The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
Loser-friendly discussion with The Empress of The Style Invitational

Week 956: We’re going ‘bad’ this week — but our obit poems are downright lively

By the E, Pat Myers

Let’s be sprightly: We have 55 column inches of Invite (online) today — last week’s, for example, was 33 inches — so I’d rather you curl up with this week’s anthology of almost 30 obit poems than dally over here. Also, as I type, the Invitational is already up online; there were all kinds of weird production problems tonight courtesy of The Diabolical Methode System, and I wanted to make sure it was actually working before Ben in IT went home for the night. (Some of the poems’ lines don’t break ideally, but if you click on the “Print” icon under the cartoon, you’ll see them as they’re intended to look.)

Week 956 is another “joke contest,” as opposed to a wordplay, poetry or visual contest. Larry Yungk, who’s convalescing from some unpleasant surgery and so had lots of “bad” stuff on his mind, sent me a very long list of possible categories, from which I’ve chosen half a dozen. If this contest proves a success — and why shouldn’t it — we can do it again and again with new categories.

I haven’t judged the “then the fight started” contest and hope this new one doesn’t somehow overlap with it. I doubt it will.


Just as certain as taxes and the other thing is that a few weeks into the New Year, we will have a great collection of poems about people and sundry others who/that succumbed during the previous year. The first Dead Letters — Week 539, Jan. 4, 2004 — was the Empress’s first poetry contest, posted just four weeks into her reign. (The winner: “Idi, you were real Amin/ Your passing we think swell./ They’re laughing up in Heaven ’cause/ They know Uganda Hell.” — Bob Dalton)

As usual, there were lots of entries from both the regular Losers and at least a couple of dozen new names. As usual, the entries included a variety of fascinating ex-people, though there were very few unique subjects in the contest. Ms. Vickers the actress-turned-mummy was one (thanks to Christopher Lamora, from the Invite’s Loser cell in the State Deparment). New people tended to throw themselves into competition against with a list of odes to Kim Jong-Il and Osama bin Laden.

Only 11 poems fit onto the print Invitational this week, so most of the inking verse appears only online. The four “above-the-fold” winners must run in the paper, but honorable mentions’ appearance on the print page shouldn’t imply at all that they’re of higher quality than the Web-only verses. Instead, they’re chosen to present a variety of subjects, genres and lengths in a pretty small space. All HMs, print and online, win magnets (unless they’re written by First Offenders and instead earn the coveted FirStink).

I spent a lot of time this week hemming and hawing (well, I did the hemming and my editor Lynn Medford did the hawing) over which entries of similar quality would get ink and which would go magnetless. While of course there are strict limits about how much will fit on the print page, I can’t look at the week’s Online Invite, either, as an infinitely large poetry journal: There’s a limit on what people are willing to read; we’re already pushing it with almost 2,000 words. And so at least a dozen very clever verses bit the dust, Invite-wise.

We had a number of haiku but none made it past my first cut; while a haiku might contain a witty, terse obvservation, there’s a good chance that someone else made another witty, terse observation about the same person, but within some challenging rhyme or metrical scheme. It’s the latter person who’ll get the ink. We did have a number of double dactyls and near double dactyls, and a few limericks.

All four of this week’s top winners have been acclaimed for their poetry. Stephen Gold of Glasgow, Scotland, (Invite stats anagram name He Spelt ‘Dong’) won his first Inker with a limerick; now he has a matching one for his bookshelf. Inker trophies — though they were created for use as bookends — are so small and flimsy that they couldn’t possibly hold back a stack of anything beyond a few pamphlets; while Stephen’s other Inker arrived intact across the pond, I’m hoping to be able to present this one to him in person when he and his wife visit the States the first weekend of June, if the trip is still on and he can wait that long. (Stephen’s poem was also the choice of Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford.)

Melissa Balmain submitted both a long version and a short version of her commemoration of Ryan Dunn, the “Jackass” star. While the shorter one was very good, it was the long version’s line after line of fanciful exotic demises, set to a Dr. Seussian quadruple-dactyl meter, that demanded to be shared in full, even on the print page. Melissa’s been among us only since Week 941, but she goes farther back with the Invite indirectly: She wrote this delightful profile of Major Invitational Bard Mae Scanlan for a 2009 issue of the poetry magazine Light Quarterly (it doesn’t publish online, so this is a PDF; just scroll down to see each page).

Contrasting with Melissa’s lengthy poem is Danny Bravman’s two-liner on “Doctor Death” Jack Kevorkian. It also contrasted with a long poem Danny sent himself — an ambitious but non-inking 12-line sonnet lauding Bil Keane of “The Family Circus.” Danny, a Loser (on and off) since high school, has an impressive 11 above-the-fold inks among his total of 70..

And really cleaning up this week is Christopher Lamora, who first drew a lot of notice four years ago with his poems on the late Lady Bird Johnson and Boris Yeltsin. Christopher scores with his tributes to Christopher Hitchens, Amy Winehouse and horror actress-turned-mummy Yvette Vickers (check out the article in the link as well), but he had at least that many more that could easily have gotten ink.


I was pretty happy to put Phil Battey’s two-line poem about “Last Tango” actress Maria Schneider right into the print paper. Meanwhile, Dixon Wragg sent in an equally terse but much more explicit variation on the same theme:

She’s seen her last tango, has Maria Schneider,
Whom I’ll always remember with butter inside her.


Sort of imminent, anyway. The next Loser brunch is Sunday, Feb. 19, at 11 a.m. at Buddy’s in Annapolis, down near the City Dock. Very picturesque. RSVP to Elden Carnahan here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make this one.

And the wheels are turning to have a Flushies award “banquet” at some scenic but weather-protected (and plumbing-equpped) site sometime this spring. Stay tuned.

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