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Feb. 21st, 2010 @ 03:18 pm stolen pomes from the poet tree
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Yesterday I did a volunteer shift at my church's ridiculous ridiculous annual used book sale (paperbacks for $1.50, hardcovers for $2!). I am in the midst of a minor theological struggle about it right now, since Jesus pushed over tables when he saw people selling stuff on consecrated ground, and the very same building where the pastor preached to us the virtues of not giving in to temptation (we are in Lent) became a temporary marketplace just hours later. But if they are hypocrites then I am also, because after a mere 45 minutes of theological wrestling I was down there hauling an armful of books to the counter. I am a bad Christian.

So, as if it would make things better, when it really makes things worse, I am going to illegally pirate some of the poems I bought today, from the January 2007 issue of Poetry. Viewing these poems does not constitute fair use and you will be arrested shortly. Please enjoy them while you wait for the authorities to arrive.

The unofficial theme of this anthology is apparently the pretentiousness of poetry itself. On the back cover is a quote from Daisy Fried: "People who talk about poetry's social utility often concentrate on content. They think, perhaps, that poetry Tells the Truth, or Provides Solace. These notions make me queasy, and are treason to poetry. If you're crawling to poems on your hands and knees, as I once heard a famous poet remark--in my view, you're not crawling to poetry. Prozac would probably work better."

Mr Cogito, A Calligraphy Lesson

Once in his lifetime
Mr Cogito attained
the height of mastery

in the first grade
of Saint Anthony's
elementary school
seventy years ago
in Lwów

the calligraphy competition
Mr Cogito broke the record

he wrote the most beautiful
letter b

he wrote Petrarchan laurels
with the letter b

history's storm
sadly devoured
the masterpiece

for good
the soaring tower
Renaissance belly
of the b

the grand competition
took place under the eye
of the Polish teacher
(her passport gave
the name Bombowa)

the nursemaid
of Cogito's mind

history's whirlwind
wholly devoured
the soaring tower
Renaissance belly
of the b

and in chronic distraction
Bombowa herself as well
she slipped into mythology
and since then she lives
and reigns
over Mr Cogito
and the orphaned letter

- Zbigniew Herbert

In high school, as part of an elaborate ruse to get a female friend to go to a dance with me, I did a daily series of poems with an intentional lack of literary merit. Each of the thirteen poems I wrote (some of which were not even poems) lampooned some aspect of the breathless, reaching, excessively sentimental and profound pseudo-Plath garbage tenth grade accelerated English darlings posted on MySpace. It is thereby incredibly validating to see my tenth grade self spectacularly outdone by an actual poet in one of the most prestigous poetry journals in the contemporary literary world. Even Zbigniew Herbert's name is fantastic.

In a sad twist of poetic justice, I am now spending too much of my early post-college years hitting on those very same girls, now women, who have long since surrendered all creative ambition and are now writing copy for supermarket tabloids or something. (Real women will generally not even look at me unless obligated or already taken.)

Strongly Scented Sonnet

Just kissing the skin, inside the chemise,
she tucked a modest apple in the nest
of hair beneath her arm, a scent like cheese
extruding musky fragrances when pressed.
And for two months the apple crabbed and freaked
the hollow armpit, ripening, the smell
about to hatch, a chicklet plump and beaked
that taps suggestively against its shell.
She wrapped and sent it to her fiancé,
who amorously kept it by his bed,
inhaling it--superb!--until the day
when he and its contributor should be wed.

Dear sir, do you detect the perfume of
what I have used as substitute for love?

- Rhoda Janzen

This is the anti-sonnet. It is the first forceful, compelling, genuinely original use of the form I have seen since e.e. cummings. That sound you hear in the distance is the wail of vampire Shakespeare being staked.

I want it inkjet-calligraphed on rough pastel-tone paper, offset with a smiling worm in an apple being fawned upon by pink hearts and cherubim in diapers, framed in cloth-wrapped treated plywood and mounted on an overpolished end table. One day I might even give it to an exceptionally dense woman.
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Date:February 22nd, 2010 01:36 am (UTC)
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Hey, people who write supermarket copy can do creative things too. Creativity is a continuum, not binary.

My reaction to the first poem was pfft meh. The second was okay, except for the last two lines and title, which were bleh. But without them, it doesn't say anything.


Apparently it was a real thing, and common, to do.

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Date:February 22nd, 2010 01:37 am (UTC)
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search the text for "apple", you'll see what I mean
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Date:February 22nd, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
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Aww, that's disappointing. Why must reality be such a killjoy?
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Date:February 22nd, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
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You're right; the women I'm talking about have both given up on their creative ambition AND resigned themselves to careers of self-loathing. The two are not necessarily connected.

Herbert's poem is not immediately arresting, but where it stands out to me is its intentionally unintentional comedic timing. It apes the pacing and line structure of every self-important, pompous forgotten early 20th century poem ever in a way that is absolutely golden. Try reading it aloud in that somber industry standard poetry-reading tone, with dramatic pauses after each line break, and trying to keep a straight face.
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Date:February 22nd, 2010 03:21 am (UTC)


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