The Cheerfulness Challenge

Kenny Brechner - March 9, 2017

Angst and anguish unquestionably have their role to play in literature. Some genres, like luxury vehicles that can only run on super premium gas, positively require them.  I know. I get it. Still, one can perhaps be forgiven for wondering if the peculiar strain of poetry entirely dedicated to conveying suffering, the sub genre I call Anguish Verse, that style which so commends itself to Poetry Readings in bookstores, is really quite the thing. Every occupation has its hazards, of course. Someone has to convey nuclear waste from the reactor to the underground cave.  Poetry reading  are going to be held and we are going to host them. Nonetheless, let us put fatalism aside for a moment and think more deeply about this matter.

First we have to consider whether Anguish Verse poses a health risk to its listeners. Certainly, one cannot read or hear a few lines of Anguish Verse without composing some oneself. There is a obviously a kind of baleful contagion at work. The other day, for example, after reading some Anguished Verse I found myself dispensing some myself almost automatically.
The box was filled not
With corn flakes but with
The shards of my father’s skull
Drenched in bowl blood
My spoon of anguish with
Which I remember that morning
My brother’s arm gnawed
On like a sausage link
Every shattered breakfast is a
Tine of pain seared and frosted these
Are no cornflakes
And what of the words themselves.  Are they not too suffering from this ill usage? Perhaps we should stop feeling sorry for ourselves and be more concerned about them.  To find out more I decided to ask one of the words found prominently in almost any collection of Anguish Verse: Shattered.
Kenny: Hello there Shattered.
Shattered: Hi there yourself.
Kenny: Hmmn. I’m wondering if constant use in anguished verse causes words such as yourself any discomfort.
Shattered: It’s a nightmare from which there is no awakening. We talk about it  all the time at AVWABA.
Kenny: AVWABA?
Shattered: It’s a support group for Words overused in Anguished Verse. It stands for Anguished Verse Words Against Being Anguished
Kenny: Wow. Can I ask who the members are?
Shattered: Sure, just off the top of my head some of my AVWAbA friends are drenched, socket, furrowed, butchering, searing, blood, damp skin, spoil, boil, entropy, decay, winces, clots, scalp, plies, plucking, gutting, stain, spalting, and sliced.
Kenny: I see. Let me ask you something. Would it mean anything to you to be used in a different context once in a while?
Shattered: Oh, we’d love that, Kenny. We’re more typecast than Steve Buscemi. Enough already with all the lacerated emotions. Not to go first person on you but it is positively shattering.
Kenny: Help is on its way!
And so I turn to you. We cannot turn our backs on these ill-used words. It is time for us all to take the Cheerfulness Challenge. The winner will best use all the following words,
drenched, socket, furrowed, butchering, searing, blood, damp skin, spoil, boil, winces, clots, scalp, plies, plucking, gutting, stain, spalting, sliced, and shattered.
in a poem which is entirely cheerful. Post your entries below. The Winner and Runners Up will be awarded sensational unnamed prizes, and the knowledge that they have brought succor to a set of truly suffering words. Not only that, but since the winners will be posted in April, they will have helped celebrate National Poetry Month.

16 thoughts on “The Cheerfulness Challenge

  1. Nevin

    Is the third from the last word on that list mistyped? (spalting) Should it be “splatting?”
    Thanks for this challenge. I need a Cheerfulness Challenge right now.

    1. Kenny Brechner Post author

      Hello Nevin. Splatting is a very fine word, of course, however this is not a typo. Here is the definition of Spalting. “Spalting is any form of wood coloration caused by fungi. Although primarily found in dead trees, spalting can also occur in living trees under stress or even in thriving trees.” Perhaps this is a Northern New England anguish verse word but it is a great word in the larger scheme of things as well.

  2. star livingstone

    So glad for the definition of spalting as it is not in my unabridged dictionary. I live in the northeast where we have much spalting of wood but I had never heard the word before. Where would I find a reference to it? Thanks.
    I love the challenge. These days cheerfulness can be a rare and priceless commodity.

  3. star livingstone

    Here’s my effort.
    Adirondack Spring
    Here comes Spring, riding a butchering wind that slices through the land
    and furrows old snow along the hilltops.
    It sweeps the sky of clouds and only crows and ravens flare into the searing blue
    to dance the age old dance.
    In the woods, trees stand in dark sockets, boughs drenched and shining,
    sap boiling up like blood through a chafed limb.
    Red squirrels, fueled by autumn’s spoil, spiral up the maple trees in pairs,
    sipping sweetness where it drips, and scolding, race away.
    Earth plies its path; the great push grows.
    The gutting of the woodpile slows.
    Shadows stain the brightness of the snow.
    The man emerging from the tool shed winces in the light.
    Gray clouds, rain and pussy willow, roll;
    snow, rain, snow, veil and unveil
    the damp skin of earth all strewn with spalted logs
    and scalps of stumps hirsute with glowing moss.
    Soon, soon, seed coats shattered, the green tide rises
    from the leaf mold wet decay; hepatica, blue cohosh, leek.
    Trilling peepers tune and sing the apple blossoms open.
    The clotted branches sway until the plucking winds…
    Make petal drifts on sweet new grass.

