Wednesday, July 1, 2020

July Challenge - name acrostic or lipogram

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Down the centuries, poets have enjoyed the challenge of playing with words. Often a poet will find that adhering to the rules of a particular form will lead them to unexpected insights or thoughts that enrich their writing. Acrostic poetry, especially the form now called abecedarian dates back at least to the Hebrew Scripture. When we read one of the acrostic Psalms in translation, we don’t realize that the poet began the first verse with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second verse with the second letter, etc.

One popular form of acrostic begins each line with a letter of the name of someone about whom the poet is writing. In 1819, British poet John Keats wrote a three stanza poem about his sister:

Georgiana August Keats

Give me your patience, sister, while I frame
Exact in capitals your golden name;
Or sue the fair Apollo and he will
Rouse from his heavy slumber and instill
Great love in me for thee and Poesy.
Imagine not that greatest mastery
And kingdom over all the Realms of verse,
Nears more to heaven in aught, than when we nurse
And surety give to love and Brotherhood.

Anthropophagi in Othello's mood;
Ulysses storm'd and his enchanted belt
Glow with the Muse, but they are never felt
Unbosom'd so and so eternal made,
Such tender incense in their laurel shade
To all the regent sisters of the Nine
As this poor offering to you, sister mine.

Kind sister! aye, this third name says you are;
Enchanted has it been the Lord knows where;
And may it taste to you like good old wine,
Take you to real happiness and give
Sons, daughters and a home like honied hive.

~ John Keats

Edgar Allan Poe addressed an acrostic poem to Elizabeth:


Elizabeth it is in vain you say
“Love not” — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L. E. L.
Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breathe it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His folly — pride — and passion — for he died.

~ Edgar Allan Poe

Lucy Tyrrell, poet laureate of Bayfield, Wisconsin, recently penned a moving poem in which the acrostic begins with the title.

gaze out the open window

enter green worlds of early summer—
over the swaying grasses, swallowtail
rises, dances to the scent of lilacs,
graceful wings proclaim freedom,
embrace each precious cell of life

fireflies at dusk blink soft
light of landscape and place,
overwhelm a simple heart
yes—yet, mourn deeply at this window—nature can’t erase
death-press of knee to black neck, whose voice cries,

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Mama. Mama.”

- Lucy Tyrrell

Used by permission of the author.

Part of the artistry of Tyrrell's poem is that if you were not told in advance that the poem was an acrostic, you might believe from the title and first stanza that you were reading a nature poem. The contrast between the beauty of nature and the horrific event at the end is stark, but we are led into it in a subtle way.

Another excellent contemporary name acrostic, “Canticular Acrostic” by Anthony Kerrigan can be found at

Paul Hansford wrote a double acrostic (also called a shadow poem) about the little village of Stroud. The lines begin and end with the letters of the town’s name (in order, of course). You can find the poem several places on the Internet, including

As with the acrostic, there are subtypes of the lipogram. A lippgram is a prose or poetic work in which the writer is forbidden to use certain letters or, to put it more positively, is limited to only certain letters. Lasues of Hermoine in ancient Greece is believed to have written the first lipogram, a poem written without use of the letter sigma. There is a long history of lipograms, including novels by French writer, Georges Perec. La Disparition, published in 1969, was written without the letter E. He followed it up in 1972 with Les Revenentes, in which he used no vowels except for E.

A name lipogram uses only the letters in the name of the person the poem is written about. It helps if the person has a long name with a variety of letters. When I wrote my book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick, I took on the challenge of writing about Melville using only the letters in his name. The challenge was made more difficult by the fact that Melville had no middle name. I was limited to using three vowels (e, a, i) and 6 consonants ( h, r, m, n, l, v).

Herman Melville Explains Himself

I am air
I am rain
I am hail

I am a hammer
and a nail

I mine evil

I am raven
I am eel

I am lava
I am larvae

I veil
and I reveal

~ Wilda Morris

From Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2019).

Limiting myself to the constraints of a name lipogram, I wrote a poem I would not have written otherwise. In doing so, I believe I expressed multiple truths about Melville, though in an abstract way.

The July Challenge:

PLEASE FOLLOW GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. If your name is at the top of the page or under the title, I might accidentally miss it when preparing to send the poems to the judge, and it could be disqualified as a result. Also, if you don’t follow the directions in how to write the subject line of your email, your poem might be missed.

Write an acrostic name poem, a double acrostic name poem. or a name lipogram. You could pick someone famous, or it could be a friend or member of your family. Maybe there is a 2020 graduate or a new baby you would like to honor in this way. You might use your father’s name and write him a poem for Father’s Day. It is also an interesting way to deal with history or, as in Tyrrell’s poem, current events. It might be about a poet or writer. You could even use your own name. Whichever approach you chose, the poem is to be based on the name of a person. No greeting card name poems, please (the Internet is full of them). You may address the person, write about the person, or write in the voice of the person.

Sometimes a golden shovel poem is called an end-line acrostic, but this form is excluded from the challenge this month.

Title your poem. Single-space. Note that the blog format does not accommodate long lines; if they are used, they have to be broken in two, with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the May 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.  Put your name and bio under your poem. Please keep the poem on the left margin (standard 1” margin). Do not put any part of your submission on a colored background. Do not use a fancy font.

You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win, but the poets may submit a different poem, unless the poet has been a winner the last three months.

The deadline is July 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however, winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language (some children and teens read this blog). No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.

If the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.


Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “July Poetry Challenge Submission” FOLLOWED BY YOUR NAME in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month. Please put your name and bio UNDER the poem in your email and/or attachment. If the poem has been published before, please put that information UNDER the poem also. NOTE: If you sent your poem to my other email address, or do not use the correct subject line, the poem may get lost and not be considered for publication. Do not submit poems as PDF files. Pease excuse repetition in stating the rules. You might be surprised how many poets do not adhere carefully to the rules. That can create more work for me.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem.

Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; no pdf files, please). or both. Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use multiple spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.


Lucy Tyrrell's poems are inspired by nature and wild landscapes, outdoor pursuits, family stories, and travel. In 2016, after 16 years in Alaska, she traded a big mountain (Denali) for a big lake (Lake Superior). Lucy lives near Bayfield, Wisconsin and is Bayfield's poet laureate for 2020 - 2021. Her favorite verbs to live by are experience and create.

Wilda Morris Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and a past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, has been published in numerous anthologies, webzines, and print publications, including The Ocotillo Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Li Poetry, Puffin Circus, and Journal of Modern Poetry. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku. She was given the Founders’ Award by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies in 2019. Much of the work on her second poetry book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (published in 2019), was written during a Writer’s Residency on Martha’s Vineyard. Pequod Poems can be ordered from the publisher or, or, if you would like an autographed copy, email the author at wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”).

You can purchase Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick from Kelsay Books ( or on Or, if you would like to purchase an autographed copy, email me at wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net.

© Wilda Morris