Basic Rules: Randomly select a meter and an inspiration for a quick poem
- Most astonishing: watch a competent versifier do it
- Most educational: do it yourself in the privacy of your study carrel
- Most terrifying: do it competitively like they did in the court of pre-Revolutionary France – we did not try this method
Inspirations provided by participants:
- Maverick, the dog, who uses his gentle disposition and beautiful eyes to beg at the table during meals
- The tragic and untimely death of a kitten at the “hands” of the Fontanasalsa dogs
- Way of the dogs in the courtyard and Colette’s threatening switch
- The fall of something grand like the ruins. Ruins weren’t ruins when they were built, but now they’re ruined
- In the distant past, in an act of war, Phoenicians destroyed the great temple of Zeus at Selinunte. In recent memory in Mazara, a modern temple, in contemporary use was likewise destroyed
- Looking up from his ancient and yellowed pages at the library at St. John’s College, Dr. David Money catches sight of Horace who has miraculously appeared, whom the other scholars do not notice
- A Horatian-style meditation on the fleeting nature of life but with contemporary references, i.e. all of Aristotle Onassis money could not save the life of his son Alexander
- The change of the seasons from spring to autumn
- A group of boys is playing a game of ball… until the ball smashes a window
- Write a poem to yourself/about yourself in middle school
- The sad unfairness that the trees never get shade themselves and have to stand in the hot sunshine all the time
- You, writing from the point of view of a bird, are flying in a very urban city, waiting for someone to offer food. The rest of the time, you are nervously eating scraps
- People staring at the fire/light of their phone’s screen for warmth. The curse of the modern day
- We are inundated with autobiography via social media. The Romans were the first in the West to produce a body of literature with a strong element of autobiography. What would they make of our culture of “sharing?”
- You are in Sicily and have taken a day trip to the island of Motya. You have lost track of the group and have missed the day’s last return boat. You do not know how to speak Italian and your phone has died
- Excursion: to check if everyone is there, we recite Catullus’ poem, but inverted, from facias to huc, limping through the lines (to be written in Choliambs). (N.B. our roll call to keep track of people on outings was to recite Catullus 75. Not a bad method for a small group, but with 29 souls, it was unwieldy)
- The dancing satyr who lost his legs
- The dancing satyr: imagining its descent to the bottom of the sea
- Talking statue (satyr): I wanted to find out what it was like to be a sea nymph, and jumped off a ship. Got sick of it. When I saw the fisherman’s net, I grabbed it. I went back to being a satyr (Tiresius experience redux)
- Walking in the kitchen garden of a neighboring hacienda, the simple beauty of an eggplant catches my eye – such a beautiful thing – purple and white stripes crowned with a green cap. So beautiful to behold that eating it seems sacrilegious. Thus the sinful pleasure of simply eating a simply beautiful vegetable
- A person comes back from the fields after a long day collecting grapes. Inside a house they enjoy a meal consisting of bread, olive oil and wine, all products of their hard work (and of all the generations that came before them). Simple life, hard work, heat
- You are in a flowery meadow, smelling the flowers and enjoying the summer air. You inhale deeply while sniffing a particularly beautiful and large flower and a bee goes up your nose. Then you wake up because it was just a dream
- Sicilian young men play with the nymphs in the woods
- A method of torture in the underworld: to be eternally surrounded by food that you cannot eat and water that you cannot drink. Compare this to writing iambics/verse
- You are afraid of the coming deadline for putting a topic in the hat. Write about your frantic scramble to think of a topic and the various simple topics (the sun, Sicily, food) you’ve self-consciously rejected
- A lone key – you don’t know what it opens, but it intrigues you, so you keep it anyway
Poems from the Inspiration Hat, Inter Versiculos 2016
I Sextus fenestram frangit
Inspiration: A group of boys is playing a game of ball until the ball smashes a window
Lūdit grex puerōrum. “Ab aede, Sextē,
curre, admitte pilum, sed ecce, cautē!”
Nōlī tundere vī globum. Fenestram
vītā! Nē faciās anīlis īram.
Lūdāmus, sociī!” sed heu! inānis
Sextus mittit id altius. Fragōrem
audiunt puerī. “Malī!” anīlis
iūrgat et quatit, et celer puer, eu!
hic Sextus sociīque ab aede longē.
Translation: Sextus Breaks a Window. A group of boys is playing. “Run away from the building, Sextus, throw the ball, but look, carefully! Don’t let the ball fly with force. Avoid the window. Don’t make the old woman angry. Let’s play, friends!” But alas, silly Sextus sends it too high. The boys hear a crash. “Bad boys!” the old woman scolds and shakes, and the swift boy—hooray—this Sextus and friends [are] far from the building.
II Hat Trick Number One
Inspiration: We are inundated with autobiography via social media. The Romans were the first in the West to produce a body of literature with a strong element of autobiography. What would they make of our culture of “sharing?”
Pipiat omnis homo, rapidarum more uolucrum,
partirique modis omnibus ulla uolunt.
quomodo rem teneant Romani nostra uidentes?
quidue homines pauidi participesue putent?
Meter: Elegiac Couplets
Translation: Every person is tweeting, in the manner of swift birds, and they all want to share anything in all kinds of ways. What might the Romans make of it, if they saw our activities? What would they think, would they be fearful, or would they participate?
III Hat Trick Number Two
Inspiration: Looking up from his ancient and yellowed pages at the library at St. John’s College, Dr. David Money catches sight of Horace who has miraculously appeared, whom the other scholars do not notice.
Olim suo Nummarius in loco
Flaccum videbat, Quid? iuvenis potest
cognoscere illum, quem volebant
spernere saepe senes molesti/superbi
Translation: Once ‘Moneyman,’ in his nook saw Flaccus. Well! The young man recognizes one whom nettlesome old men preferred to ignore.
Disclaimer: “I’d never publish this because it’s insulting to my former institution and conceited, but it was fun to do.” (DKM)
IV Hat Trick Number Three
Inspiration: A person comes back from the fields after a long day collecting grapes. Inside a house they enjoy a meal consisting of bread, olive oil and wine, all products of their hard work (and of all the generations that came before them. Simple life, hard work, heat.)
gratis agricolam simplicior tenet
semper vita catenis, nec abest calor
diro perpetuis sole laboribus
Meter: Simple Asclepiadics
Translation: With pleasant bonds a simple life holds the farmer; heat attends his endless labor under the relentless sun.