Poetry on a Split Shift

The task of being a poet is not completed at a fixed schedule.  No one is a poet from eight to twelve and from two to six.

Jorge Luis Borges, lecture on Blindness, 1977

I should have known that my career as a singing waiter was doomed to failure.  I had the garcon chops, there was no denying that; I could remember four orders, with appetizers and salads, without touching the pencil behind my ear.  I could serve from the right and clear from the left.  I could even interrupt a conversation in an ingratiating manner to ask if anyone wanted coffee or dessert so as to speed folks out the door and increase my employer’s “gross” by faster “turnover,” to use the base lingo of the dining industry.  There was just one problem; I couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow, much less a bucket.


“Breathes there a man with soul so dead/Who never to himself hath said . . .”

 

And so  I was bounced, given the old heave-ho, kicked down the stairs as so often happens to tone-deaf singing waiters.  And now I try to make ends meet in a less remunerative field.  As a poetry waiter.

Believe me, demand is low, so none of the poetry restaurants stay open all day.  If you’re stuck in the “Verse ‘n Veal” field, you’re gonna have to work a split shift; 10 to 2 for the lunch crowd, six to ten for dinner.  Nothing ruins your day like having to be on call as a poet for twelve hours, even though you only work eight.  You can’t go to the beach, you can’t take the road less traveled by, you can’t wander lonely as a cloud.  You can’t do nothing!  Your whole day is shot.

Plus the money is nowhere as good being a poet waiter instead of a singing waiter; poets for show, minstrels for dough, is what they been saying since the Middle Ages, which raises the question:  How did they know they were in the Middle of history way back when, with so much more time to pass?

No, if you want the big tips you’ve got to sing.  Tips for poet waiters start at 15% and maybe–maybe–get up to 18%.  If you’re lucky.  Singing waiters are to poet waiters what rock stars are to poets; the take from the t-shirt stand at a typical rock concert could buy you a half-dozen poets-in-residence at four-year liberal arts colleges.  Singing waiters expect 20% minimum, and if you short ’em the next time you come in with your secretary they sing “Your Cheating Heart.”

poetryslam
“You say you want scrod, no doubt about it/But I tell you you’re screwed pal, because we’re out of it.”

 

This morning was rough, some guy tried to trick me by ordering “the juice of an orange,” knowing there’s no word in the English language that rhymes with the last word in that line, but I took his best shot and counterpunched:  “You’ve ordered a glass filled with juice of an orange/Your voice–it squeaks like a rusty door hinge.”

His jaw dropped, nearly killing one of his pigs in a blanket.  He should have rewarded me for rhyming on my feet, but no, he dinged me, tipping only 17.99999%.  I suppose if I had world enough and time (hat tip to Andy Marvell!) and could carry that out to a million decimal places it might turn into 18%, but the universe is expanding, I haven’t got time.


Andrew Marvell: *urp*

 

The dinner crowd begins to filter in and I recognize my least favorite customers; its Judge Samuel Fishback and his wife Dottie, who writes occasional poetry for our local paper, The West Haven Teapot-Picayune.  Dottie’s a sweet gal but for all the Yankee swaps and hostess gifting back-and-forth she engages in, there’s one present she’s never received; the divine afflatus that would enable her to write an actual, you know, like poem, as opposed to some galumphing doggerel with a meter like a Packard sedan, umpty-dumpty-dumptying along a bumpy metric highway.


Packard: Poetry in motion, at rest.

 

The Judge, by contrast, is all prose, proving the falsity of Clarence Darrow’s gag “Inside every lawyer is the wreck of a poet.”  If there’s a wreck of a poet in his neighborhood it’s probably one he ran over in his late-model American-made sedan.  On purpose.

“Good evening,” I say after the hostess seats them, although it’s rarely a good evening with the Judge.  He generally has a whiskey sour first, then a whiskey sour second, then hits the chardonnay.  If he’s coming from his club he’s already had a beer or two, so by the time he sits down at Chez de la Maison Pommes Frites, he’s more stewed than the prunes in the assisted living center I hope he’s carted off to before long.

“Hello there!” Dottie replies with a beaming smile, while the Judge goes out of his way to give me a hearty “Hrumph.”  Must have broken 100 on the golf course.

“Written anything lately?” I ask Dottie as I fill up their water glasses.

“I certainly have!” she says as she reaches in her purse, pulls out her “readers” and a sheet of lilac-colored paper.  “Listen to this,” she says as clears her throat:

 


Dottie’s whimsical “readers.”

 

How lovely to be a poet,
I feel bless-ed every day,
That I can put down on paper
My thoughts so light and gay.

If really makes me feel sorry
for someone who isn’t bitten by the “bug”
of verse so pretty and beautiful,
it’s like I’m a butterfly and he’s a slug.

The unspoken accusation hangs heavy in the air, and I move to dispel it by launching into my heartfelt recitation of the evening’s specials.

We’ve got lobster risotto that’ll float your boat-o,
and a steak au poivre that’s to die for.
The cost for each is $19.95 in toto,
so the bill won’t be something you’ll cry for.

“Oh, you are so witty!” Dottie says, but I demur:  “Really, that was nothing,” and for once I’m being sincere.  “Are you ready to order or shall I give you a few minutes?”

“How about a drink?” the Judge asks, like a Bedouin parking his camel after a 40-day trek in the desert.

“Sure–the usual?”

“Yes, a whiskey sour, and I’ll have the sirloin with baked potato.”  That’s the Judge for you; just when you think he’s going to order the same old thing, he surprises you and orders the same old thing.

“Don’t you think you should have a salad?” Dottie asks with wifely concern.

“Rabbit food!” the Judge snaps.

“It helps to keep you regular,” she adds as she touches him ever so lightly on the arm.  I discreetly avert my eyes–never noticed that exposed beam ceiling before!

“All right,” the Judge says with grim resignation, as if he’s a prisoner on death row who only got his second choice for a final meal.

“Et vous?” I ask Dottie with what I hope is a lilt in my voice.  She often writes-up the Judge’s tip when he tries to stiff me.

“You mean ‘Et tu?’–don’t you?” she asks coquettishly.

“You’re bad!” I say, not meaning it.

“I’ll have a Rob Roy,” she says.  The Fishbacks are dues-paying members of the Society for the Preservation of Antiquated Cocktails.

“And for dinner?”

“The lobster risotto sounds lovely!” she says with a big smile.

