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Eric Shackle Writes: How To Win A Pullet Surprise

"Eighteen years ago, Professor Jerrold H. Zar composed a brilliant poem called Candidate for a Pullet Surprise (say the title aloud, and you'll get the pun),'' writes Eric Shackle.

Here's the first verse:

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Since then, thousands of readers around the world have chuckled over the poem and emailed it to their friends. It may have been read more often than any of Shakespeare's poems, yet the author is virtually unknown.

The poem is a favourite on the internet. Scores of websites have copied the original words, or posted versions amended by various wits and halfwits. Some have retitled it as Owed to a Spell Checker or Spellbound.

Many webmasters have added the words Author unknown, or Anon. One says Sauce unknown. It's a classic example of intellectual property being stolen on the Internet.
Here is the complete official version, published with the author's kind permission:

CANDIDATE FOR A PULLET SURPRISE
By Jerrold H. Zar

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.
Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.
Bee fore a veiling checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.
Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.
Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.
To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.
Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

Title suggested by Pamela Brown.
Based on opening lines suggested by Mark Eckman.

By the author's count, 127 of the 225 words of the poem are incorrect (although all words are correctly spelt).
Published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Jan/Feb1994, page 13. Reprinted Vol. 45, No. 5/6, 2000,.

Five years ago, Zar told us, "My poem continues to travel around the Internet, sometimes with attribution (and permission) and sometimes without.

"In addition, several authors have asked to include it in books they were preparing (on writing, editing, and the like)."

Zar's experience closely resembles that of another gifted comic poet, Gene Ziegler, the overlooked author of a "stolen" poem that's now best known as If Dr. Seuss Were a Technical Writer.

In a remarkable string of coincidences, both poems were written in 1994, both authors were professors at US universities, and both their names begin with Z.

Back in 1994, Professor Gene Ziegler, an educator at New York's Cornell University who later became Dean of the American Graduate School of Management, an online business school in Nashville Tennessee, wrote a long and witty poem containing these ludicrous lilting lines:

If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port,
And the bus is interrupted as a very last resort,
And the address of the memory makes your floppy disk abort
Then the socket packet pocket has an error to report!

He says he composed it in an hour, after his four-year-old grandson and the boy's older brother had "significantly rearranged" the resources on his Macintosh.

"This poem has probably received more attention and circulation than anything I have ever written," he said.

"It was originally a gift to internet friends and was passed from person to person, and posted on newsgroups and web sites in several countries. It has since been published in NetGuide Magazine, March 95, and in the Seattle Times, August 13, 1995, and has generated more than 1000 fan messages and requests to post.

"Unfortunately, the internet being what it is, some scoundrel whose editing skills exceeded his or her ethical standards edited the poem, reduced it by half, removed my name, and recirculated it under the title If Dr. Seuss were a Technical Writer, attributed to the ever prolific 'Anonymous.'"

Dr. Zseuss, "the real Dr. Seuss impersonator" (Ziegler's alter ego) responded with "Hang the Information Highwayman!", a poetic appeal for respect for another's written words. It should be brought to the notice of all webmasters.

Writing programs and teachers' groups around the world often quote the two poems to teach internet publishing ethics.

Ziegler told us: "The original poem has been set to music twice, once by a rapper and in the second case made into a Gilbert & Sullivan-like opera by a music teacher in Bangkok, who had his students sing it at graduation.

"It's been made into a brass plaque and sold in a gift shop in Dallas, recited on an Australian talk show and for the closing moments of a Vancouver TV show, Data's Cafe."

A search of the internet shows that despite all that publicity, Ziegler has good reason to feel cranky and forgotten. When we googled his memorable phrase "socket packet pocket" we found about 231,000 references. We checked out some of the websites. In nearly every case, the original poem has been cut in half, and posted without the author's name.

Ziegler says on his webpage:

"When I first discovered what had happened to my original poem, I did a web search and found more than 200 copies of my poem posted, most of which were the edited and unattributed version.

"Over the years I have written to two score webmasters pointing them to the Clocktower site and asking them to remove the offending version. Most have been gracious and cooperative with my request.

"One woman scolded me for my claim and said that the true author was a close friend of hers and that I should be ashamed of myself for claiming her friend's work:-)

"I gave up trying to track down all of the forged postings because it was spreading faster than I could write, and have taken comfort in all of the fans who have seen and recognized my original work and who have taken the time to write to me and express their appreciation."

We found Zar's bio on the internet, and emailed him, seeking details of his original poem and asking if he was aware of this strange coincidence He replied:

"Indeed, I have seen Gene Ziegler's poem more than once on the Internet!

"I am aware that my poem has been distributed many, many times, via e-mail, at Web sites, and in printed newsletters and books, very often without attribution and in a badly altered form. As you note, my poem was published in 1994 (and republished "by popular demand" in 2000).

"I recently retired from Northen Illinois University, where, after several years as a professor of biological sciences, I served for 18 years as Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Research and Dean of the Graduate School. In the latter position I presided over 53 graduation ceremonies for master's- and doctoral-degree students.

"At these events I and the University president were expected to deliver some inspirational remarks to the graduates as they went forth with their advanced degrees to improve the world in a variety of fields.

"I soon evolved my remarks into something out of the ordinary, such as poetry with both comical and serious elements and a quasi-serious discourse on lessons from "The Wizard of Oz" that are pertinent to such graduates.
Shortly after my retirement, the University reformatted the undergraduate-student and graduate-student graduation ceremonies in a fashion that excluded the Dean of the Graduate School from making formal remarks to the assemblage. (The purported reason for this change was, in part, accommodation of the audiences in the available campus venues; but I do wonder if it was to prevent any future dean from presenting the kinds of literary offerings that I produced.)
Needless to say: I have NOT read aloud the spelling-checker poem; it rather loses its impact if it is not experienced visually!"

LINKS:

Dr. Jerrold H Zar: http://www.bios.niu.edu/zar/zar.shtml

Dr. Gene Ziegler: http://www.guernsey.net/~poetry/genez.html

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