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Occasionally I Write Other Things Besides Parody Gangsta Rap

February 21, 2011

1. As soon as the poet sits down to write something called Ars Poetica, for example,

or any other preexistent poem with a predetermined title

chosen by a man with more natural talent and a better command of Latin,

she begins to feel like an impostor, inhuman, a woman

with the neck of a horse and the rainbow feathers

of an impossible bird and a black-fish bottom. A freak of culture.

Who would want her? The terror triumvirate constantly taunt her:

the reek of failure, the dread of what unending obscurity will cost her,

scariest of all the possibility of becoming dead without leaving

behind enough words to keep her soul’s embers bright despite her body’s absence. Old

and older and better poets hover behind her, watching. Typing the title let them in.

It’s too late to save the document

under a different name. Until she sat down and opened up

MS Word, the right words had been right

there in her head, begging to be paged; now the connection

is broken; they’ve lost her.

So she writes this poem instead, this much different and not as good one.

2. As a poet, you receive affection,

sometimes, a grudging kind, and rarely

from someone who gets what you do. In fact,

the admiration is often rooted in a lack of understanding.

People have been known to think that if they don’t understand something then

it must be above them, by which they generally mean

beneath them.

You receive compliments,

pity-tinted, from the conventionally fortunate,

and if you listen carefully

you’ll learn how rarely they’re free

of back-door mockery.

You receive written and oral propositions from men

and women who would like to fuck you,

assuming with a strange faith

that your creativity carries over,

as if all white sheets were the same.

As if.

You don’t receive

what you really need, which is, of course,

money.

 

III. (translated from the English by K. Strayer) It would seem that everyone is weirded out by poets, even those who like us. Part of the explanation for this is that we are trained, or we train ourselves, to be humble to a fault. The fault, humility, is precisely as vexatious to the listener as arrogance. Poet after poet proclaims: I am an instrument of the Muse. Tiresome. I am a channel through which another’s eloquence flows. Cease. If there is a God in the firmament, no doubt he has better things to do than shoot pentameters through your precocious head. I am merely a tool. Indeed, sir! If you were a physician or a land broker or a judge in the courts, would you introduce yourself to clients in this way? Surely not: for if you did, what man with even a modicum of sense would take your work seriously? I will not apologize for requiring my audience to understand that I am the author of my own work. Muses are useless old mythology. Nobody blames the Muse when a poem is reminiscent of the sewage sloshing about in the Cloaca Maxima, nobody gives bad reviews to the Muse, so why do we stretch forth our hands to place a laurel branch on her temples when a poem is successful? Poets, we owe it to the reader to take full responsibility for what we bring into being. I am the author and if you are displeased by my verses you may approach me in the Forum with your remarks. And if you are pleased by them, you may likewise approach me in the Forum.

 

4. CLASS, GOOD POETS DON’T USE ADVERBS, AND THEY DON’T USE PRESENT PARTICIPLES, SO NEITHER WILL YOU. IN YOUR OWN POEMS YOU SHOULD USE WHAT’S CALLED A FORM, PREFERABLY COUPLETS OR STANZAS. AND YOU SHOULD USE WHAT’S CALLED A METRE, PREFERABLY IAMBIC PENTAMETER. I WILL EXPLAIN IT TO YOU ON THE BOARD SHORTLY. POEMS WITH NO FORM OR METRE ARE KNOWN AS “FREE VERSE” BUT YOU WON’T BE STUDYING THAT UNTIL NEXT TERM AND YOUR TEACHER WON’T NECESSARILY UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS. POETRY IS DIFFICULT AND COMPLEX, BOYS AND GIRLS, AND IT’S NOTHING LIKE PROSE. END RHYMES WERE ONCE VERY POPULAR, BUT THEY’RE OUT OF FASHION NOW AND WE HAVE TO ACCEPT THAT. THEY MAY COME BACK, BUT DON’T CROSS YOUR FINGERS, BECAUSE WHEN’S THE LAST TIME YOU SAW ANYONE WEARING B.U.M. EQUIPMENT OR HYPERCOLOR? EXPERIMENT WITH GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION. EXPLORE THE SPACE ON THE PAGE. USE COLOURFUL AND POLYSYLLABIC VOCABULARY, LIKE “COLOURFUL” AND “POLYSYLLABIC.” TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW IF YOU SEE ME ON THE STREET OR IN YOUR MIND, I’LL PROBABLY BE WEARING THIS SAME TWEED JACKET WITH THE ELBOW PATCHES. DON’T BE SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT EXPRESSING YOUR FEELINGS POETICALLY ALTHOUGH THEY WILL BE GRADED OUT OF TEN AND THEN POSTED ON THE BULLETIN BOARD AT THE BACK OF THE ROOM RIGHT NEAR WHERE ONE OF YOUR BULLIES SITS. ALMOST EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM HAS BEEN ONE OF YOUR BULLIES AT SOME POINT. BE CREATIVE. BE NATURAL. BE YOURSELF. MAKE AN IMPRESSION. ERASE YOUR FOOTSTEPS. HAVE A FRIEND PREAFROOD YOUR WORK.

 

5. If the fishtailed horsebird lady has a soul then I think,

let her fly

or swim or walk or whatever she does—I mean, you know what I mean,

let her awkwardly flim and swalk bizarrely through life like the rest of us.

Let her swy through her life in her hybrid way. She has as much right to be here as you

or I. All she is is a harmless metaphor.

Who has never felt irredeemably different? Who has never

felt thrown together by a young poet newly obsessed

with inconsistency of form? Which of us can describe

our own progress through life without inventing verbs?

By all means let the flying rainbow merhorse

swalk the earth and flim the seas. Let her swy with gawky

dignity through the grey wet February breeze.

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