“That’s funny, they’ve been cooking it all day and I haven’t heard a peep out of it!”

“You’re a stitch!” Dottie says.  She’s brought her folding fan, and she gives me a little love-tap on the wrist with it.  “And I’ll have a Caesar salad, hold the anchovies.”

“I tried holding them last night, but they complained I was getting fresh!”

“You!”

I go back to the kitchen and place the order, but the manager is giving me a big scowl.  “I heard that alleged poem you recited to them,” he says surlily, and try saying that five times fast.  “You’d better shape up.”

“Why?” I ask.  “Am I undermining the vibrant bohemian life of your little boit de nuite?”

“No, you dingbat–there’s a restaurant critic here tonight,” he says and he nods in the direction of a table off in a corner where I see–elena gotchko, my former girlfriend and editoress-in-chief of plangent voices, the little poetry rag that I started with her back when we were demon lovers.

“She’s not a restaurant critic,” I say.  “She’s a lower-case poetess, and an awfully bad one at that.”

“That’s not what she told me when she walked in.”

“Probably just trying to cadge a free meal.  There’s not a lot of money in poetry, as you well know from the low-three figure checks you write me every week.”

He sniffs, and not because he’s checking the lobster bisque.  “I pay the going rate, so get going,” he says, before turning on his heel and returning to his maître d’ station.

And so I’m forced to confront my past, and the awful years when I wandered in the poetic wilderness after elena ejected me from the plangent voices offices, displacing me with that awful buck-toothed Brit Bendall Hyde as Managing Editor.  I was a ship without a home port, thrown back upon my own devices, which were mainly handy counter-top appliances and stereo components.  I eventually clawed my way back to the top of highly low-paid world of highbrow quarterly poetry, to the point where I now have three–three!–tote bags from college literary magazines to choose from when I go shopping at our local natural food store.

But to paraphrase Santayana, those who do not confront their past are still doomed to run into their old girlfriend when they work a split-shift as a waiter in a restaurant, so it really doesn’t matter.  All I know is, I’m going to put on the best damn performance by a waiter-poet since e e cummings told a woman “86 on the noisettes de porc” at Le Bocage, the first classic French restaurant in Massachusetts.

It’s salads first, so I come out with the small tray, a Caesar and a “house” salad, so called because it tastes like it’s made with materials bought at Home Depot.  I cast a gimlet eye in elena’s direction and begin:

Here are your salads, I also brought pepper,
in a grinder as big as a bazooka.
Don’t take too much, cause the stuff’s got a punch
that will deck you like you’re a Palooka.

For some reason I’ve finally tickled the Judge’s fancy, and he starts to laugh, drawing the attention of several diners, including my beloved lower-case elena.  Maybe–just maybe–I can make her jealous enough to ask me back into her life and a cushy sinecure at plangent, as it’s known by writers who want to preserve every precious syllable.

Now it’s Dottie’s turn; it’s a bit like playing tennis against your grandmother, you have to humor her:

I don’t want pepper, you ought to know better,
my digestive system it does not please.
I would, on the other hand, greatly enjoy,
a little more parmesan cheese.

“Coming right up,” I say, and as I walk away I catch elena’s eye, which she’s cast in my direction.  I saunter over, even though she’s outside my “zone,” and try to chat her up amiably.

“Well hello stranger!” I say in a voice that could have been exorcised from a Chamber of Commerce Sergeant-at-Arms.  “Long time no see!”

elena was always, if anything, more of a bear about avoiding clichés and small talk than I, so she greets me with a sort of sneer/smile–a snile?  a smeer?–that could flash-freeze a quart of strawberries.

“hello,” she says, sticking to her self-conscious lower-case attitudinizing.  “will you be my server tonight?”

“Sorry, no,” I say with mock regret.  “Although you should be able to hear my extempore poetry from where you sit.”

“and why would I want to do that?” she asks bitterly.

“I’ve always wondered–if you’re such a non-conformist, why do you use punctuation marks?”

“You’re”–I had her so riled up she started off with a capital!  “you’re playing with text versus speech now, and don’t think i don’t know it.”

“nice to see you,” I say, mocking her no-capitalization affectation.

I head off to the kitchen, where the Fishbacks’ entrees are ready, but I’m suddenly faced with a poet’s predicament; how do you summon the muse to inspire you over–meat and potatoes?

“Table 3 up,” the chef says, and I gulp with dread.  Steak, bake, cake, drake, fake etc.  All pretty pedestrian.  There’s no way I’m going to knock elena’s self-consciously artistic vertical striped socks off with that selection of rhymes.  There’s only one thing to do.

“Hey chef!” I yell.

“Yeah?”

“Give me the cooking sherry!”

He plays dumb for a moment, but I know from experience that drink on the job is the occupation, not the occupational hazard, of a cook.

He hesitates, looks around to make sure the boss isn’t watching, then reluctantly and surreptitiously pulls a green bottle of rotgut fortified wine out from under the counter.

“Leave me some, okay?  It’s gonna be a long night,” he says.

“I will,” I reply, “but I’ll try to make your evening fly past faster with some alcohol-enhanced verse.”

“Whatever,” he says, and tourns back to a tournedos of beef.

I take a pull, as much as I can stand, and the varnish-like finish of the jerez hits my soft palate like dragster fuel spilling on asphalt.  I shake my head not to clear my brain, but to mix things up.  I cast a steely glance across the dining room, and launch my boat laden down with verse across the godawful carpet towards the Fishbacks.

Here’s your steak, I say to the judge,
please chew each morsel thoroughly,
or else to the emergency room you’ll fly
and we’ll bury you tomorrow, quite ear-i-ly.

The patrons gasp–have I been so gauche as to recite a poem that hints at the death of a diner?  The only way I can redeem myself is with a chivalric tribute to Dottie, the fair damsel who suffers under the Judge’s pig iron rule.

To you, Dottie, I now proclaim,
I’ve brought the lobster risotto.
You were supposed to get a side of manicotti,
but I decided on you I would dote-o.
You have such a slim, girlish figure, you know,
and it’s surely one worth preserving,
so ix-nay on the carbs is priority uno,
as your profile I’m fond of observing.

There are, of course, some philistines in the crowd who don’t get my innovative a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d rhyme scheme, but elena–who’s been limping along with her trademark a-a-b-b-c-c-d-d pattern for what seems like decades now, is suddenly all ears.  And other facial features, of course, but her lobes are throbbing, as they once did when I nibbled on them while we stood over a hot Xerox machine, churning out our first edition!

