Cold, hard truth from a middle school boy that explains why many people want to succeed but few do.

A middle school student reading a poem onstage at a TEDx Talk said this:

"You are who you want to be."

This is some cold, hard truth.
That is a truth that many people don't understand.
That is the truth that holds many, many people back from achieving their goals.    

What does it mean?

I am often contacted by people (more often than you might think) who want my advice on becoming more productive. More efficient. A better writer. A published writer. A better storyteller. A better teacher. They want to be more organized. More goal oriented. Happier. Healthier. More successful.

Sometimes I am able to help. I'll coach them. Point them in the right direction. Offer some advice. But what I have learned over the years is this:

You are who you want to be.

Many people want to improve their life. 
Few people want to change in order to do so.

People assume that I have some magic bullet to offer that will instantly make them more successful. They think that all they are missing is a bit of unfound wisdom. A simple strategy or two that will change everything. A mindset that will transform them into the person they've always wanted to be. 

They want the results, but they don't want to do the work required to achieve those results. 

When my doctor told me that my cholesterol was borderline and suggested that I start eating high fiber foods like oatmeal, I began eating oatmeal every single day for lunch, almost without exception.

When I returned for my annual physical a year later, my cholesterol was down almost 40 points. My doctor was shocked. She was sure that I was going to have to begin taking medication. When she asked me what I had done to lower my cholesterol, I told her:

"Oatmeal. I eat it every day. Just like you told me to do."  

Most people want to lower their cholesterol naturally and avoid a lifetime of medication, but few are willing to take the steps to make it happen, so they end up taking pills for the rest of their life. 

You are who you want to be.

I wanted to be someone who didn't have to take medication to control his cholesterol. 

Most people don't want to take medication to control their cholesterol, but they want to maintain their current diet and exercise regime more.

In the end, they are people who eat the foods they like most and wish their cholesterol was lower.

They are the people they want to be.   

This doesn't mean that change isn't possible. It simply means that you need to want to change more than you want to remain the same, and for many people, this is not the case.

I don't know if that kid onstage understood all this when he spoke those seven words, but he was right. 

You are who you want to be. 

A famous writer and I agree on the worst part of sleep

Someone on Twitter sent me this poem:

Those little slices of Death. 
How I loathe them."

I read these three lines and thought, "Yes! I'm not alone! See? Someone else hates sleep, too! Someone else thinks that sleep is way too close to death! See? I'm not crazy!"

Then I saw the poet: Edgar Allen Poe

"Damn," I thought. 


"Poe wasn't that crazy."

Poetry memorization need not be boring or a waste of time. I have used it to make a woman swoon (possibly) and enact one of my greatest pranks of all time against a fellow teacher.

Mike Chasar of Poetry Magazine writes about the lost art of poetry memorization. While it’s true that the academic demand to memorize poetry has all but disappeared from the American school system, I’m happy to report that this dying art remains alive and well in tiny corners of the world, including several of my own.

I took a poetry class in college with the late, great poet and professor Hugh Ogden, and he required us to have a newly memorized poem “of substance” ready for each class. 


“Of substance” meant that it had better not be four lines long.

We sat around a large, wooden table and recited our poems as our classmates listened on. Remarkably, Hugh had many of the poems that we recited committed to memory as well. He would close his eyes as we recited, almost as if he were listening to music and not the fumbling, occasionally inarticulate words of an nervous, undergraduate English major.

It was an incredibly difficult but incredibly rewarding expectation. I still have about half a dozen of those poems committed to memory, including Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which I fell in love with through the process of memorization and still love today.

Later, when I had students of my own –third graders and then fifth graders – I would require them to memorize at least one poem “of substance” each year. My students would grumble and complain about the requirement, but once they had the poem memorized and performed it on stage, they were happy to have done so.

Today, my students perform Shakespeare, and they memorize dozens and sometimes hundreds of lines with nary a complaint. And we still memorize our one poem of the year, myself included, in honor of Hugh.

Years ago, in a time when Elysha and I still exchanged a present for every night of Hanukkah, I memorized Elysha’s favorite poem, William Blake’s  “The Tyger” and presented it as one of my gifts to her. With the poem committed to memory, I told Elysha that she had access to it at any time as long as we were together, and I would always recite to her on demand.

She loved the gift, or at least pretended to love it. And I can still recite the poem today, as can she.


