How I Wrote a Medieval Poem Satire and Even Got It Published

About a decade ago, I went through a season of writing poems. It was instigated by the fact I was looking into college scholarships and discovered a website that gave scholarships for slam poetry. I wrote at least 10 poems and shared them in various places before I realized that the things I was writing didn’t fit slam poetry at all.

One of the very few that I admired was one that began with what you might call a Tolkien moment. I like playing with words in my head, and one day I was sitting at my dinner table when a phrase popped into my head: “many and many a year ago, when all the world was knew, sir Pithlewick came to the land of mossy Galligrew.” I remembered Tolkien’s story about how The Hobbit began with writing “in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” on a scrap of paper, and then figuring out what it all meant. So, I got out my piece of paper, wrote my words down and tried to see where the story took me.

It turned out that Sir Pithlewick was a knight, Galligrew was a battle location. I kept the poem going for a few more stanzas, not trying to make it sound anything like a real battle taking place in a real place. I don’t think I had read Beowulf yet, which means Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky was the closest thing to a model I had.

I wrote the poem, decided I wasn’t too happy with the second half, and released it online. Later, when I realized my larger poetry project wasn’t going anywhere, I took all the poems down.

Since then, I kept most of the poems in my files, not doing much with them. I eventually overhauled one of them, turning it into a Dante-style meditation on Good Friday through Resurrection Sunday, so I could submit it to a literary magazine’s spring issue. However, I kept taking out the poem about Sir Pithlewick and considering what I wanted to do with it. I shared it with some writer friends and got varied feedback. When I learned that Fellowship & Fairydust was planning a medieval anthology, I decided to finally make the poem publishable. Fortunately, I was now in a writers’ group that included several committed poets, so I got some detailed feedback. Basically, the problem was the poem needed a stronger second act. There was a battle, there was a dire moment when all seemed lost, there was a surprise victory. The dire moment part needed more. It was clearly a comedic poem – I had given Sir Pithlewick a full title by this point: Sir Pithlewick of Monotreme. Yes, monotreme as in the mammal group that includes platypi and kangaroos. It sounded funny. However, good comedy needs a good helping of tragedy in the mix.

I made changes, and decided to let readers in on the joke a little more. I was making my way through a collection of H.H Munro’s short stories (a very funny, very acerbic Edwardian writer who influenced P.G. Wodehouse), so I added a prologue about the poem being reconstructed from several ancient manuscripts, one of them found “by a student evading an impending aunt” by hiding in a pub’s cellar. The new version got a lot of laughs at my writers’ group, and had a surprising effect. One of them came to a later meaning with an antique candlestick at a thrift store, something we could use as a trophy to give each other each time one of us got published. Our group leader quickly dubbed it “The Pithlewick.”

After this strange journey, it was great to learn in fall 2022 that my poem would appear in Fellowship & Fairydust’s medieval anthology. Tales of Chivalry: A Medieval Anthology is now available on Amazon:


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