She rushes up to me and says “you–you’ve progressed quite a bit since . . . i dumped you,” with more than a trace of rue, I might add.

“Poetry is hard work,” I say, chucking her under the chin so our eyes can meet through her sloppy self-cut bangs.  “If . . . we got back together, perhaps we could pull our oars in tandem, like double-scullers.”

She’s about to melt in my arms when a projectile piece of meat hits me in the ear, expelled from the throat of the Judge by the force of Dottie’s Heimlich maneuver.  She looks at me over his shoulder now that the coast . . . and the Judge’s throat . . . is clear, and she appears more than a trifle–miffed.

“My husband could have died while you were goofing around!” she says.

“Sorry about that, he’s never had a problem before,” I say.  “Are you okay?” I ask His Honor.

“I am now but it was a close call,” he says.  “I should have known better.”

“why’s that?” elena asks.

“Because his poetry always makes me gag.”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

As Roadside Elegies Spread, Cops Take on Poetry Duty

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. As the Thanksgiving vacation week began Lieutenant Jim Hampy of the Massachusetts State DMVD was patrolling the Metrowest area of Boston, on the lookout for college students home from school with too much time on their hands and beer in their bellies. “I’m not sure how much longer I can take this beat,” he says with resignation as he watches a carful of twenty-somethings beat a hasty retreat when they spot his car parked behind Ye Olde Package Store, a faux-Colonial retail liquor outlet that is the last place to buy booze before a driver goes through two “dry” towns. “The things you see out here–it’ll turn your stomach.”

Hampy decides not to give chase and takes a sip from his “lahge” Dunkin Donuts regular coffee. “I got bigger fish to fry tonight,” he says. “I been tailin’ a gang of girls for almost a year now. I got a suspicion they’ll be out in force, since they’re probably sick of their parents already.”

The instincts of the “statie,” as his adversaries in this cat-and-mouse game refer to him, prove correct as a Volvo blasts down the highway loaded to the gills with six girls, singing songs from their senior year in high school. “Suspects heading west on Route 20, send backup,” he says as he accelerates out of the parking lot, without, however, turning on his siren or flasher. “I don’t want ‘em to know I’m coming,” he says.

The girls have a quarter-mile lead that is lengthened when Hampy is forced to stop at a red light, but he seems unperturbed. “It’s okay, I want to catch ‘em in the act,” he says, and his game plan works to perfection as he pulls up at the dangerous intersection where the girls have set up a makeshift–and illegal–memorial in honor of Amanda Skrulnik, a classmate of theirs whose cheerleading career was tragically cut short when she broke her femur in a car crash last New Year’s Eve.


“I . . . I tried to rhyme ‘awesome’ with ‘possum.’”

“Those things are a fire hazard, and people could mistake them for a traffic signal,” he says unconvincingly, referring to the tall votive candles the girls have kept burning since that horrible night. As he cuts his headlights and cruises slowly to a stop, it becomes clear that safety concerns are secondary to him, however. “Worst of all is the poetry,” he says, shaking his head. “I hope no daughter of mine ever writes nothin’ as bad.”

He exits the car along with this reporter and makes his presence known to the girls, who are sobbing quietly. “Good evening ladies,” he says, and it is clear to this reporter that he maintains an air of professional calm only with difficulty. “I thought we reached an understanding there last summer,” he says, as he plucks a piece of paper from the paws of a stuffed animal at the roadside shrine and begins to read aloud, his voice at times betraying his overflowing emotions:

We really miss you, Dear Amanda,
On the sidelines where you cheered with flair.
We know your favorite animal was the panda
but we could only find this Teddy Bear.

Hampy looks at the girls one by one, as if scanning a police station lineup. “I want to know who wrote this,” he says gently but firmly. “Tracy? Lindsey? Chloe?”

The girls from the back seat are silent, so he continues. “Siobhan? Whitney? Courtney?”

The last-named friend finally cracks. “It wasn’t any one of us–it was all of us, a joint effort,” she says.

Hampy groans involuntarily. “Haven’t I told you–poetry is the product of a unique and individual vision. It’s not something you write by committee, like the mission statement of a non-profit that wants to rid the world of trans-fats. Now clean this up and go home.”

The girls are properly chastened and get to work at a routine they have down pat; extinguishing the flames, removing beads, stuffed animals and signs, and crumpling up their roadside elegies, as commanded by a duly-authorized officer of the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicle Doggerel.

On Saturday morning Hampy spoke is the speaker for a public service assembly at Pumpsie Green Consolidated Regional High School, lecturing a gym full of bored and inattentive kids about the dangers of roadside poetry. “For the first offense, all you got to do is take the Junior Operator Scansion Adjustment Seminar,” he says, drawing no reaction from the students. “It’s three Saturdays,” he adds, eliciting sighs and the rolling of many eyes.

“Second offense, you got to go to the Do Not Go Premature Into That Good Night Retreat.” The young men and women are paying attention now, as Hampy pauses for effect. “That’s a whole weekend.” Groans are heard from several students, but Hampy cuts them off to let them know it could get even worse.


“These are good kids–they just write crappy poetry.”

“Finally, after three violations or refusal to comply with prescribed meter or rhyme scheme mandated by court order, we impose the death sentence.”

“What’s that?” asks Wade Aucoin, a pimply 15-year-old in the first row of the bleachers.

“Permanent revocation of your poetic license.”

Available in Kindle format as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

Highway Poet Tells Bureaucrat to Hit the Road

ENFIELD, Connecticut.  Mike Abruzzioni is Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Roads and Bridges at State Highway Department District #2 Headquarters here, a position he earned after many years of service, plus frequent contributions to state legislators.  “It ain’t what a lot of people think,” he says of the keys to his success.  “In addition to hard work, there’s a lot of ass-kissing you gotta do.”

Image result for led highway sign

Still, after two decades climbing the bureaucratic ladder he thought he had achieved some measure of personal freedom to do his job as he pleased, including some latitude as to the messages he posts on the Department’s LED message signs.  “Frankly, I didn’t even know Connecticut had a poet laureate,” he says ruefully.  “Seems like a waste of money to me at a time when I got to lay off two brush-hog cutters.”

Image result for brush hog cutter
“I leave a wake where’er I go/That’s what you get whene’er you mow.”