But my favorite moment of poetry memorization occurred about ten years ago when the teacher in the adjoining classroom began using the following call and response with his students:

Teacher: Oh Captain!
Students: My Captain!

I asked the teacher if he knew the Whitman poem that he was using – which I had memorize in college for Hugh and still have committed to memory to this day – and he did not. He had taken the idea from Dead Poet’s Society, the Robin William’s film about an English teacher at a boy’s boarding school in the 1960’s. 

I thought this rather unfortunate, so the next time he was absent from his classroom, I handed a copy of the poem to each of his students and asked them to begin memorizing it in secret. I explained that I would pop into their classroom whenever he was out to help them memorize the poem and rehearse, and one day, when they all knew the poem by heart, they would leap to their feet in the midst of the call and response, and instead of simply saying, “My Captain!” they would proceed to recite the entire poem to him.  

It finally happened on a morning in April. Since our classroom had an adjoining door and window, I was able to wait and listen for him to shout his first, “Oh Captain!” of the day. Then I watched as they all stood and recited the poem back to him. Shouted it back to him. 

In my memory, their recitation was universal and flawless. I suspect the truth was something not quite so cinematic. Still, it was amazing.

Had I been more familiar with the film at the time, I would’ve had them all stand on their desks. That would’ve been cinematic.


Little boy in a box

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Years ago, I wrote a poem about the value of a cardboard box. It was based upon an afternoon that I spent with my childhood friend, David. 

The poem won a writing contest, was published in a now-defunct literary journal, and earned me a little cash. My first legitimate payday as an writer (I sold term papers to classmates in high school and made a bundle, but that was hardly legal).

These photos of my son epitomize the essence of that poem.

Save Your Money Next Time and Just Give Me the Box

Thank you Mother,
for the red, aerodynamic toboggan
that I found under the Christmas tree this morning,
with it’s chiseled runners and
precision steering wires.

But Mother dearest,
in the future,
please know that I have found nothing more exhilarating
than a steep, muddy hill
and a sturdy refrigerator box.

Poetry is not for the faint of heart. At least mine apparently isn’t.

I recently completed a book of poetry and asked some of my faithful first readers to consider offering me their feedback before I pass it onto my agent.

One of my first first readers and one of the earliest supporters of my writing career replied thusly:

I once enjoyed, and even wrote, poetry, but since my soul was destroyed I have lost that connection. I suspect I would not be the best reader for this one.

How could I not love this man?


The New York Times gets haiku all wrong, and I’m infuriated. Probably more than I should be.

The New York Times has been publishing “serendipitous haikus” for the last couple years on a Tumblr called Times Haiku. An algorithm designed to detect potential haikus in text periodically scans the New York Times home page for newly published articles. Then it scans each sentence looking for potential haikus by using an electronic dictionary containing syllable counts.

While I am thrilled that a newspaper would support the writing and publishing of poetry, I’m rarely impressed by these haikus, knowing that they are only based upon the arcane syllable structure that is often taught in elementary school but does not actually define a haiku.


The Times acknowledges this limitation.

A proper haiku should also contain a word that indicates the season, or “kigo,” as well as a juxtaposition of verbal imagery, known as “kireji.”

Unfortunately, these are conditions that their algorithm cannot detect, but they are far more important than the syllable rule, which isn’t an actual rule. While I am inclined to ignore the rule about indicating a season when writing a haiku, it’s the turn or the juxtaposition of verbal imagery that makes a haiku compelling.

Without it, a haiku is merely a collection of words with a specific set of syllables.

Knowing that the Times was relying on an algorithm to produce their Haiku Tumblr, I had no complaint. They weren’t pretending that these were good haikus. It was more of a clever experiment. A fanciful exercise.

It never produced something like this:

a world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

- Issa

Or this:

I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.

-Kato Shuson

But that was okay. I was glad an algorithm can’t write good poetry.

I can’t exactly write good haiku either. My best attempt is probably this one:

As a little child
You held my small hand in yours.
Now I walk for you.

-Matthew Dicks

But this week The New York Times put out a call to its readers for haikus.

For National Poetry Month, City Room hosted the New York City Haiku Challenge. We looked for original haiku that told us a little bit about New York City.

We plan to publish a selection of entries that moved us in some way — that made us laugh, think, reflect, smile, blush or even fume. We plan to illustrate the best ones with Times photographs.