  4. Carol B. Chittenden

    At the Foreign Anguish Bar & Grill, by Carol Chittenden
    A troll walks into a bar one night
    She slams her fist on the spalting plank.
    “A bucket of blood,” she shouts so hoarse
    “And shatter a chicken,” she yells to Hank.
    Hank boils the concoction of murky stain,
    While plucking and gutting the bird;
    His damp skin drenched with clots of gore,
    Asks her cheerfully, “What’s the word?”
    Her one good socket fixes him hard,
    With butchering gaze and searing sigh.
    Her furrowed scalp puckers all tight.
    He winces and wipes the drizzle dry.
    “Damned entropy sliced my prey last week.
    “It plied me with drink for nineteen days.
    “Vegetarians spoil so fast”, she growls.
    “No time at all til a fresh one decays.”

  5. Denise M. Johnson

    Snowed-in, with YouTube & Soup
    March Nor’easter, plowed mountains of snow,
    storm drains blocked with clots of ice. Tire-furrowed
    slush, and everything the color of curb snow and spittle.
    My gloves are drenched. Crunchy wet hair, scalp of
    icicle strands. Ah, Indoors! warm Inner Sanctum,
    peeling various layers down to damp skin,
    I towel-dry and sigh: grateful, for Shelter, and
    for beautiful food I must use lest it spoil….So,
    SOUP! Rummaging for my 4-cup measure, I
    remember it shattered. So, I’ll make do. My
    thick cutting board’s catalog-handsome no
    longer, with its spalting , and black water-stain.
    But, it welcomes my vegetables: sliced carrots &
    celery, garlic & onion. Gutting butternut squash,
    searing portabellas, plucking parsley leaves
    from stems, I bring multi-colored beans
    to a vigorous boil, then skim their froth…
    Then, salad! with pomegranate: blood-colored arils.
    I sit with my soup, watching YouTube. One winces, at
    politicians butchering language, laughs as they’re parody-
    skewered. Yes! I still live in a land with a roof overhead,
    its comedy free, laughing aloud with beautiful soup.
    (Post-blizzard, I pray squirrels are warm in sockets of trees.)
    ~ Denise

  6. Alan Canter

    The spoil of their sojourn to the Evanescent Isle lay
    On the table whose spalted planks gleamed faintly from the drops
    That had fallen from their damp skin and their gear still drenched
    Her eyes, for a moment turned from their prize back to the
    storm battered ship its masts shattered, its sails sliced
    The droppings of impossible birds left to boil and stain
    the furrowed deck, where even the storm lantern had
    been torn loose from its socket and only Thomas’ quick hands plucking
    It from mid air, the blood from flying splinters visible even
    In that roiling darkness, when the searing forks of lightening struck near
    but now all lay still, the ship in the harbor and the Book of Veritable Winces,
    that splendid rarity sought by all adventurers, lay open before them

  7. ch

    In the depth of a forest named Nodd
    Aging Ambrose felt awesomely odd
    He decided he’d try
    To discover just why
    “Will this spoil my hardened facade?”
    All this butchering, gutting and plucking inside
    If it weren’t oddly awesome, he’d surely have cried!
    Clots of strange stuff
    Were making it rough
    What was worse, it was searing his pride!
    Of the thing neath his scalp he did query
    “Might you have intellectual theory?”
    Then arms up-stretched
    True wisdom he fetched
    Without one minuscule worry
    A socket protruding his plies of damp skin
    Soon led him to see foreign blood furrowed in
    Now Ambrose felt drenched
    As it furrowed and wrenched
    And in spite of it all he did grin!
    “Whilst shattered and sliced, this slow boil is vaulting!”
    And seeing bright stain spreading beauty not halting
    He winces with glee
    “I’m so glad I’m a tree!
    Look here! Oh my goodness! I’m spalting!”

  8. ch

    As Spalting Wood
    Oh, what joy it brings us
    To begin with butchering
    And gutting out each evil thing
    Release the stain of sin
    As we feel Him boil within us
    Every socket surrounding our scalp
    Becomes drenched and searing witness
    Unto the blood-damp Cross
    Our furrowed souls awaken
    Plucking spoil amidst our plies
    And darkness being sliced away
    We turn as spalting wood
    The skin becomes a haven
    The heart winces with delight
    The clots of sin are breaking
    Shattered by God’s holy light


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