Abruzzioni is referring to the run-in he had with Tristram Morgan, the state’s official poet until December 31st of this year, after he posted “Stay awake/take a break/for safety sake” along Route 1 over the July 4th weekend.  “I didn’t think nothin’ of it, then I get a call the Monday morning after from the Arts & Cultural Council saying they’re filing a grievance against me.”

The complaint referred to the terms and conditions under which Morgan took the largely honorary position of state poet laureate, which pays only a stipend of $2,000 plus a 5-minute shopping spree at Annie’s Gently Used Romance Paperbacks in West Harford.  “POET,” the rider to the standard state contract terms and conditions reads, “shall be the official source of all poetry purchased by the STATE until the expiration of the term hereof,” which the assistant professor at Trinity College says entitles him to craft the traffic messages that are flashed to motorists.

“I found Mr. Abruzzioni’s little doggerel to be deficient in many respects,” Morgan sniffs when the question “Who cares?” is put to him by this reporter.  “An elementary, almost banal rhyme scheme.  The abbreviated line length–surely the marks of a poetaster.”

Image result for state highway headquarters command center
“Take the detour round West Hartford/or what the hell is all my art for?”

In its place Morgan began to post verse that, in the formulation suggested by Archibald MacLeish, tended to “be” rather than “mean” and echoed the work of the state’s most famous poet, the notably obscure Wallace Stevens:

Nutmeg State, Dunkin’ Donuts
Please slow down folks, and don’t go nuts.

When Abruzzioni objected, saying his work was protected by civil service regulations, Morgan began to write poems that crossed the line into advocacy, as Byron’s late work was enflamed by his support of the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey:

Poems written by highway hacks–
They give me bad gas attacks.


Image result for highway line painter truck
“Hey–slow down/What the fuck?/Don’t you pass my/painting truck!”

Ultimately the conflict between the two public employees will be resolved by binding arbitration before a three-member panel composed of a writing instructor from the University of Connecticut-Storrs, an industrial accidents court judge, and Bob Nash, the driver of a line-painting truck who is hoping to move up from two-lane state roads to four-lane highways eventually.  “I’m gonna try to be an impartial judge,” he tells this reporter as he squints into the sun at the end of the workday.  “On the other hand, that D+ I got in senior English means I can never get a job at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.”

Available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

Intro to Rock Poetry 101

It was one of those fashionable academic parties where emulation–in the form of whom, among the assembled group, possessed the most extensive knowledge of classic rock lyrics, and whose tastes in the matter were most discerning–was in the air.  The year was 2073 and the Oxford Anthology of Rock Lyrics had just appeared on our reading tablets, to be eagerly consumed by those of us whose first love was the classics!


Sometimes a cheeseburger is just a cheeseburger.

 

“How could they have overlooked ‘Somebody give me a cheeseburger!’ by Steve Miller?” I asked Devo Evans, a junior faculty member who was scarfing down brie on stoned wheat thins in order to make it to next Sunday night, when he’d be entitled to his next free dinner as dorm assistant on the meal plan.

“I was a little surprised that they saw fit to include ‘My baby does the Hanky-Panky,’” he said, although I could barely understand him through a mouthful of hors d’oeuvres.


The Shondellian Poets.

 

“Yes–Tommy James and the Shondells.  I think they were trying to seem recondite,” I said in an attempt to seem recondite.

Over our shoulders we heard the talk turn to Dylan.  God!  Haven’t we revived and re-flogged that dead horse about a thousand times?

“If knowing that my own true love was a-waiting,
and I could only hear her heart a’softly poundin’.”

It was Geoffrey Wolcott-Auberge, the Elton John Distinguished Professor of Lyrics, quoting “Tomorrow is a Long Time.”  Easy for him to say.  He was the last man over the drawbridge before they abolished tenure; he didn’t have to do any original thinking for the rest of his life.

“How trite!” I heard someone exclaim, and turned my head to see Jamieson Ray Davies, an up-and-coming Kinks scholar, his head cantilevered back as if he were a health textbook picture of whiplash.  “Who did ‘Bobby Zimmerman’ think he was–Elizabeth Barrett Browning?”


“You can purchase my Introduction to Kinksology textbook at the campus bookstore.”

 

Wolcott-Auberge drew himself up to his full 5’10″ height, and prepared to unleash the full fury of his heavily-footnoted monograph on “Dylan as Transformative Shaman: Subterranean Homesick Jew?”  “I’ll have you know that without Dylan, your adjunct professorship probably wouldn’t exist, young man!”  That’s how the old guys were; what did we tyros know, we weren’t there when Dylan became an evangelical Christian in 2012, after sloughing off in succession the slippery skins of Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and the Rosicrucians, yadda-yadda-yadda.  What a bunch of crapola.

Davies was having none of it.  “Lay his lyrics side-by-side with the beauty of Led Zeppelin,” he said, jutting his chin out for maximum masculine threat-posture effect.

“And what do you get?” Wolcott-Auberge replied.  “A diner menu to the table d’hote in a fine French restaurant.”

Davies was a Romantic, and wasn’t backing down.  “Listen to this,” he said, “Voted the #1 song OF ALL TIME in Worcester, Mass.–the Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World!

Davies cleared his throat, and began to recite the words that had launched a thousand joints:

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buy-i-ing a stair-air-way to hea-ven.
When she gets there she knows,
if the stores are all closed, With a word . . .

“Dash it all–that’s rubbish!” Wolcott-Auberge shouted.  “It’s . . . it’s . . . CRAP!”


Led Zep: Sheer . . . freakin’ . . . poetry.

 

I turned to my buddy Devo, and he was smirking too.  “Don’t you love it when these old bulls go at each other?” he said.

“I do.  But it may be time for us to make our move,” I said.

“Whatcha mean?”

“As grad students, we’re supposed to be reviving dead authors, re-discovering forgotten lyrics, the way Shakespeare scholars would track down obscure anachronisms back in the days of print.”

He considered this with pursed lips.  “True,” he said, “but I’m still doing research for my intensive seminar on ‘The Troggs: Wild Things, or Mild Things?’”

“Not me,” I said confidently.  “I’ve uncovered an obscure artist whose simple, pure lyrics are invested with the naive power of William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience.’”

“William Blake?  Who’s he?”

