April Poetry Challenge
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
The April Daily Poem challenge is run by Ashley Warren, famous in the TTRPG writing community as a Guild Adept for D&D, organizer of the system-agnostic RPG Writer Workshop, and the creator of the Uncaged anthology. You can join the challenge any time and visit her website for more details.
As a member of Ashley Warren's Patreon, I've been getting updates on the various community projects she runs on her website, Scribemind. Note that many of these challenges and projects are free and open to anyone!
In February she ran a Flash Fiction challenge to write a 500 word or shorter story every day of the month. I opted out because anyone who knows me knows that conciseness is not my strong suit. I have never managed to write a story less than 7,000 words. But I have learned that deadlines and word count constraints have typically been good for my productivity. Writing is a skill like any other and I wanted to participate in these to stay in practice as fiction has fallen to the wayside for me.
As a result, when the April challenge came around I knew I had to do it. Poetry is its own art form but for me it was a license to be as long or short as I wanted and I felt it would be manageable. Each day, Ashley releases a single word as the prompt for the day.
To stay on brand, I'm trying to keep most of the poems about TTRPGs in some way.
Deadlines will be the death of me!
Ashley is a big proponent of everyone proceeding at their own pace. The 1 poem/story/product a day is a guideline. Her advice is always about finding what works for you, not comparing yourself to others or the myth of extreme productivity to the point of overwork and exhaustion. So if you think any of these challenges sound interesting, you can always join and proceed at your own pace, pick and choose how you participate, or just observe.
Get to the poems!
Okay, okay, I'm going to consolidate my poems in this blog entry and hopefully update as I go. I'm just posting the text here, whereas Twitter has them in graphic form for those interested. I'll link the Twitter posts for those who are curious.
After each poem, I have notes on my creation process for those who are interested.
The kobolds have opened their homes to travelers, all except gnomes. They'll pamper you well, but please mind the bell— it warns when the dragon may roam.
So April 1 was April Fool's Day and I wanted to do something silly for it, so I decided to write a limerick. I had originally wanted to do a longer poem about all the advice a child gets growing up about what constitutes a family and a home, only to discover that they would never feel at home until they accepted themselves and who they wanted to be, rather than what other people expected of them. That idea ended up becoming the basis of the much darker April 4 poem but we'll get to that in a few entries.
Limericks hold a special, dark place in my heart because I remember being forced to write one in, I believe, Social Studies class (of all possible courses, right?) in eighth grade. I cannot for the life of me remember the entirety of the limerick, but I remember having a prolonged and very public argument with my teacher about the pronunciation of "acquiesce" and whether it fit the rhyme scheme. To this day I remain incredibly indignant that my poem (and I think any eighth grader who tries to fit as stupid a word as "acquiesce" into a rhyme scheme deserves some kudos) got shamed in front of the whole class because no one had ever heard of imperfect rhymes. Anyway, that's my rant for the day.
In Candlekeep, the books tell tales of history and long lost dreams. Of visits wizards will regale, the library that must be seen. It draws in knowledge like lost ships, a shining beacon out to sea, an errant light to rocks that rip, false lighthouse and a crypt that keeps. In its bowels lies the quiet, the desecrated holy texts. The fallen warn of words that lie, yet I seem to be the only vexed. No forests grow here, no birds sing, the trees lay still in catacombs, their caskets made of dried dead skin and bound with paste from boiled bones The quiet of my home was loud— the insects chirped while we all slept, the rustling leaves would make us proud, the wind was where our secrets kept. But here the stillness is a tomb, the place my friends have gone to die, where over majesty man looms and carves his name on genocide Here nature cannot run its course, here preservation is the game, no rot to take with no remorse or flames to ash and leave no name. I yearn to leave, to flee, to turn away from words that make bards leap. For in a forest, fires burn, but in this grave, the candle keeps.
Some people say the interpretation of fiction and poetry belongs to the reader. I say screw that. I put a lot of thought into my writing—this isn't some fuzzy is-Mystra-actually-dead stuff, my writing is as specific as a contract by Asmodeus. So yeah, you can choose to have your interpretation and it's totally just as valid (that's why my notes come after the poem), but I'm still going to explain what I was thinking because I can. [insert tongue-in-cheek emoji here]
Anyway, Candlekeep is a famous library in D&D's and Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms that features prominently in the opening act of 5e's Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus adventure. You can also see it in Jim Zub's Infernal Tides comic and I picked an image of it in my review here because I am obsessed with that library.
