The meeting of the Supreme Poetry Council was not going well.
Thor and Moe, my two poetry enforcers, seem to think glasnost has something to do with glass and broken noses.
Look, I said, I think we have a winner of the World's Most Dangerous Poetry Contest. As you remember, the theme was "hard times," meaning the crisis in the Mideast, recession, the S&L mess, stuff like that. And the poems had to be either limericks or haiku. So try this one by Ray Hamilton of Baltimore:
From the viewpoint of a soldier
With a gas mask in his hand,
It's a virtue to be patient
In this boring desert land
Trusted leader, what's your hurry?
Use diplomacy I pray.
If it's up to me I'd rather
Have embargoes any day.
If you're tempted to take action
To engage in war and strife.
From the viewpoint of a soldier
Take your time before my life.
"Hey," said Moe, "that's not a limerick!"
"And it's not a haiku!" said Thor. "It's more like cheap Rudyard Kipling!"
I remembered the day I first met Thor and Moe. Back then, they were just two charming street urchins rolling tourists down by Harborplace. Today, they are poetry critics. Go figure.
OK, OK, I said. So I'll make today's column for those people who didn't win, but who distinguished themselves in some other manner. Take this haiku by Sarah Almin of Columbia, age 8:
I had a hard day.
The new slap wrap I had broke
"Hey," said Moe, "that's pretty good. How come it's not a winner?"
Because I am not entirely sure an 8-year-old really wrote it, I said. The handwriting is that of an adult, which is why I can barely read the signature. I do know that Sarah lives on Strawturkey Court in Columbia and there is only one way to find out if she had help with this poem or not.
"You don't mean," gasped Thor, "The . . . Test!"
Yes, I said. We take Sarah down to the meat locker on the second floor of The Sun, give her a new topic and see if she can come up with a haiku all by herself.
"And we drop rats on her head while she's doing it, right?" chortled Moe.
No, no, no, I said. I don't think that will be necessary. In fact, I'll think I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and dispense with The Test. Because anyone who has to go through childhood telling people she lives on Strawturkey Court has been punished enough.
A lot of other kids also entered the contest this year, encouraged by their teachers to write limericks and haiku, which teaches them something about grammar, imagery and poetry.
"And it taught me to be very depressed," said Moe.
Which I couldn't argue with. I know the subject of the contest was hard times, but, jeez Louise, kids, gimme a break.
Take this entry from Carrie Bublitz, Rim of the World High School, Lake Arrowhead, Calif.:
There once was a boy who was seven.
He couldn't wait to be eleven.
His parents got mad,
And beat him real bad.
Now the poor boy is in heaven.
Not to be outdone, we had this little ditty from Minh Tram Dao, Sepulveda Jr. High in Sepulveda, Calif.:
My father's at war
My mother's always crying
My sister's such a bore
And I'm here dying.
Or for a real change of pace there was Shawn Roberts,Kraemer Junior High, Placentia, Calif.:
There once was a dope
Who smoked marijuana and choked
but then one day
he went away
because he really croaked.
"Gee," said Moe, "California sounds like a real cheery place to live. You think maybe they're slipping something into the avocados?"
So let's bounce back with Rosemarie C. Moores of Reisterstown, who hasn't written a limerick or a haiku, but still has a message:
Times are tough, yes it's true
My belt's so tight my face is blue
Can't afford to buy gasoline
My stocks are on a trampoline
The luxuries in life, indeed, are few.
But each day still holds some fun.
The Prince of Darkness has not won.
Because on this you can bet
However low the funds may get.
I will always buy The Sun.
"Can I have some time to wipe away a tear?" asked Moe.
"I, too, am all choked up by this cheap and cynical attempt to get
one's name in the paper by sucking up to the judges," said Thor.
And it certainly worked, I said. Though Matthew Baum of Baltimore took a different, much more dangerous, tack:
We pay for the past roll of dices
Stocks are down -- not a winner
Most wallets are thinner
But The Sun can still raise its prices.
Moe pulled on his oiled leather gloves and began searching through his briefcase for his brass knuckles. "I think I'll pay a little visit to Mr. Baum just to congratulate him," he said.
"Yeah," said Thor. "And just to remind him that even with the price hike, The Sun is still cheaper, pound for pound, than caviar, cashews or emeralds."
Well, I see we're out of room today. Which means the winners of my poetry contest will appear in Sunday's paper. This is good news and bad news.
The bad news is that it will cost you a buck-fifty to find out who won.
But the good news is that this is still a better deal than a visit from Thor and Moe.