How to write Literary Calaveras for Día de los Muertos

You’ve made your ofrenda (altar), hung your papel picado (paper banners), and decorated your calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls). Now, for the full Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) experience, it’s time to write a literary calavera: a playful, satirical epitaph in verse. And relax: They’re not just for experts for newspapers and magazines: In Mexico, adults and kids write literary calaveras for fun. 

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How to write literary calaveras

The team behind Hallmark VIDA showed us the way. Editorial Director Christy M. gave our writers some writing tips, and VIDA Artists Alyissa J., Amanda R., and Marcos R.  illustrated and lettered the writers’ poems (and provided this printable border you can use when you write yours). (Hint, hint.)

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1. Pick someone—or something—to eulogize.

They should not actually be dead. You can write about a politician or famous person or your best friend or an object on your desk. Here’s an example by Hallmark Writer Dan T.

El Mariachi

In las plazas grandes and cozy small bars

Mariachis are famous for playing guitars.

The most hateful critic finds himself compliant

When hearing guitars which are really quite giant.

“Bigger is better!” the musicians say

So mas y mas grow the guitars that they play.

And that’s where they found Juan, a guitar big and wide

Fell on him, and crushed him, and that’s how he died.

 

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2. Introduce your subject.

Do a little foreshadowing. Are they behaving badly? Making poor choices? Minding their own business? It’s all up to you. Hallmark Writer Keely C. lets us know right from the start that things are not going well for her subject. 

Death of Manners

She met her cruel end at a dinner with “friends.”

Not one of them RSVP’d.

She felt all alone as they stared at their phones

and double-dipped chips out of greed.

Loud calls were taken, politeness forsaken.

Their language was not safe for work.

She felt ill at ease when not one uttered Please.

In short, they were all being jerks.

There was fingernail clipping, and eye-contact-skipping.

With mouths full, the company talked.

No thank you was spoken, and Manners, heartbroken

keeled over and croaked from pure shock!

 

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3. Decide how they meet La Muerte.

How will Death come? Will it be the result of their hobby or occupation? Their personality? Or will they perish as the result of a really bad pun, as in this example by Hallmark Writer Bill B.?

Cervezas

Down at the cantina,

they’re shedding big tears—

in mourning because

someone killed a few beers.

 

Calaveras Literarias | thinkmakeshareblog.com

Now it’s your turn.

Here’s a vocabulary list from Christy that might spark some ideas:

calavera (skull)

(la) Muerte (“the” death)

flores (flowers)

luz/luces (light/lights)

risas (laughter)

baila (vb. “ella baila” “she dances”)

esqueleto (skeleton)

dientes (teeth)

Música (music)

Infierno (hell)

Cielo (heaven)

Food: 

tamal/tamales 

chocolate (hot chocolate)

pan de muerto (day of the dead bread)

tacos 

fruta (fruit)

tequila 

mezcal

cerveza 

 

And if you get stuck for a rhyme, find an online rhyming dictionary or app to give you options.

Once you’ve got your literary calavera perfected, letter or print it on this page Marcos designed.

Calaveras Literarias | thinkmakeshareblog.com

OK, just a few more…

Because once we started we could not stop, here are a few more examples from the writers.

Hallmark Bilingual Copywriter Beau B. wrote about Death by the heat of chili peppers:

Muerte por “enchilamiento”

Aquí yace Juan Primero

Que le gustaba la salsa picosa.

Chipotle con habanero

A él le sabía sabrosa.

 

Por pasarse con la salsa,

El pobre Juan se enchiló.

Le salió humo por las orejas

Y mil veces por agua gritó.

 

Al escuchar su llanto

Apareció la Pelona,

Quien buscando almas en pena,

Ya rondaba por esa zona.

 

“Ya no llores tan profundo,”

Dijo ella sonriendo.

Y lo llevó al inframundo

Donde hoy sigue ardiendo.

 

Calaveras Literarias | thinkmakeshareblog.com

Calaveras Literarias | thinkmakeshareblog.com

Ellen B. took someone down with dip:

TV Chef

Here lies the famous TV chef

who came up with the dish

called “Death by guacamole.”

He finally got his wish!

 

Calaveras Literarias | thinkmakeshareblog.com

And Bill killed off death herself:

La Muerte

La Muerte was feeling some pressure,

Worry lines crisscrossed her bones,

An e-mail that came down from corporate,

Was laden with menacing tones.

“You numbers were down in September,

October’s not looking much better.

Now the Day of the Dead is approaching,

And people should be a lot deader!”

La Muerte slunk off to the bathroom,

Had a panic attack in the stall.

That’s where she worried herself to death,

And so, reached her goal after all.

 

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OK, one more. From Dan T.

Mezcal Worm

No more will he burrow

No more will he squirm.

He’s not underground,

Which is bad for a worm.

But don’t be too sad,

Let no frown cloud your face.

Believe me, he’s gone to a happier place.

 

Calaveras Literarias | thinkmakeshareblog.com

You have your assignment. Tag us when you have it written @Think.Make.Share.

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  1. 10.29.18 | Reply
    Ashlee wrote:

    What a great activity! And so pretty too.