Ed. Note: In favor of contests and competitions as we are, believing them to be spurs to creativity and legitimate ways of generating inspiration, we were talking with Paul Violi [left] about poetic duels that produced sterling sonnets and Paul volunteered this story of the genesis of "Ozymandias."
One of the essays Guy Davenport includes in his The Geography of the Imagination (North Point Press, 1981), describes how Percy Bysshe Shelley came to write one of his most famous poems. Shelley, his wife Mary, and a visitor, a banker and novelist named Horace Smith, had spent the afternoon discussing the rise and fall of empires and the recent discovery of ruins, most notably the colossal statue of Ramses II Egypt. Smith began to write a sonnet in which he imagines a wanderer far in the future coming upon the ruins of London and thinking about "what wonderful, but unrecorded, race/ once dwelt in that annihilated place." While Smith was still scribbling those concluding lines, Shelley, who had just concluded from his reading Gibbon that history was a hellish record of oppressive tyrants, began to write a sonnet as well. Out of this informal, friendly competition, Shelley, who from time to time would dunk his head in a pail of water "to refresh himself" (and perhaps to distract Mr. Smith?) wrote "Ozymandias." It took him about ten minutes. The poets sent the results to a newspaper that printed both of them.
-- Paul Violi