“He subbed on lead guitar at the Stones gig where Brian Jones was found floating dead in the hotel pool.  No–I’m talking about Jesse Hill.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Never heard of him!” I fairly screamed.  Across the room Niles Bilswanje, a Dutch student in a dead-end M.A. program the department had created to goose up its revenues, turned his head.

“‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’?” he said, with a knowing grin.

“That’s right,” I said.  “He’s been derided as a one-hit wonder, but he’s actually a two-hit wonder.  For pure, unadulterated nonsense, I rank ‘I Got Mine’ even higher.”

A hush had fallen upon the room, and I knew it was my chance to shine.  It’s moments like this, I thought, that one can turn to one’s advantage, even if one’s turning of one’s self makes one dizzy.

“Yo!” I said.  “You lookin’ real good.  You got some strong, strong lines.”

I heard a rustling over at the snack table; somebody had picked up a bowl of Cool Ranch Doritos, and had begun to shake them rhythmically.

“I got mine,” I sang, “I got mine.  Ever since, I been wearin’ new clothes, I been livin’ off chicken and wine.”

“Now that’s poetry,” I heard Emily Seals-Croft, a T.A. in Freshman Comp exclaim.  “Please, sir, I want some more!” she said meekly.  The phrase sounded vaguely familiar, but the divine afflatus was upon me, so I continued.

“I went downtown to see my gal, I wasn’t there very long, a man grabbed a shotgun–and he shot me in my back.”

Ba-doop-a-doop-doo.  “I got mine,” I sang, “I got mine–ever since I been wearing new clothes, I been livin’ off chicken and wine.”

We formed a sort of academic conga line, me at the front, Emily with her hands on my hips, and started to parade around the room.  I restored myself with some of the refried bean dip–risky, I know–and we marched out of the room, past the high-brow disputandas of the Dylan v. Led Zep camps.

We went out onto the quad, into the cool night air, and sat down in a circle, the better to swap rebel lyrics that had been unjustly excluded from the canon that began with “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” back at the dawn of self-conscious rock.  “Hey,” Devo said.  “Anybody recognize this one?”

He took a sip of Mateus Rose wine–the bottles make great decorations for your apartment!–and began:  “Hey where did we go–days when the rains came?”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

Me and Emily Dickinson in the 70s

          Prior to a recent restoration, the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts had an “unfortunate 1970s vibe.”

               The Boston Globe

I was in the lounge at the Emily Dickinson Homestead, waiting for the Belle of Amherst to come downstairs, and frankly I was getting bored.  I’d been playing Pong for three days straight, and while I was getting good at it, my wrists were sore.

A docent passed by and, despite her seventies-style clothes–miniskirt and platform heels–she looked quite decent for a docent.  I turned and called out to her.  “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” she answered as she flipped her Farrah Fawcett feathered bangs to the side.

“Any idea when Emily will be coming downstairs?”

“And who may I say is here to see her?”

I riffled through the cards in my literary hand and played the only one that could possibly cut any ice with the reclusive poetessa.  “Well, I’m a published poet.”

I thought I heard a sniff coming from the woman’s nostrils.  It could have been because she was a cocaine fiend, as were so many artsy types in the seventies, but I sensed it wasn’t the glamour drug of the decade but her contempt for my meager–some would say non-existent–literary reputation that was the source of the sound.

“What publications have seen fit to print your work?”

“I got a poem published in The Christian Science Monitor.

“Never heard of it.”

“You wouldn’t have.  It wasn’t founded until two decades after Emily died.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, The Atlantic Monthly published a little humor piece of mine.  Once.”

“That . . . might be of interest to her.  Let me inquire.”

I had, like a clumsy dentist performing a root canal, struck a nerve.  While Dickinson carried on a correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson that lasted almost a quarter of a century, and at one point the two met, he contributed a number of articles, essays and poems–even a serialized novel–to The Atlantic.   She, on the other hand, never got beyond The Springfield Republican, Drum Beat, and The Brooklyn Daily Union in her lifetime.

While the docent brought news of a visitor from the 20th and 21st centuries to the eccentric recluse who rarely came downstairs, I sauntered over to the jukebox.  All the big hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were available.  I put in a quarter, which in seventies pricing got you three songs, and punched the buttons for Stayin’ Alive, Disco Inferno, and Jive Talkin’.  I was boogeying discreetly around the room when her penetrating gaze penetrated through my polyester disco shirt, causing me to turn and look to the top of the stairs. 

There she stood, as she must have appeared to Higginson in 1870: I had anticipated that she’d wear a mini-shift or jumper dress, or perhaps a drop waist or tunic dress, but instead she wore a turquoise jumpsuit that made her look like the love child of Elvis Presley in his Vegas years and a Smurf.  It was . . . exquisite.


“This one’s for you, Emily baby!”

 

“These are my introduction,” she said, handing me a brand-new Sony Walkman.  

“What’s on it?”

“I made you a mixtape.  It includes a few poems . . . and some bitchin’ cool songs I think you’ll like.”

“Oh wow,” I said as I scanned the handwritten playlist on the cassette.  “I’ll Take You There by The Staple Singers . . . Let’s Stay Together by Al Green . . . and Best of My Love by The Emotions!  Did you know I like that song so much . . . I downloaded it twice on iTunes?”

“What’s iTunes?” she asked.

“Sorry, I forgot that we’re stuck in the 70s.”

We sat and chatted easily in the front parlor of the homestead, then our talk turned–inevitably–to our shared interest.

“So . . . you’re a poet, too?” she asked timidly.

“Well, most editors and publishers don’t think so, but I’ve had a little success.”

“Are you going to make that stupid joke from Cracked magazine that you seem to like so much?”

“If you’re looking for someone who’s had a little success as a poet, I’ve had as little as anyone?”

“That’s it.”

“I could never pass up the opportunity.  I wanted to ask you . . .”

“Yes?”

“About your philosophy of poetry.  You seem to want it 100 proof.”

“What does that mean?”

“Hard liquor–like whiskey.”

“Liquor has never touched my lips.”  

“That’s a metaphor.

“Oh.”

“You’re on record as saying ‘If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry.”


Thomas Wentworth Higginson

 

“Yes, I said that to dear Mr. Higginson.”

“And ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.'”

“I recall saying something to that effect, yes.  Why do you ask?”

“Well, I wanted to try out some of my poetry on you, see if it meets your high standards.”

“Okay, hit me with your best shot,” she said, anticipating Pat Benatar.

“This is a little something I call poetry is kind of important.

“Why didn’t you capitalize any of the letters?”

