The student literary organization I help out with at Little Town U. just pulled off its annual Poetry Festival. It’s a single jam-packed day of poetry slendiforousness. This year, we brought in three amazing visiting poets – Patrick Hicks from Sioux Falls, Sarah McKinstry-Brown from Omaha, and Elliot Harmon from San Francisco. The day includes poetry writing workshops, readings, and an evening poetry slam. The readings and slam are free, and the workshops range in price from $3 - $15.
We had over 150 people total attending the 5 events, which is awesome for a late February event in the upper Midwest, where people are tired of sliding into town on a sheet of ice. But VERY few people participated in the workshops. I wondered why someone wouldn’t want to work one-to-one with a brilliant, published poet, in an intimate setting, where no poetry writing experience is needed, and I decided it’s the fear factor…
People seem split into two broad camps where poetry’s concerned: Camp A – poetry is Shel Silverstein, Hallmark cards, and Dr. Suess. It’s fluffy, rhymy, and often silly. If it doesn’t fit this image, it isn’t poetry. Camp B – poetry belongs in the dark, musty graduate classrooms of academe. It’s erudite, impenetrable, precious & private, and we can’t know what it means. These people are terrified of poetry.
One reason for the misconceptions about poetry may be that few people are exposed to poetry during their K-12 education. At most, they get a week-long poetry “overview” that starts with one Robert Frost or Emily Dickenson poem (rhyming, metered) and ends with writing a haiku about their goldfish.
Maybe we need to yank poetry out of its cozy hideout in dusty lit textbooks and toss it, naked & screaming, back into the streets from whence it came. Poetry was MEANT to be public, utilitarian. It dates back to 3000-4000 BCE, predating EVERY other kind of literature. Here’s a link to a cheesy Wikipedia history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_poetry
Poetry was originally sung or recited in town squares—to spread news, honor achievements, collect and distribute a community’s history. It was an integral part of life-events such as births, weddings, funerals. We need poetry on park benches, sides of buildings, sidewalks. We need to sneak it onto menus, into public restrooms, onto MLB hotdog wrappers. New shoes & handbags should be stuffed with poems printed on tissue paper. Skywriters?
Poetry is the perfect literary form for the Newest Age, too. The rapidly-diminishing attention span of the average adult is now about 15-20 minutes – much too short for a play, novel, or even a short story, but ideal for a poem. And c’mon…what could be more perfect for a 140-word Tweet?
I’d like to strap some electrodes on modernist poet Ezra Pound’s poetic triad and raise it from the dead: logopoeia (what a poem means), phanopoeia (how it looks on the page), and melopoeia (how it sounds), in order to remind the world that poetry was never meant to be locked in books read only by grad students and other poets. It was meant to be picked at, examined, touched, seen, heard, spread around…read & written by YOU.
And here’s a little poem of mine for the Newest Age…
You Will Want to Watch This Poem
First, I’ll slap you hard with a scream—alarming volume.
Next, I’ll stand nearly naked in a funky plastic fountain,
golden arches on my head like fat dead bunny ears,
my skin painted shimmering cathode-grey;
the glow will be visible from any window.
I’ll leave my breasts untouched,
the color of skim milk; it will do you good.
Droplets of sugary cola will rain down,
meet the cleft of my navel, make you thirsty.
Some movements I’ll exaggerate. Others, I won’t.
I’ll hold a placard in bridge-black spray paint:
Will work for whole-grain flakes
lightly frosted on one side.
The letters will be large, visible at high speeds,
but you! You’ll be right here, chin dropped,
breathing through your mouth.
I’ll lull you with the universal mantra—
my lips pouty, full, red,
wrapped around six sultry iambs:
You’ll be frozen rock hard,
You’ll want more.
Then, when you’re fixed and grinning,
I’ll plug in, turn on, burn
for one uncomfortable moment &
go up in a quick, sizzling, electric
of smoke and cinder
that settles finally
on the oil-slick cola surface.
now you will listen
now you will listen
now you will listen