. They don't have to be dull, plain ones. In past years I have received a stunning variety of colorful postcards, which I have taped to my walls at home to both brighten the place and keep out the wind.
You can enter as many times as you want. You can enter both haiku and limericks. But only one poem to a postcard. That means if you want to enter 12 times, you've got to pop for 12 postcards. This is my attempt to keep postal workers employed and the nation functioning.
RULE THREE: I am the sole judge and my two enforcers, Thor and Moe, who live in a meat locker on the second floor of The Sun, are my poetry police.
"What pathetic prize does the winner get this year?" Thor asked.
"The free weekend in Fiji with the Board of Estimates didn't attract much interest last year," Moe said.
The winner will get his or her name in my column, I said. Isn't getting your name in the paper honor enough?
"You can get your name in the paper by chopping up your husband with a fire ax," Moe pointed out.
"Or by being selected Miss North Linthicum Macrame Queen," Thor pointed out.
OK, OK, I said. The winner will not only get his or her name in my column, but an autographed copy of my new book.
"Gee," Moe said, "we better put up ropes to hold the crowd back when people hear that."
"Yeah," said Thor, "why don't you promise the winner a cup of broken glass, too."
Thor and Moe can be very sarcastic when they want to be. Really.
RULE FOUR: Get those postcards in fast because Thor and Moe are on a deadline. They have just received word that their military reserve unit has been activated.
"We are both classified 1-Q," Thor said.
"That means in case of actual war," Moe said, "we have to pile sandbags around Dan Quayle."