“That’s an innovation in poetry that will be introduced after you die.  Anyway, here goes.”  I cleared my throat and launched the ship of my most famous poem onto the stormy seas of her intellect:

poetry is kind of important,
a poem can be a big deal.
you can write one about your girlfriend,
and how she makes you feel.

The August air hung heavy in the room as the breeze through the window onto the porch died.

“That’s it?” she asked.

“That . . . in all its glory . . . is it.”

She closed her eyes for a second, then rose.  “Miriam!” she called out to the docent.

“Yes?” replied the woman who had tried to keep our two poetic souls apart.

“Please show Mr. Chapman to the gift shop–I think we have a ‘Hope is the Thing With Feathers’ t-shirt in men’s double-extra large.”

At the Pine-Woods Golf & Poetry Club

For most of the 20th century, the poetry world resembled a country club.

                                     The New York Times Book Review

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I just wanted to get out of the damn house. I decided to head over to the club, see if I could squeeze in a round before dinner. I threw the old sticks in the trunk and, as I drove into the parking lot at Pine-Woods, saw Lowell, Berryman and Roethke heading down to the starter’s hut. Lowell had on those god-awful madras pants of his. What a preppy doofus.


Robert Lowell

 

“Hey guys,” I yelled out to them. They were absorbed in a deep discussion.  Probably talking about the club By-Laws, which had been under revision since Allen Ginsburg walked onto the putting green without a collared shirt.


Allen Ginsburg: “I didn’t know it was like a ‘rule’ rule.”

 

I caught up to them as they were paying for their golf cart. The starter—a guy named Skip Derosiers—was giving them a hard time.

“Which one of you knuckleheads left the tracks on the seventh fairway the other day?


Theodore Roethke

 

“Not me,” said Roethke. Or course not—Mr. Nature Poet.

“It was me,” Lowell and Berryman said together. Figures—two confessional poets, two confessions.


John Berryman

 

“Do you guys mind if I make a fourth?” I asked.

“There’s a guy on the list ahead of you,” Derosiers said.

“Who?” Lowell demanded.

“The Old Man—Wallace Stevens.”

“Oh, God,” groaned Berryman.

“Can’t you do something?” I asked.


Wallace Stevens

 

“He’s one of the club’s founders.” He pointed to the left breast of his polo shirt, which featured a bantam rooster before a stand of pines.

“You know he’s going to walk the course, hit the ball thirty yards every time and compose poems between shots,” Roethke said. “The course will be backed up for a week.”

“No can do,” Derosiers said.

“Do you know who I am?” Lowell asked imperiously.

“Let me see if I remember,” he said, a sardonic gleam in his eye, and began to speak in a taunting, sing-song manner:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod.
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.

“What’s your point?” Lowell asked, a bit defensively I thought.


“But I don’t even like fishcakes and beans.”

 

“When you talk to me, you ain’t talkin’ to a Cabot—you’re talking to a God,” Skip said, as he clicked the remote to see who was on the leaderboard at the Buick Open.

I tried a different tack. “What if we made it worth your while?”

Derosiers looked us over, one by one. “Talk to me.”

We looked at each other. Thankfully, Berryman had brought a six-pack of Budweiser with him. He tore two cans off the plastic yoke and, after checking over his shoulder, handed them over the counter.

“You know, some golf industry publications say that bribing a starter can backfire,” Derosiers said as he handed us scorecards and pencils. “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” he added with a smile, as he waved us onto the course.

“What if old man Stevens catches up to us?” Roethke asked.

“Humor him,” Derosiers said as he popped the top off a twelve-ouncer. “He’s really quite whimsical.”

That didn’t sound good, but we forgot about it as we waited the standard six-minute interval for the foursome in front of us to clear the fairway.

“You want to make it interesting?” Lowell asked. “Five dollar Nassau?”

Easy for him to say with all that old money to burn.

“No automatic press on the back nine,” Berryman said. On his second beer, he was already beginning to slur his speech, but like his verse, he remained in technical control and rooted in the conventions of his time.

“Sure, John, sure,” Lowell said as he made his way to the back tee. “Okay, ladies and germs, hide and watch.”

“Grip it and rip it,” Roethke said, egging him on. I personally think trash-talk has no place in golf, but ever since Karl Shapiro said Marianne Moore was “never more beatable,” suddenly everybody’s doing it.


Marianne Moore throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium—I kid you not.

 

The big guy shuffled forward, tall, slightly stooped, ran his fingers back through his dishevelled grey hair and stuffed it under his cap. He took a few practice swings, set himself, and—scorched a worm-burner into the rough! I stifled a laugh.

“I call Mulligan,” Lowell said without even looking back, as he pulled another ball out of his pocket.

“No way,” Roethke said. “Mulligans are allowed only when expressly agreed upon by all partners in advance.”

“Too late, Bob,” I agreed. “We’ve all got skin in the game.”

I knew what was coming.  A manic-depressive temper tantrum.

“God damn it to hell!” Lowell screamed as he threw his driver into a water hazard and stormed off to look for his ball.

“Ooo,” Berryman said in a mocking tone. “Huffy Bobby hid the day/unappeasable.

Roethke stepped up next. He’s a deliberate player—it took him ten years to write Open House, his first book of poems, fer Christ’s sake.


Walt Whitman: “Hey—that’s my line!”

 

He plucked some leaves of grass and threw them up in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. He fiddled with his gloves, his visor and his left shirt sleeve. He took in the natural beauty of the course, with all its mystery, fierceness and sensuality; the ball washers, the spike cleaners, the liquid refreshment stand at the tenth tee.

“While we’re young, Teddy-boy,” Berryman said, shaking his head, “while we’re young.”

“I don’t have to take that from you, Mr. Yips,” Roethke said out of the side of his mouth. Always lyrical, I thought with admiration.

Finally he took his stance, wig-wagged his butt a bit, then weighed into the ball–a nice clean stroke, a solid thwock, if I may be allowed just one little onomatopoeia.

His ball sailed down the fairway where a tall, austere man had wandered out of the rough. It was Stevens, and Roethke’s shot hit him square in the temple!

We jumped in the cart and tore off down the fairway, coming to a stop where Stevens lay on his back, apparently dazed.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Stevens,” Roethke said, distraught at the thought that he had nearly killed one of the major American poets of the 20th century. “Are you all right?”

