Friday, December 12, 2008

Casual Friday--Poetry VI

I'd like to begin this post with this poem, entitled Collections.
"Tuesday, normally the least important of the seven
The morning is windy and rainy, not hard, but enough to do the job.
The weekend was excessive, we lived like aloof royalty--
food eaten lustily, drink guzzled lustier. Our sweaters
were regal vestments, our dirty shoes were cobbled by peasants.
Monday rose, as did we, a mindless bustle of showerheads being flipped,
teeth hastily brushed,
the clothes and towels forming an unglamorous heap by the wall.
Tuesday morning--
The sun still hides as I shift out of bed to put the containers out for the collectors.
They collect what we want to leave behind.
I grumble as I drag out the compost bin. A collection of shredded receipts,
orange peels and moldy bread.
I think of the less fortunate, several days too late.
That bread would have been consumed, some children right now would cry for an orange peel.
Something, anything.
I drag out the trash bin. Aluminum foil, food wrappings, empty lighters.
The items cannot be categorized. In due time they will join their brethren:
the unidentifiable landfill mass of items no longer needed.
The final bin is recycling, an activity based on guilt.
Fifty years ago, everything was thrown away together, to be hauled off.
Never to be heard from again. Today we recycle,
a perverse "oops" offered to the world with a shrug.
The collectors take the items a few hours later, but not for personal gain.
Everything is separated, and we never see the likes of them again.
Until we start collecting again on Wednesday."
This is a pretty awful piece, and I'm actually pleased to note that I'm the author, since it exemplifies an excellent article recently published in the November 27th issue of The Stranger. In it, Paul Constant bemoans the sad offerings of Seattle's public poetry works, everything from the "Poet Populist" to "Poetry on Buses" (a similar idea used to be done for Chicago's Transit Authority, entitled "Poetry in Motion"--I cannot decide which is worse, title-wise: Seattle's laughingly minimalist description, or the feeble attempt at a lame poetry title for Chicago's program). Constant's complaints are that, even with the best intentions (to expose poetry to Seattle citizens who otherwise would never read it), these types of public programs celebrate bad poetry, written by bad poets:
"Karen Finneyfrock is a rare example of a slam poet who writes excellent poetry; for every one of her, there are a thousand people who should be ashamed to share their work with others (31)."
Given Constant's claim, why did I open this essay with one of my poor efforts? Even though I'm sharing it with whomever reads this blog regularly or may stumble across it, I know full well that it's not a great piece. I'm not a poet, I don't think I ever will be, and I would never dream of openly sharing something that I know to be bad, whether it be at a poetry reading or as a submission to a public arts program. I wrote the above poem while riding a bus to downtown Seattle, mainly to pass the time, and because I had the idea for it, since it was trash day. I'm only using it as an example since I never intended it to be read by anyone else. Above all, as a writer, I know I have an eye for my own production--that is, I know that's ready to be shared, what needs to be edited before being shared, and what should never see the light of day. Constant cites a few snippets of what he deems to be bad poetry, some of which can lead people to assume stereotypes of "poets:"
"...[Ananda Selah Osel's poetry]...is the kind of self-entitled Henry Rollins fuck-the-system bullshit that automatically makes everyone tired of angry young men and their viciously thin poetry. And his second-place finish (at the "Poet Populist" reading) means his dreadful work has an implicit endorsement from the city (31)."
Ouch. I'm not at all familiar with Osel's work, so I cannot readily agree with Constant's assessment. However, it's refreshing to read a take on a program like this written from the point of view of someone who obviously reads and understands poetry. I can only imagine that a City Hall press release would state the exact opposite, probably under the assumption that all poetry is good and worthy to be read. Public arts programs have their hearts in the right place, but the focus should be on quality, not on quantity.

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