Poetry Wednesday: The Vonnegut Challenge

In 2007,  students attending Xavier High School in New York  wrote letters to several well-known authors.

Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to write back, and someone recently put a framed copy of the letter up on imgur.

It seems to have gone viral—my sister-in-law sent this to me last week, and two other people showed it to me over the weekend, and its all over Facebook—and no wonder:

Vonnegut Poem Assignment(click to enlarge)

Mr. Vonnegut isn’t known for his poetry,* which may be part of his point here, but he obviously loved the stuff, and he even more obviously loved the stuff inside people that makes poetry happen.

I admit to feeling that way myself.

Except . .  .  as wonderful and freeing as I know writing a secret poem can feel,  and knowing that the most secret poem is one that no one else can ever possibly read, I found the idea of destroying poems—even bad poems, even purple poems, any poem—disturbing.

So when a poet-friend walked into the library the other day,  I grabbed her.

She read the letter, heard me out, then shrugged and said, “Poems are  stubborn.  If they want to be written again, they will be.”**

That . . . I mean . . . whoa.

Talk about freeing.  I’m not a poet, but even I felt everything get lighter.


Who’s up for a challenge?

 Vonnegut was of the opinion that the act of writing a poem—or creating anything, really—was its own reward.  And again I have to agree with him.***

But I also know—lord, do I—that the act of creation can sometimes use a little motivation.

Here ’tis:

You have until Friday at CST Midnight to write a six line poem that rhymes, tear it into little pieces, take a pic of the pile, and e-mail the image to me at the e-mail address at the top of my sidebar, with “Vonnegut Challenge Accepted” in the subject heading.

That’s it.  That’s all you have to do.

And when you do, your name will be put in my Red Felted Hat of Win for a chance at winning the regular-sized mug of your choice from Cafe Press,^ because I’ve discovered that mugs are a powerful motivation all by themselves.

Easiest. Challenge.  Ever.

Poet Mug

Go forth and experience becoming!
(and send me a pic)


*Off the top of my head, I only know of one that’s independent of his stories. It’s about Joseph Heller, and it’s here, along with a pretty cool story about Mr. Vonnegut, which seems to be the only kind of stories there are about him.

**All my friends are cooler than I am, but this particular one registers at Vonnegut levels.

***Not that there’s anything wrong with getting paid for your creations—I wouldn’t mind being in that situation myself—but if getting paid is your only reward . . . you’re probably not creating art.

^Or an equivalent gift certificate, if you prefer to keep your mailing address as secret as your poem.  I won’t judge.


14 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday: The Vonnegut Challenge

  1. If writing unrhymed poems is like playing tennis without a net, does it mean they’re easier or harder?

    I guess it leads, at least, to arguments about whether the ball was in or out, as I often end up explaining why my poem is, in fact, a poem. Even if it doesn’t rhyme. 😉

    • The answer to your question, I think, is, “Yes.” 🙂

      Poems are always In, I think, even when they cross certain lines.

      (are you gonna send me a picture or not, caitlin? 🙂 )

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s