The great man propped himself up on one elbow, shielded his eyes from the sun and began to speak, a big groggily at first.

Call the smoker of big cigars, Stevens began,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In snack bar cups, concupiscent frozen custard.
Let the wenches dawdle in such pink culottes
As they are used to wear, and let the caddies
Bring the clubs to the bag drop.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only captain is Walter Hagen,
captain of the Ryder Cup Team.

Lowell leaned over the great poet for a look.  “He’s fine,” he said, as he took his four iron out of his bag, and then–as he dropped his ball next to fallen bard–“You guys don’t mind if I play winter rules, do you?  The course is kind of scruffy.”

Available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

Poetry for Cats

Call me crazy, but I like to write poetry.

For cats.

Cats are a good training ground for poets. They are largely indifferent to poetry, like the overwhelming majority of people, but that still makes them a more receptive audience than my wife, who is openly hostile to the stuff.

Writing poetry for cats is low-level mental stimulation, like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, but you make up the problem to be solved, not some faceless drone at a newspaper syndicate, so when you’re done you’ve created something.  Albeit on a par with a gimp necklace at summer camp.

It takes very little activity, or inactivity, on the part of my cats to serve as my muse. Here’s a cat poem I thought of just last night:

I take my laser pen in hand
and shine it in a circle.
My little cat goes chasing ’round,
it drives him quite berserkle!

Then I take what I’ve written, crumple the paper up into a ball, and throw it across the room. My cat pounces on it, extending our fun, and conserving precious resources through recycling. I’m trying to reduce our humor footprint.

Just because I write poetry for my cats doesn’t mean they’re sissies. They’re both males who will stay out all night, getting into fights with all manner of beasts. They bring us sustenance; field mice, birds, chipmunks. Once Rocco, the younger of the two, horse-collared a squirrel from behind, like a member of the New England Patriots’ defense, and dragged it, dying, to our back patio. As a former high school middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive alignment, I found this to be a most gratifying spectacle.


Horse collar tackle

 

T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is perhaps the most famous collection of cat poems, but it has always struck me as a bit fuss-budgety, like its author, a native of St. Louis who became a British subject in 1927, thereby missing out on seven World Series titles by the St. Louis Cardinals.  What a dope! That book, of course, was turned into the hugely successful Broadway show Cats.


T.S. Eliot: And you call yourself a Cardinals fan!

 

My wife once bought us tickets to see the show for my birthday, assuming that because I liked cats, I would like the show, but she sensed my indifference to Eliot’s work at dinner. As we left the restaurant for the theatre we were approached by two show tune mavens who breathlessly asked us if we had tickets we were willing to sell. We gave each other a look that lasted as long as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, then sold the ducats at a premium. This is the first and only known instance of scalping by a Presbyterian woman since the church was established during the Scottish Reformation in 1560.


Cats: Thanks, I’ll pass.

 

Lots of poets have had cats, chief among them Samuel Johnson, whose cat was named “Hodge.” I had a girlfriend whose cat was named after Johnson’s. When we had her refined friends over she’d tell the story about how, when Johnson learned of a wave of cat-napping sweeping London at the height of the popularity of cat’s meat pies, he looked down at his cat and said “They’ll not have Hodge!” Sort of NPR humor, as Harry Shearer would say–loads of muted titters. We broke up; she got the cat, and I got the hell out of there.


Johnson: How do you know you won’t like cat’s meat unless you try it?

 

For my money, the greatest of all cat poems is For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey by Christopher Smart (1722-1770), from Jubilate Agno. It’s a work that all pet store owners and cat groomers should have on their walls, in needlepoint. Surely you know its stirring opening lines:


Christopher Smart, wearing his “everyday” mortarboard

 

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey.
For he is the servant of the Living God,
duly and daily serving him.
For at the First glance of the
glory of God in the East
he worships him in his way.
For this is done by wreathing
his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk,
which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

 

Musk is the smelly substance found in a small sac under the skin of the abdomen of the rodents cats kill, and to “roll upon prank” refers, in a charming 18th century way, to cats’ preferred method of applying it. Yep–that’s a real cat there, not some Broadway-bound dancer-pussy.

Oh–I neglected to mention that when Smart wrote the above, he was a resident of Bedlam, the London hospital for the mentally ill.

Call him crazy.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Cats Say the Darndest Things” and “poetry is kind of important.”

Summer Camp for Writers

The envelope was slim, as they all seem to be these days, and so I opened it up expecting the usual brush-off:  “Dear Poet: Thank you very much for submitting your work to the Alice Wambsley 2022 Villanelle Competition.  We received over 2,348,092 entries for the first place prize of $20 and a subscription to plangent voices, and we regret to inform you that your entry was not the winner, or the first runner-up, or even the consolation prize winner, despite its evident merit.”


“We’ll be making haiku out of gimp from 1:00 to 2:00 this afternoon, then . . .”

Same to you, pal, I got ready to say as I slipped my finger under the flap, tore it open, and slowly unfolded the letter, trying to delay the moment of bitter reckoning just a few seconds more.

But then, as at a natatorium, the room swam before my eyes.  “Congratulations,” the letter began, and that was all I needed to know.  I’d been awarded a two-week fellowship at the Zucchini Loaf Writer’s Conference!  My dream of spending sunny summer days indoors with fellow aesthetes had finally come true!


“It’s a beautiful day, so we don’t we break up into groups and go over each other’s poems line-by-line indoors.”

“Honey,” I screamed out to my wife, “I’ve been accepted at Zucchini Loaf!”

“Is that a culinary school?”

“No–it’s one of the top 65 summer writing programs in America.  Or at least the original thirteen colonies located in New England.”


Black t-shirts are mandatory for all campers.

“Where is it?”

“Vermont.”

“Great!  I can go visit Marci and . . .”

“Uh,” I began, cutting her off dubiously, “I . . . don’t think you’re allowed to come with me.”

“Why not?”

“It’s in the application.”  I pulled out the brochure with the Terms and Conditions spelled out conspicuously in 6 point type on 7 point leading–italic font–and read her the relevant part:  “Writers are not permitted to bring boom boxes, electric musical instruments or spouses to Zucchini Loaf.”

“That’s kind of a strange rule,” she said.

“It’s essential to the mission of writers conferences.”

“Which is?”


“Okay, I’ve assigned you guys to the cabin for coming-of-age/rite-of-passage novels.”

