Leonard Bernstein

This is a poetry challenge.

Think back to that great song in West Side Story when the women argue about whether it’s better to live in American or Puerto Rico.  Sing this in your head:

I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America
For a small fee in America!

Rhythmically, this is a fascinating lyric.  It combines  3/3 time (waltz time for those of you who didn’t get piano lessons) and 2/2 time on the word “America.”  Let me count it out for you.

I like to   be in A    mer    i       ca.

1-2-3        1-2-3        1-2    1-2    1-2

Notice that all the ones are the heavy beats while the twos and threes are the weak beats.  All the numbers get equal time.  You can beat this out on your desk with your left hand doing the ones and your right hand doing the twos and threes.

Most poetry settles for a fairly settled rhythmic pattern like iambic pentameter.  You’ll find it in Shakespeare sonnets and in a line from Keats below:

2     1        2      1          2         1         2    1    2      1

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a few variations to make the words fit the rhythm, that’s the way it is through the whole poem or sonnet:  sets of 2-1s (iambic), repeated five times (pentameter).

Now, along comes composer Bernstein, and he wants to mess around with the rhythm and time.  He’s not the first, but he does it so well here that this becomes a song (actually the chorus) we all like without quite knowing why.

So your challenge, should you choose to accept, is to either use Bernstein’s rhythm or come up with a crazy—but compelling—rhythm of your own where it is not consistent within the line but is consistent across the different lines.

Your content is your own choice, whether funny, serious, or musical.  I know you can do it!

Sir Milos Who?

The orchestra played “The Waltz of the Dancing Bears” as the couples alternately swirled and pounded their feet to the deep bass music, heavily accented by drums.  Candles burned in silver candelabras placed on the window sills of the ball room.  All wore white, shining in the dim light.  Sir Milos Westerman spoke.

Zeus Has a Blog


Details Abound

Details can seem annoying when you’re reading (too much scenery or a paragraph endlessly describing how a room looks), and I’m often told by students that they skip those parts.  Even so, when details are connected to events and dialogue, they add a lot of depth.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept, is to add interesting details to these boring sentences, without writing a whole paragraph.  One sentence limit for each!  Heck, Hemingway wrote a one sentence story:  “For sale:  Baby shoes, never worn.”

Here you go:

  1. We had fish for supper.
  2. Ivan sniffed, then sneezed.
  3. One man yelled, “Bravo!”

The Scarecrow

What is it that he wants?

He Wasn’t Sure What to Do Next

Bart knew he had to get away.  He’d made a big mistake marrying Edith two years ago.  She’d turned out to be not only endlessly crabby but a major slug.  As far as he could tell she lived on bologna and American cheese sandwiches—his dinner three times a week.

He took off on his ten speed, hoping to burn up some of his frustration and anger while also clearing his head.  The bike trial led through the woods and down a hill toward a field dotted with cows.  He’d never been this far, and the trail was beginning to fade into a grassy meadow full of spring dandelions.

Suddenly his front tire hit a rock the size of a softball, throwing Bart over the handlebars onto his back.  He lay there staring up at the sky, trying to catch his breath.


I-O-M-K-S-L-R-R-T-N.   Y-T-G-I-B.