I was excited about the idea. I enjoy writing haiku. I intend on having my students write haiku.

But the Times self-described “101 guide on writing a haiku” could have been taken from a first grade book on the subject:

  • Only three lines.
  • First line must be five syllables.
  • Second line must be seven syllables.
  • The third line must be five syllables.
  • Punctuation and capitalization are up to you.
  • It doesn’t have to rhyme.
  • It must be original.

Where is the call for juxtaposition? Why publish a guide for writing haiku that leaves out the essence of haiku? The part that actually matters?

I know I shouldn’t be infuriated by something so small, but I am.

Why I use “Warmly”

My friend, Tony, was included in a recent email that I signed with the valediction:


Tony’s response:

I must say the “Warmly, Matt” doesn't seem like you.  

He’s right.

Joan Acocella of The New Yorker recently wrote a piece on the various valedictions and said that she never uses “Warmly” because it sounds too fussy.

“Best” seems to be fairly popular these days, if a valediction is used at all.

I see “Cheers” a lot, too, but it always makes me laugh.

I use “Warmly” in honor of my former professor and poet, Hugh Ogden, who I have written about before and who tragically passed away in 2007. Hugh wrote letters to me about my poetry and signed them using “Warmly” and I adored it because warmly captured his spirit perfectly.


When he died, I decided to begin using “Warmly” in remembrance of him. And it’s worked. Every time I type or write that word at the end of a letter or email, I think of him.

I explained this to Tony. His response:

Nice gesture on the warmly but it isn't the you I know. Perhaps the you that you aspire to be.

Aspiring to be as beloved and brilliant as Hugh Ogden would be foolish, but I like the sentiment.

Cardboard boxes rule

The cardboard box was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2005.

The idea of a Toy Hall of Fame is fairly stupid, but if there has to be one, the cardboard box most certainly belongs there.

I wrote a poem in honor of the cardboard box a few years ago, based upon a spring day when my friend and I spent an entire afternoon with a muddy hill and a refrigerator box. It actually won a contest and was published in the Beginnings magazine.


Save Your Money Next Time and Just Give Me the Box

Thank you Mother,
for the red, aerodynamic toboggan
that I found under the Christmas tree this morning,
with its chiseled runners and
precision steering wires.

But Mother dearest,
in the future,
please know that I have found nothing more exhilarating
than a steep, muddy hill
and a sturdy refrigerator box.

That man from Nantucket is seriously profane.

For twenty years or more, I have listened to people in movies and on television begin reciting the limerick “There Once Was a Man from Nantucket” and then stop after the first line and laugh, acknowledging that the next lines contained profanity of some kind.

Oddly enough, I had never bothered to look for the rest of the limerick, at first because the Internet did not exist so finding it would have been difficult, but after that for reasons I can’t imagine.

I've always adored poetry, even in the limerick form, and I’ve also been interested in the ways in which society deems a word to be profane. I believe that declaring a word profane only serves to give it power, and though I rarely use profanity in my own life (and almost never in the written form unless it’s coming from the mouth of a character), I yearn for the day when the idea that any word is profane ends.

Despite this perfect combination of poetry and profanity, I had never taken the time to find the limerick about the woman from Nantucket and read the final four lines.

After hearing the limerick referenced yet again on a podcast yesterday, I finally decided to find and read the entire limerick. The original version of the limerick goes like this:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

I actually like it. It’s fairly clever as limericks go.

Then there is the dirty version of this limerick, which is honestly too dirty for me to post here. I thought it might contain a four letter word or two, but the entire limerick is profane and suggestive in a way that I could not have imagined.

You can read it for yourself on Wikipedia, but if you are easily offended, you might be better off remaining as blissfully unaware as I was until about five minutes ago.

I may be opposed to profanity, but there was good reason why I had never heard or read the limerick until today.

What’s in a name? Several literary references.

It’s a boy! In case you haven’t heard, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy yesterday named Charles Wallace Dicks.

Charlie was born at 3:09 PM. He is 7 pounds, 1 ounce and 18 inches long.

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We chose Charlie’s name for a number of reasons.

To start, we liked the name Charles a lot. We liked the old feel of the name and the way it seems to match well with his big sister’s name (Clara). I’m also an enormous fan of Charles Dickens (I have three plants in my classroom named Pip, Philip and Pirrip), so the connection to this literary giant didn’t hurt.

