The Poetry Challenge and the Pirate Dog

So fellow travelers, I work as a special education assistant at a local high school (“local” being a small town in Upstate, NY) This year I provide support in an 11th grade English class and one of the extra credit assignments was a poetry challenge.  Students were given the opportunity to write a poem in the style of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven.”  The requirements were as follows:

*Three or more stanzas of six lines

*Use a consistent rhyme scheme of ABCBBB

*Extra points for the use of internal rhyme

*Extra points for the repeating refrain

*Use of horror theme is encouraged but not required

For reference, here is a stanza from Poe’s original poem:

“Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door–

Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door–

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.”

Being one to lead by example, I always make an attempt to take on the extra credit writing assignments.  It’s been a long time since I had homework, but this was a project I wanted to take on because I knew it would push me outside my comfortable haiku writing box.

Poe’s mastery of poetry wordcraft becomes evident when you actually try to write a poem in this format. After a few false starts with horror themed poems, I pulled out notes on a poem I had started about an experience at the Bedlam Farm Open House weekend and got to work. I posted an early draft on the Creative Group’s Feedback “room,” a forum focused on providing constructive feedback about work we choose to post there.  The comments helped me work out a few kinks in the rhythm and rhyme schemes. The revised version has been sitting for a month in my draft folder, waiting for me to find and edit the photo I wanted to post with it.

Life has a way of nudging creative time towards the “to be completed” pile. Family is my first and foremost priority. I have paid too dearly for the times in my life when I lost sight of that; my heart is and always will be happiest when I am attending to the needs of those I love. It’s a priority which becomes essential when the ravages of advanced aging and illness rob the ones we love of the ability to care for themselves. Yes, I do know taking care of myself empowers me to be a stronger caregiver and my creative time is one source of fuel which keeps me going. There simply are times when I have to choose a quicker way to recharge like walking a favorite path at sunset with my dog.  Suddenly the all too early hour of dusk’s arrival becomes an advantage rather than a seasonal bane.

The year however, is coming to a close and with it many changes on the horizon.  Time to clean out closets and draft folders alike. Time to address unresolved concerns and attend to work left to languish too long.

This was a piece I wanted to post as a thank you to Jon and Maria for opening their home to all of us over the years. The Bedlam Farm open house events have become an informal gathering for Creative Group “farmies” who are able to attend, as well as a public showcase for local artists and of course the farm itself.

No surprise Red and Fate are a main attraction both on and off the herding pasture. I got to share some time with Red during the workshops held at Pompanuck Farm the day before October’s open house started. Sitting front and center with writer Nancy Gallimore during Jon’s workshop on writing granted me the opportunity to witness a soul dog moment she wrote about in her blog.


(A phone camera shot of Red wrapped in Nancy’s scarf laying between us on the Round House meeting room floor)

But it was really Fate who stole my heart that weekend.  Dashing around with impish delight, stealing bread from the Round House bakery, sneaking off to eat sheep poop, grabbing as many water bottles and as much attention as she could before getting reigned in. During the poetry readings I felt someone poking my back; it was Fate who had quickly identified the treat pocket on the outside of my backpack. I’ll never tell if she earned one or not. Watching her follow Red’s lead during the herding demos was thrilling and seeing her out smart Jon’s every effort to keep an eye on her off the field was delightful. No wonder he calls her the Pirate Dog.
At the end of the day on Sunday, Jon was most gracious when Fate nearly followed me to my car as I was heading home. When he called her back she stopped and looked at me just for an instant. For one crazy moment, Fate and I locked eyes, two pirate girls with thoughts of heading for the open seas, a lifetime of crazy adventure on the run lived in the fraction of a second before she raced back to Jon. Not that I’d ever take off with someone else’s dog, let alone one of Bedlam Farm fame.

The poem I wrote for the poetry challenge was born in that moment and offered now in gratitude for the opportunity to sail, if every so briefly, the seven seas with a Pirate Dog.


Pirate dog in black and white, colors of true day and night.

Through meadowed fields she goes racing

Scatter creatures far and wide, navigating when she rides

With her master, Light they’re chasing.

Patience, focus, lessons facing.


Learning still to give the eye, with Red mentor at her side.

Sibling bond pure, soulful, deep

Beautiful the dance they run, moving through the field as one.

Through gates lightning quick they leap

Circling, crouching, herding sheep.


Pirate dog come home with me. Master calls. His love is key.

Spirit guide for quilted art,

Here’s the place where you belong, keep words of hope flowing strong.

Playful, loving, wicked smart,

Joy dog’s gift: an open heart.



Editor’s note. My students did point out my poem only has five lines per stanza. No A+ for me I told them, but because I used different rhymes in each of my stanzas I could not employ a repeating refrain as Poe did (“nothing more/nevermore” ) in his original poem.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Deborah H Rahalski


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