Maryland is in crisis. Thousands are faced with the loss of jobs. Schoolchildren are threatened with hunger. The homeless are without shelter. The impoverished are without hope.
Which can mean only one thing: It's time once again for The World's Most Dangerous Poetry Contest!
Yes! The Seventh Annual Roger Simon Greater Eastern Seaboard Poetry Contest begins today.
As you know, each year's contest has a theme. In 1985, the theme was squeegee kids. The winner was Alison Doherty with:
Squeegees remove grime
Allowing us to see life
More than we wished to.
PTC In 1988, the theme was the Orioles' disastrous season and the winner was Marc Barron with:
It's silly for me to compose
This verse on the Baltimore O's
Why should I show 'em
This insipid poem
When they really need hard hitting pros.
Pros/prose, get it? Never mind. Last year, the subject was hard ** times and the winner was George S. Friedman with:
In this world of pollution and rubble,
I see nothing but sorrow and trouble
So I'm searching for hope
Through my new telescope
(Had it made by a fellow named Hubble.)
Which was a very nice winning entry in a contest marked by enormous controversy.
The controversy came about when the contest's chief judge, the contest's arbiter of disputes and the contest's official rule maker (all me) went temporarily insane and opened the contest to the nation as a whole.
What followed was a ton of entries from Maryland, a number of entries from a scattering of states, and nearly a thousand poems from California.
I did not anticipate this. What I didn't realize is that since people in California don't have to work -- you can pick oranges right off the trees -- they have an enormous amount of time to write poetry.
And they did. Which bogged down the expert team of judges (me again), making everybody very testy.
Many of you wrote me nasty letters saying that Californians should not be allowed to enter not only because most of them are on hallucinogenic substances, but also because they already have Zsa Zsa Gabor and how much more pleasure in life can they expect?
Not a single person, however, pointed out what I would have pointed out: By what stretch of the imagination can California be considered part of the "Greater Eastern Seaboard"?
Which, I think, demonstrates once again why most of my readers can be summed up in one word: comatose.
In any case, all foreign entries are banned this year. This year's contest is open only to readers of The Sun.
OK, now I'd like all of you to take another look at the three poems I have printed in this column. To make this easier, the poems are printed in italics. (For further help, write for my free booklet: "Hey, What's Italics?")
Now ask yourself: What do these poems have in common?
Answer: They are either limericks or haiku.
A limerick has five lines and a familiar rhythm. The endings of the first, second and fifth lines rhyme. The third and fourth lines also rhyme.
Or, in layman's terms, a limerick is an epigrammatic piece of verse in five lines of mixed iambic and anapestic meter. Lines 1, 2, and 5 are in trimeter and lines 3 and 4 are in dimeter, with a rhyme scheme of a-a-b-b-a.
A haiku has three lines. The first line has five syllables. The second line has seven syllables. The third line has five syllables. The lines do not rhyme and they express a single, penetrating idea.
Very young schoolchildren can write haiku. In fact, very young schoolchildren can write great haiku.
But I suggest that no matter what your age, you do what I do and count the syllables on your fingers before submitting your haiku. (For further help, write for my free booklet: "Hey, What's A Finger?")
Each year the contest has a new theme in order to keep you from submitting the old poems you wrote in high school. This year's theme is: What I Would Do To Save Maryland.
A haiku on this theme might be:
People must unite,
Find an enemy: Invade
Or a limerick on the subject might be:
In order to save every trooper,
We have to commit a big blooper,
So the counties we'll screw,
Hurt lots to help few,
It's typical Annapolitan stupor.
Since without rules life would be chaos, here they are:
RULE ONE: Haiku or limericks only. No novellas, ballets, or unsold book manuscripts.
RULE TWO: You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be on a separate postcard. Read my typeface: Post. Card.
They don't have to be those awful Post Office postcards. They could be those postcards you have left over from your last visit to Luray Caverns or the World's Smallest Cheese in East Puma, Wis. But postcards only, puh-leeze!
RULE THREE: As to prizes, I used to give away an autographed copy of one of my books to the grand prize winner. I admit this is a fairly unexciting inducement. So this year the winner can get either an autographed copy of my most recent book or any book he or she chooses of the same price and I will forge the author's autograph to it.
RULE FOUR: Hurry! My analysis of past winners reveals that most entered the contest in the first week or so. That is probably because in the first week or so I am not yet bored and actually read the entries. Later on, I sometimes just scoop them up from the mail and toss them into the trash. What's that? You don't think that's fair? So sue me.
RULE FIVE: Your poem must be on the theme "What I Would Do to Save Maryland" and must contain an actual idea for salvation. I will take the best ideas and deliver them to Annapolis -- tied to rocks.
Merely expressing general doom and gloom, while certainly fun, will not be enough to win. It is just whining and if all you wanted to do in life was whine, you would not have become a poet, you would have become a newspaper columnist.