We also love the nickname Charlie. My favorite moment during Charlie’s delivery happened just seconds after Charlie was born. With The Byrd’s Turn Turn Turn playing in the background, a nurse asked us what his name was, and Elysha called out, “Charlie!” When I heard her say his name aloud, in what I can only characterize as the most beautiful singsong voice I have ever heard, I knew we had chosen the right one.

It was one of those moments I will never forget.

As for the Wallace, a couple literary thoughts guided our decision.

First, Charles Wallace is the protagonist in Madeleine L’Engle’s WRINKLE IN TIME series, which are books that Elysha and I both adored as children. In fact, I had recently expressed hesitancy in re-reading the books as an adult, in fear that they won’t hold up to my fond memoires of them, but I guess I have no choice now.

Elysha and I are also fans of the poet Wallace Stevens, who lived and worked in Hartford, the city where Charlie was born. We especially love the poem 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and have taught it to our students every year. Every year, I discover new depth hidden within the poem, and I hope I can say the same about my son someday.

Our perfect little boy, Charles “Charlie” Wallace Dicks!

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A reminder that some of the best gifts come in cheap packages. And in some case, the best gifts are actually cheap packaging.

This insightful and amusing post on the five best gifts of all time (stick, box, string, cardboard tube, and dirt) reminds me of a poem that I wrote years ago that won a contest in the now-defunct magazine Beginnings. It seems rather fitting during this holiday season.  


Save Your Money Next Time and Just Give Me the Box

Thank you Mother,
for the red, aerodynamic toboggan
that I found under the Christmas tree this morning,
with its chiseled runners and precision steering wires.

But Mother dearest,
in the future, please know
that I have found nothing more exhilarating
than a steep, muddy hill
and a sturdy refrigerator box.

refridgerator box
refridgerator box

Poetry collection continued

Thanks so much for the gracious response to the first poem posted yesterday.  Your emails, comments and Facebook messages were much appreciated.

Here’s another, completely the opposite of yesterday’s short and silly poem:


April 20, 1999

I’m eating baked beans from a round bowl,
so the dark, sweet sauce doesn’t crawl across the plate
and contaminate my other food.
My fries are getting cold.
In Littleton, Colorado,
helicopters hover above a school
where kids huddle in corners, hiding from classmates turned hunters.
My father is eating beans too.
He is quiet, and he is never quiet.
His hand hoists the spoon to his lips, and I watch it tremble.
Drops of brown splatter back into his bowl.
He was quiet like this when we watched Oklahoma City,
sitting on the couch in our old apartment.
He was quiet for a day, then angry for another,
but by the third, things were normal again.
For all the adults.
They weren’t whispering anymore.
It was gone.
The same happened after Jonesboro, Arkansas.
And then three days later we saw Derek Jeter hit a triple to left-center field,
munching Cracker-Jacks on a sun-splashed New York afternoon,
laughing as he slid in head-first, hugging the bag.

News anchor Brian Williams is on the television now, talking to psychiatrists.
He is wearing a blue and white tie that matches his suit perfectly.
The sheriff just told a reporter that the more press this event gets,
(yes, they are now calling it an event)
the more likely it will happen again somewhere else.
Now Brian Williams is telling the psychiatrist,
or was it a psychologist,
that twenty five dead kids is a legitimate news story.
He says they have a duty to fly helicopters, cross behind yellow police-tape,
and ask a freshman how it feels to watch her sister get shot in the back.

Later on, my dad returns home,
and asks mom if she remembered to tape NYPD Blue.
She says yes.
He smiles.
MSNBC has been turned off for a while now,
ever since the gunmen were reported dead.
He says he was listening to the Yankee game on the car radio.
They’re winning 4-0.
“Conie’s pitching a gem and Paulie knocked two out of the park.”
Sunday, he reports, is Joe DiMaggio Day at the stadium.
He pokes at cold beans and asks if we want to go.

My future poetry collection begins here

I’m thinking of assembling the poems that I have written over the years into a collection that my agent can then sell for millions of dollars because poetry is super popular and exceptionally profitable and super sexy. Sounds good.  Right?

As I begin the process, I thought I’d post a few of the poems here to see what my readers think.

Here’s the first. A short and silly one with a title that has changed about a dozen times since I first wrote it.



On the Nature of Modern Day Hieroglyphics

A little boy in brown corduroy

couldn’t read the sign.