The prompt "quiet" immediately brought a library to mind, but I wanted to bring a twist. The other idea I had around "quiet" was a grave because I'm emo like that, I guess. So I decided to combine the ideas and write a visit to Candlekeep, possibly an adventuring party at the start of the Avernus adventure, from the perspective of a druid. The druid is often teased by the scholarly members of the party for favoring nature and instincts over learning and reason, and I thought this was just a different view on life that could be interesting to explore. It's a bit heightened, in my mind for comedic effect, and I don't think anyone disputes the value of books, but I hope it's also thought-provoking about the nature of consumption and materialism.
Finally, this version is updated from the Twitter version with one changed word for clarity. It's safe to assume that since I can edit this blog but not my tweets, the version here is me going full George Lucas on revisions.
Where once I had to dream to find my love, I now have found a bond that none can break. The forms you take are what dreams are made of. Your touch against my hand makes my heart quake. And yet the times you waver fail me not, for I know we can always try again, and nothing matches when our streaks run hot. My friends may judge my whispers in our den but jealousy is an unbalanced fiend. Let us tumble together, rolling true upon the table or behind a screen. Fear not when I buy many more of you— my heart is big enough to hold all dice though to my wallet you are not so nice.
This one is pretty straightforward. I got the impression in high school that sonnets were the height of poetry, so naturally I had to do one as soon as I had time. The poem itself is pretty straightforward because abstract content is just not me, but of course I couldn't resist being silly. It's not clear to me whether my poems having a joking tone is a reflection of my personality or deflection from me actually exploring my inner dialogue, but that's between me and Freud.
Content Warning: Death, grief
I once said that you were soft and pointed out all your flaws. I knew I loved you so I assumed you knew I loved you too. The things I did were to protect and teach you the world you should expect. The things I did were my effort to keep from you the things that hurt. But now you're gone and I forgot it doesn't matter the things I taught when all that's left is my soft heart. You shouldn't have been first into the dark.
I did not post this one on Twitter. April 2020 is a dark enough time full of unexpected death that I did not want something like this making anyone experiencing a loss to feel worse than they already do.
So this one is both very personal to me and not personal at all. I am not a parent, so the particular scenario here is not pulled from personal experience. I also, despite constantly writing about parental conflict in my character backgrounds and my fiction, am on good terms with my parents. On the other hand, I did experience a sudden unexpected loss of a pet a week before this poem and feel all sorts of regret and grief about what I should or could have done better.
But I am weirdly, morbidly fascinated by concepts of family, loss, and love bordering on fanaticism. There is a sci-fi novella I would like to write one day about a woman driven to go on an almost mythic quest to come to terms with the death of her adopted daughter, whose actions end up changing the fate of a galaxy. It got temporarily canned after the opening was called "too dark and depressing" which I interpreted as "wait until you're famous and can get away with more." [insert eyeroll emoji]
The structure of this particular poem is interesting to me. It isn't patterned on any existing formats and it makes use of a lot of imperfect rhymes. It also does not follow a consistent number of feet per line or stanza. I will admit this was partly driven by me writing it late at night, but I also like that. Grief is imperfect and messy, and I like it when structure and grammar can reflect the content.
I also feel like noting that "four" (as in April 4) sounds like the word "death" in Chinese and is thus viewed as unlucky, like 13 in Western countries. When I was young I decided four was going to be my lucky number, something that horrified my mother, which naturally led to me doubling down on my completely arbitrary decision. Anyway, I feel like that story is symbolic of something.
Don't go hungry into that horrid inn. No wound or spell will get me through the door. Their bread's much too hard and you'll come out thin. Their cabbage must come from a rubbish bin, their soup tastes better when there is no more. Don't go hungry into that horrid inn. The tavernmaster's kind and liberal with gin, but you can't trust cooks who can see the floor. Their bread's much too hard and you'll come out thin. I once saw someone leave with a small tin— it held a rat who'd starved; he seemed quite sore. Don't go hungry into that horrid inn. But do you listen? No, we still go in. Why? I implore. It can't be the food, for their bread's much too hard and you'll come out thin. You eat the slop and down mine with a grin. Oh, your appetite is that of a boor. Don't go hungry into that horrid inn. Their bread's much too hard and you'll come out thin.
