Brittany Constable knows that grammar rules can be tweaked for effect. Her winning entry in the ACES National Grammar Day Tweeted Poetry Contest breaks convention to make that point:
I know sentence, word, and paragraph
And every rule that makes them
When I know all there is to know
About these rules
I breaks them
Constable describes herself as “a Californian living in the Midwest with a mild-mannered secret identity in tech support.” She has written two novels (with more in the works) that she hopes to get published: Lion City is a time-travel book set in colonial Singapore and Ignition is a young adult fantasy involving trolls, magic and chemistry.
She said the poem popped into her head “more or less fully formed” when she was a high school sophomore. “At the time, I also had a thing for Silverstein-esque light verse,” she said.
With some lead-in stanzas, the poem was selected for a school literary anthology, but not without editing.
“The teacher in charge ‘corrected’ the final line without consulting me,” Constable said. “Totally still not bitter about that.”
Judges chose Constable’s poem out of more than a hundred entries in the 11th-annual contest, which celebrates National Grammar Day on March 4. The contest has done haiku, limerick and quatrain in the past, and this year the poetry style was open-ended, as long as the poem fit in a single tweet with the #GrammarDay hashtag included.
In second place, judges chose an homage to Emily Dickinson from Eileen Burmeister, a writer and editor from Phoenix:
Because I could not stop for Grammar
He kindly stopped for me
Those rules embraced by just ourselves
And the almighty AP
I quickly wrote – I knew no pause
And as I penned away
My pride took over and then I saw
My missive showed decay
In third place, freelance editor Claire Valgardson wrote a limerick that gives a quick overview of some changes to the seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association:
In the new and improved APA,
Running heads don't lead students astray.
You don't need to trace
A book publisher's place
Or sidestep the singular they.
Valgardson, of Toronto, was the winner of the 2019 ACES National Grammar Day Tweeted Poetry Contest with a limerick on singular they. She was a judge in the 2020 contest.
Fourth place was a tie, with a haiku from editor, writer and poet Jennifer Wholey:
I told my boyfriend
Lay off the apostrophes
You're too possessive
and a limerick from another judge from last year, writing expert Roy Peter Clark:
Captain Kirk did once split an infinitive
In a way that he thought quite definitive
To boldly go where
No other folks dare
Is an Enterprise grand, not diminutive
Judging this year’s contest were Heather Bonikowski, a lexicographer at Dictionary.com; Ruth Goring, a poet who copyedited the grammar and punctuation chapters of The Chicago Manual of Style; Andy Hollandbeck, managing editor at the Saturday Evening Post and winner of the 2020 ACES National Grammar Day Tweeted Poetry Contest; Curtis Honeycutt, a syndicated humor columnist and author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party; and Merrill Perlman, a member of the executive committee of ACES: The Society for Editing and former head of copy desks at The New York Times.
Judges also selected five poems for honorable mention:
Once upon a deadline looming, while I proofread, tired of Zooming,
changing many an "it's" to "its" and fixing passive voice galore—
while I labored, never ending, one more "then" to "than" amending,
came across another "could of" and I shouted, “Nevermore!”
— Monica Sharman (@monicasharman)
Lofty, mighty marks
to marry words, slay letters.
— Rebecca St. Pierre (@RebeccaMStP)
Dangling this, misplaced that
Are matters some despise.
Rarely are prizes awarded
To ones with eagle eyes.
Clarity is but one gift
For grammarian to tout
In world of babel and hateful shout.
So let us agree on agreement:
Praise subject, verb, antecedent.
— Lucy K. Grey (@LucyKGrey)
Misspellings are red,
My doc is too colourful
But my meaning comes through.
— Allison Turner (@AlliTurner11)
I love a good interrobang
To best relieve one's sturm und drang
Surprise? Alarm! All in one symbol
— Jennifer Wholey (@TheWholeyTruth)
All the poems can be found at a Wakelet here.
For her winning poem, Constable will receive a one-year membership in ACES: The Society for Editing and registration to the 2021 national conference next month, Refine & Refresh: ACES 2021 Online. She also wins an AP vs. Chicago “Edit or Die” mug and a Conscious Style Guide “Make Peace with Words” T-shirt donated by 2016 contest judge Karen Yin; a copy of judge Curtis Honeycutt’s Good Grammar is the Life of the Party; and a “Let’s Have a Word Chat” mug from Mark Allen, the host of That Word Chat and the organizer of the poetry contest. The winning poem also will be read on Mignon Fogarty’s “Grammar Girl” podcast.