He pushed the door, fainted to the floor,

startled by a lady’s behind.

ladies room

The headline should read: 99-year old Japanese poet finally gets off her ass

I know there are people who will hear about the 99-year old Japanese woman whose self-published book of poetry has become a bestseller and think that this is a heartwarming and inspiring story. Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

I guess that when you sell 1.5 million copies of any book (and particularly poetry), it would warm any heart.

But I can’t help but see this as a tragic waste. The woman did not begin writing until she was 92 years old, and while “better late than never” certainly seems to apply here, imagine what she might have been capable of had she begun writing earlier.

I’m not surprised that one of the messages in her poems is "Don't try too hard."

No kidding.

And please don’t try to tell me that she required 96 years of life in order to gain the experience and wisdom needed to write her poetry. The argument that a writer needs a certain degree of life experience before he or she can write successfully may have some truth to it (though I doubt it), but 92 years seems like a long enough time for anyone to begin writing.

Incidentally, my boss told me when I was 34 that I could not publish a book before the age of 40, citing that time-worn experience argument.

Something Missing was published when I was 37.

I often say that the only reason I wrote the book was for spite.

iCarly trumps Robert Frost and Val Kilmer

I am reading Shakespeare’s Richard II to my students. On Friday we came across the phrase “rue the day” in the text. I was prepared to tell them all about Frost’s poem Dust of Snow:

The way a crow Shook down on me The dust of snow From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart A change of mood And saved some part Of a day I had rued.

I also planned on briefly reviewing the excellent “rue the day” reference from the 1985 film Real Genius.

But when I asked if anyone knew what the phrase “rue the day” might mean, almost every hand in the class went up.

Had they studied Frost in fourth grade?

Did they recently view a Val Kilmer film retrospective at the local college theater?

No. They had all learned the phrase from something called iCarly, which I initially thought was a video game. Apparently an episode of the program featured the phrase rather prominently.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.


First time I was paid to write

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a fascinating story about a man who makes his living writing papers for college students. Reading it reminded me that this was how I was first paid to write.

Back in high school, I was paid by my classmates to write term papers.  Though unethical and illegal by high school standards, it proved to be a profitable venture:

$25-$100 per paper depending upon the size and subject matter.


Papers related to history, for example, were discounted since this was typically an area that I enjoyed researching.

Papers involving an analysis of Ethan Frome were heavily surcharged even though I had already read the book.

I hate the book.

I didn’t keep accurate financial records at the time, but I probably wrote about three dozen papers over the course of two years, and I could have earned even more had I been able to type the papers.

Unfortunately, I ran into some trouble when it came to typing, which is a story for another time.

So instead of delivering ready-to-submit manuscripts, I was paid to produce a hand-written copy of the paper that my customers would then type themselves.

And to be honest, it made me feel a little less dishonest knowing that the actual paper that I wrote was not the one that would ultimately be turned in.

I also wrote papers for my high school sweetheart (one analyzing The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe) , but I never charged her for them.

I have always been charitable when it comes to love.

I bought my first car, a 1976 Chevy Malibu, with my writing profits. Not bad for a teenager.

After graduating high school, my writing career dried up for a time.  For about a year, I posted a weekly column on a bulletin board system for about a dozen readers, but I wasn’t paid to write again for another ten years, when one of my poems won a contest sponsored by the now-defunct Beginnings magazine.

$100 plus publication.

A few years later, I earned a some money via Google’s AdSense for advertising placed on one of my early blogs, and then came my first book contract and the opportunity to make this writing gig an actual career.

But I like the fact that my beginnings were less than honorable. Nefarious, even. While I wrote those term papers for profit, the knowledge that my actions served to subvert the teacher’s ability to accurately assess student performance and undermined their power was ample reward.

My arguably nerdy way of sticking it to the man.

Here is the winning poem mentioned above:

Save Your Money Next Time and Just Give Me the Box

Thank you Mother, for the red, aerodynamic toboggan that I found under the Christmas tree this morning, with it’s chiseled runners and precision steering wires.

But Mother dearest, in the future, please know that I have found nothing more exhilarating than a steep, muddy hill and a sturdy refrigerator box.

-Matthew Dicks

Great moments in academia: #1

I had three great academic moments in college. The first:

I majored in English while in college, with a concentration in creative writing. My focus was upon fiction, but during my senior year, professor Hank Lewis suggested that I take a poetry class in order to hone my use of sentence structure.

