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Write an Authentication Poem

Subscribers-Only Competition – Open 1 July until 1 August

Send poems to with ‘Authentication Competition’ in the subject title. We are very happy for anyone to have a go at writing an Authentication, but please only send your poem to Magma if you are a subscriber.

Annual UK subscriptions are £18.95, and you can subscribe here

The three winning poems will be published on the Magma website on 1 September

Judge: Lisa Kelly

In my job as a freelance technology journalist, I recently wrote a piece about authentication technologies and how they are becoming increasingly important in the digital age to prove who we say we are as more and more transactions move online.

I was interested to see if ‘authentication’ could be used as an approach to a poem. So, here we go…

An authentication poem is a form that uses some or all of the elements of three-factor authentication:

Three-factor authentication includes:
1. Something a user/poet knows, such as a password traditionally for logging into online applications. For an authentication poem, it can be some knowledge from your past, unlikely for others to know or guess at, which is particular to you.
2. Something a user/poet has. In everyday life, this is often a smartcard or a SecurID fob, but for an authentication poem it can be an object, piece of jewellery, pet, etc.
3. Something a user/poet is. In work/everyday life it is a biometric detail – fingerprint, voice, retina scan, hand configuration. For an authentication poem, it can relate to any area of your body or how you identify.

You can take one, two or three of these elements and use them to explore your subject: different periods of your life; a topic or theme; a persona etc. You can use the three elements in any order.

The reason for ‘authentication’ in the digital age is to prove identity and security, but in poetic terms, an authentication poem can be subversive or reveal things that are normally hidden. Another ‘aspect’ should emerge. The ‘authentic’ is of course subjective and can be transgressive.

Remember that the biometric side – even in technology terms – recognises change/chance/violence, which undermines the term ‘authentication’.

The blog, PCI Guru, warns:

Finally, there is a risk in using biometric factors that most people do not like to talk about but is important to consider. People suffer accidents all the time. Fingers get cut or even removed. Hands get broken or maimed. Eyes become damaged. People lose their voices. As a result, if you are looking to use biometrics for authentication, make sure you plan for such incidents.

The Ten Most Common Password Questions

• What Is your favourite book?
• What is the name of the road you grew up on?
• What is your mother’s maiden name?
• What was the name of your first/current/favourite pet?
• What was the first company that you worked for?
• Where did you meet your spouse?
• Where did you go to high school/college?
• What is your favourite food?
• What city were you born in?
• Where is your favourite place to vacation?

Some examples of Authentications are included below – kindly shared by poets participating in workshops where I first tried out the idea.


An Authentication
by Lisa Kelly

The Georg Jensen daisy earrings hung heavy in her seeping lobes.
On the Isle of Arran, her purple velveteen bag held all she owned.

Mr Stedall went to Eton. She knew how dead birds nestled in his pyjamas.
When they sewed her up, she said, ‘There goes my career as a porn star.’

She had an irritable hip. One leg was longer than the other. She couldn’t walk.
Her clavicle is broken. Only an x-ray can reveal how the broken ends fork.


Authentication: Witch
by Susannah Hart

I know the Devil. That is what
he wanted me to say. At last I said it.
He stripped me naked and kept me long
nights wakeful and then I knew Him.

Their names are Sack and Sugar,
Jarmara and Vinegar Tom. They are
dogs, they are imps, they are cats,
they are creatures that come after whipping.

I have a witch’s mark. He searched me
rough for it and found it. Suckle me, I said.
Suck me dry like my imps. Down there.
Know me like a Christian man, cold and hard.


by Christine Webb

1. Name of Dog

Not that we ever had one. But two
ghosts revisit: Bob, the sheepdog
of our father’s childhood with his bent
tail – the sweetest-tempered collie
unless someone knocked the injury
when he would bare his teeth and growl –
and the nameless setter or retriever
who ran to greet Kate and me trudging
with our packs to Ilam Cross one August,
who flopped on the dusty grass between us
and would have caught the bus to Derby
had I not hauled him off – the pet
we never had. Call him Rover864.

2. Book

Cradled by these rhythms long before
they settled into words – Dearly Beloved,
the Scripture moveth us in sundry places –
I caught the mood before I knew what were
the devices and desires of my own heart,
or understood my power to disobey.

I will do those things, or leave undone
those things I choose: BCP1662.

3. Memorable Date

Twelve years since they delivered the white roses
I’d ordered. I laid them on the shoebox in the hall
while I went on cutting back the pyracantha,
finishing just before the black car came.
Soon it was time. We put the flowers in place.
The rain had stopped, and all the thorny growths
shook with brilliant drops. M31ay06

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