Kay Ryan, the U.S. poet laureate, was in Tampa to kick off National Poetry Month on April 1. She said in an interview that if you can understand a poem after reading it once, either you didn't really read it or it isn't really a poem.
We're sure our readers know how to really read. And we're confident that Famous Last Words, by University of South Florida professor Ira Sukrungruang, is really a poem.
We're having a contest to prove it. It's simple. Interpret the poem, win a prize.
Sukrungruang, 32, joined the creative writing faculty at USF in Tampa in 2008. He earned an MFA from Ohio State University and is the editor of two collections, What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. Sukrungruang, a Thai-American born in Chicago, has published poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction and received a number of awards. His memoir Talk Thai will be published in 2010.
In honor of National Poetry Month, Sukrungruang graciously allowed us to print his poem and ask readers for their responses to it. But how to have them express their understanding of a poem in an age in which self-expression is, shall we say, overabundant?
So here's your assignment: Tweet textual analysis.
We don't want any of those 500-word papers you had to grind out in Intro to Lit class, no rambling late-night blog posts about poetry and the meaning of life.
We want your insight into Famous Last Words in Twitter form: no more than 140 characters.
For those of you not yet on the Twitter bus, that's 140 characters — letters, numbers, spaces, punctuation marks — not 140 words. Barely a haiku, little more than an epigram.
So sharpen your wits and, as Ryan advised, read Famous Last Words more than once. Then send us your interpretation in 140 characters or less, with "Poetry Tweet" in the subject, to email@example.com; or by mail: Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Please give full name and the city you live in. Or share with the Twitterverse — just add #flpoem. Deadline is April 20.
We'll print the most interesting responses on April 26, and the person who sends the best will win a copy of Ryan's latest book, The Niagara River — to read as many times as necessary.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at (727) 893-8435.