So I did. Little did I know that I was signing up for an advanced poetry class, full of students who had been reading and writing poetry for the past four years in the same way that I had focused upon fiction. They were a group of writers who knew one another well, had read and in many cases memorized thousands of poems, and had been honing their poetic skills for years. As a result, I was clearly out of my league.

Thankfully, the class was taught by the late Hugh Ogden, one of the finest teachers whom I had ever met. Hugh called me “honey” on the first day of class and patted me on the back to reassure me that I would be okay, and he was right. While my classmates were writing poems filled with complex allusions, sophisticated rhyming schemes and obscure allegorical references, I kept my work simple and personal. Though it failed to impress my classmates, Hugh seemed to like it well enough, and my grades reflected his appreciation for my work.

One evening the renowned poet Ethelbert Miller came to class to offer a critique on our work. Each of us read a poem, the class critiqued the work, and then Ethelbert weighed in on the piece. As usual, my classmates’ poems were well crafted, complex pieces of artistry, full of rousing metaphor and underscored symbolism. Most of them went on for two or three pages, and everyone at the table, myself included, was impressed. My classmates had pulled out all the stops to ensure that our visitor would be greeted with poems worthy of his stature, and he was not disappointed.

Then came my little poem, unlike any other poem read that night. It was short, simple and sounded rather amateur in comparison to the rest. As I read it, I couldn’t help but feel a little foolish, like a tiny minnow swimming in an ocean full of sharks.

Here is the poem, unchanged since that night. It deals with an incident that occurred while I was student-teaching in the Berlin, CT school system in 1998.

For Matthieu

For the want of a quiet classroom and a student who would remind me of me, I saw red instead of button nose and freckled cheeks, and in a voice that sounded criminal as it echoed off the Green Eggs and Ham bulletin board, I told him I’d be calling his mother tonight, to tell her about his disrespect for our nation’s flag, forgetting the thick, wet, grass that covered her grave. ________________________________

I read the poem with great trepidation, and though my classmates were kind, their comments indicated that the poem needed a lot of work. They felt that that the poem was too simple and lacked depth and that the imagery was mundane and obvious.

I listened without saying a word, as I always did, and then the poem was passed to Ethelbert.

I don’t remember his exact words from that evening, but he essentially told the class three things:

1. Of all the poems he had heard that night, mine would be the one that he would remember the most, because it told a story, was honest, and demonstrated great courage in my willingness to write and read it.

2. The “simplistic imagery” used of the poem was exactly what it needed given its context. The poem resides in a first grade classroom, so there is no need for anything more complex. The urge to soar to lofty heights in poetry must be tempered by context.

3. While all the poems were excellent, mine was the most accessible to the average reader and would likely find a wider audience than any of the others. A sestina written about an albatross that seeks to examine the multiple uses of the albatross across feminist English literature is a great poem for an advanced poetry class, but in terms of finding an actual audience in the real world, my poem would be most assuredly more successful.

It was a moment that I will never forget.

Am I saying that I am a gifted poet?

Of course not. I would venture to guess that every poet in that classroom that night was more skilled than me, and despite the comments by Ethelbert, my classmates continued to thumb their noses at my work for the rest of the semester, and rightfully so. In my years of writing poems, I’ve had exactly one poem published in a rather obscure publication that earned me a grand total of $100.

But in terms of memorable academic moments, this one stands tall. For one evening, the unskilled amateur soared with the greats.

A 17 to 10 ratio

If you haven’t ever read haiku, other than in an elementary classroom where the emphasis tends to be on the faulty 5-7-5 syllabic construction, allow me to recommend a deep dive into this form of Japanese poetry. Well written haiku is wonderful. One of my students wrote a haiku this week that was simply brilliant. So funny and so full of joy. One of the best three lines of poetry I’ve read all year.

The following, however. is not a great haiku. My wife and I saw this poster in a children’s museum this week, and besides the questionable quality of the writing (I’m honestly not even sure what the poet means), she noted that the poem itself contains 17 syllables (strictly following the bogus 5-7-5 rule) while the poet’s name contains 10 syllables.

Them’s a lot of syllables.

Shouldn’t there be a syllable rule for the name of haiku writers, and shouldn’t the rule be less than 10?

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