“That participants receive intense, personal one-on-one instruction and engage in the maximum amount of marital infidelity in a context where time and resources are limited.”

“Let me see that,” she said, pulling the acid-free, handmade artisanal piece of paper from my hands–not that she didn’t trust me or anything.

“Look,” I said, pointing over her shoulder.  “Here’s the first-day schedule: 6 to 8 a.m., check in; 8 to 10:30 a.m., swim test; 10:30 to noon, cocktails; noon, group grope/orgy, main dining hall, or ‘buddy-check sex’ for those who have already found their soul-mates; 2 p.m., post-coital bliss/remorse; 2 to 4, arts and crafts.”

I was somewhat gratified to see her face cloud over.  So she really does love me, I thought.


“I hope you remembered to bring a thesaurus!”

“Don’t worry,” I said as I put my arm around her.  “Everybody has to submit vaccination records and a clean bill-of-health–signed by their doctor–certifying that they’ve been STD-free for at least 6 months before they go into the pool or engage in intercourse.”

“That’s not much of a vacation for me,” she said with a lump in her throat.

“Hey–I’m just playing catch-up with you,” I said defensively.  “You get to go off to beauty spas with your girl friends while I stay home, slaving away over a hot stove, making sure the cats’ homework is done.”

She was silent for a moment, then she made that funny little moue with her mouth that I love so much, the one that signals that although I may be a clueless jerk–I’m her clueless jerk.

“I guess that’s fair,” she said finally.  “Well, what’s done is done.  So what do I need to do to get you ready?”

“Let’s look at the brochure,” I said, and we turned to the list of clothing and supplies that every camper was expected to bring.  “Fourteen (14) black t-shirts, five (5) black turtlenecks, four (4) pairs of slim, faded blue jeans, one (1) beret, one (1) pair huarache-style sandals (not to be worn with socks), one (1) whimsical pair of red, high-top Converse All-Star gym shoes.”


Ready for writing!

“You already have most of this stuff–except the red sneakers,” my wife said, “so you’re pretty much all set.”

“Not so fast,” I said as I pointed to the all-caps adjuration at the end: “WRITER/CAMPER NAMES SHOULD BE SEWN INTO ALL ARTICLES OF CLOTHING.”

“I hate to sew.”

“Not to worry, you can get little iron-on labels.”

“Still–that’s a lot of work.”

“Hey–my mom did it for me.”

“All right,” she said, and she began to busy herself while I packed my footlocker.  Space was tight, so I had to make some tough decisions.  Bring Confederacy of Dunces, or The Moviegoer?   Conrad or Dickens?  Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty?  It wasn’t so much a question of what I wanted to read as what I wanted other people to see me reading.


Walker Percy:  “I want you to get this Southern Gothic crap out of your system this summer, okay?”

When I was done I came back into the bedroom where my wife was finishing up with the labels.  She handed me a t-shirt, and as I started to fold it I noticed a safety pin holding a note to the inside hem.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Just a little precaution,” she said, fighting back tears.  “I worry about you.”

I took the note between my fingers and read “Neo-formalist poet: If found, please return to Zucchini Loaf Writer’s Conference.”

I looked up at her and, hoping to allay her fears, said “I’m old enough to go to an overnight writer’s conference by myself,” with a little more confidence than I actually felt.

“You know how you are,” she said.  “Always wandering lonely, like a cloud, taking the road less travelled by.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

Vieru Chiznu-Prut, Freedonian “New Wave” Poet, Dead at 84

DOS FLEDENS, Freedonia.  Vieru Chiznu-Prut, a seminal figure in the “New Wave” movement that transformed the poetry of this consonant-loving nation, has died after crashing his Vespa motorbike into an eggplant stand near his home here.  He was 84.


Freedonian “New Wave” Poets, 1939

 

“It was Chiznu-Prut, more than any other figure of the New Wave, who freed his people’s poetry from the monotonous Ø-æ-ç-å rhyme scheme of the past,” noted Barbara Wexford-Miluski, a professor of comparative literature at The College of Chillicothe, Chillicothe, Ohio.  “He cut a dashing figure on his Vespa, but his love of fuel economy eventually spelled his doom.”


Plangent Breadsticks, influential poetry journal

 

Prior to the New Wave, Freedonia’s poetry was dominated by the Old Wave, which had wrested the mantle of literary pre-eminence from the Even Older Wave at the end of World War I.  The New Wave poets chafed under the overbearing authority of the Old Wave, but broke free with a collective chapbook of poems defiantly titled “Dog Nearly Itches to Death.”


Marda Vleznik-Oerthke, reading her poems at a New Wave soiree

 

The New Wave began to experiment with “blank verse,” forsaking rhyme in pursuit of artistic innovation.  It was Chiznu-Prut’s “Vortex/Morning Breath” that heralded the dawn of a new day for Freedonian poetry in the inaugural issue of Plangent Breadsticks, an influential quarterly review:

ÈðÞåøûö üýþ ëýë
Ðûýøìþ üýþ øæçå
Î ûëöÞ çðòüòÞÿ
Êßá ÿüå éñç’ò šÅ¾œ¥!


Ezra Pound:  “I’m crazy, but not that crazy.”

 

As translated by Ezra Pound for English-speaking readers, the poem goes as follows:

Roses are red
Violets are blue.
I like goat cheese
and you can’t skate.

A celebration of Chiznu-Prut’s life will be held at the Student Union of the University of Freedonia-Gldansk, where he drank numerous cups of bitter chicory coffee over the years.  He is survived by his wife Glzena, his two mistresses Inirya Olgrsk and Nordinsk Phlegmats, and his cats, Orko and Desmond.

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Fauxbituaries,” “Hail Freedonia!” and “poetry is kind of important.”

Whistling Monk to the Birds

It was late afternoon, on a Sunday,
and I was starting to grill.
I heard the birds singing,
and with time to kill
I thought I’d whistle them some Monk,

see if we could get something going.
I figured “Blue Monk” would be
a good vehicle for inter-species
communication.  They might not
recognize it, but if they were

hip, they’d catch on soon enough.
And so I started in B flat,
and waited to hear their response.
After a brief hesitation,
sure enough, they answered back

with the sub-dominant riff, and
we were off to the races.  Back
and forth; keeping time if not
precisely the melody, it was more
like Claude Messiaen than

Thelonious, but still—it was a
moment.  They were perched
at the top of the trees off our porch,
and when the wind stirred them,
they took off, to their next gig.