Oh Ashley, I see what you did here with the April 4 and 5 prompts. Also, I won't write here what my first idea for "hard" was but suffice it to say, it was inappropriate.
The structure of this poem is called a villanelle—one of the most famous examples of which is "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas, which I helpfully reference in my own poem. Speaking of which, one of my favorite novels also references the poem—Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin. It's so much better than A Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire in my opinion—the world building is creative and haunting and complements the character arcs perfectly and the whole thing is just [insert chef's kiss].
Beyond that, well, I just felt like I had to go silly to make up for my 4-4 poem. If it makes you feel better, they found a cleric who saved the poor rat, so the poem has a happy ending. I did consider a harder hitting ending to the poem that suggested the party's bard forced everyone into the inn because it was actually a brothel but that seemed too inappropriate and dark.
We sang a song of prophecy, a song that gave much joy. We waited for an Age of Glory, every girl and boy. The mighty gods of Starstone each followed in his footsteps, but even as their legacies shone, his glory stayed the brightest. Oh Aroden, dear Aroden, you left us all in darkness. Did you know as you lay fallen how we'd face the wilderness? We might persist and still we sing for promises that won't emerge. In our hearts we keep on hoping, but now we sing a dirge.
This poem is weak sauce but it's the best I could do in the time I had. I wanted to get some Paizo content in and obviously my mind jumped straight to the Age of Lost Omens. It really doesn't do justice to the sheer awesomeness that is the Pathfinder lore surrounding it though. That deserves like a Homer level epic.
For those not familiar with the story, Pathfinder first edition takes place during a period of history called the Age of Lost Omens. It is so named because every divine prophecy has failed and now the world is in uncharted territory. A series of prophecies in the previous age foretold the return of the patron god of civilization and culture, a once mortal man named Aroden who ascended to godhood and left the mortal realm to travel other planes for some unknown purpose. On the day of his predicted return, great storms wracked the land, and after they subsided it became clear that something had gone terribly wrong—Aroden was dead.
How freaking metal is that? And how horrifying for people living in Golarion? You spend your whole life knowing gods exist and that prophecies predict an era of peace and incredible prosperity ahead of you. On what you expect to be the greatest day of your life, you instead discover that your god is dead and all his power gone. Maybe I'm weird but I get chills every time I think about this story. So yeah, this poem doesn't capture any of that amazingness but now I'm free to do my dailies in Animal Crossing. Priorities.
First there was a single voice
calling out in darkness.
A prayer, a psalm, togetherness,
offering a choice.
Then came an answer,
life where once was none,
calling out, "Unite as one."
Adrift no more but Drifting farther.
Finally the soul matures,
three meet to send a message clear,
and though we have lost untold years,
now we have a future.
Notes So I finally found a good prompt for Starfinder that was not just me vomiting words onto the keyboard and claiming it to be Vesk poetry. This three stanza poem is a tribute to Triune, the three machine gods who joined together to introduce the Drift, or faster than light travel, to the sapient races of the galaxy. Each stanza represents one of the gods—Epoch, Brigh, and Casandalee respectively. Triune's revelation came shortly after the notorious Gap, a period of unknown time which no one can remember and for which all traces of history have been erased, during which the planet of Golarion disappeared.
For those curious, the binary translates to JOIN STRONGER TOGETHER. It works for the poem, but yes I'm also still bitter about 2016. Deal with it.
The market was abustle, with vendors all a hustle, and though it was a nice exchange, none had time to make me change. But then what luck— my changeling friend! "Over here!" I waved with pluck. "I need your help so I can spend!" Though I thought it'd be a simple ask, they seemed put off by my asked task. "'Friend,'" they said, "you've made a hash— I change my face and not your cash."
I mean this one seems pretty self-explanatory. You can tell our Eberron case review was still on my brain. Can you believe that I used to hate puns? I recognize this poem isn't strictly puns, but it certainly plays with synonyms enough.
April 9-30... COMING SOON
Grady Wang is one half of The Gallant Goblin, primarily a review and news site covering all manner of tabletop role playing content and accessories. We also cover tabletop adjacent content and encourage creativity in all forms, which is what we think makes tabletop so magical. In addition to our website, you can find us at: