SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
April is National Poetry Month, which I suppose makes sense since it’s the beginning of spring: a season that makes people want to sing, sniff flowers, bare pasty white limbs, and otherwise imitate hippies at a poetry slam.
Which is an incorrect cliché, by the way. Have you ever been to a poetry slam? Those people aren’t at all happy – half of them are screaming into the mike about how they want to do crude things to a heartless world because they hate everything and everybody. It’s like listening to Michael Moore before he’s had his morning six pack of donuts.
Anyway, the Academy of American Poets came up with National Poetry Month in 1996, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be an international event. Sure, the Taliban may have banned poetry, but otherwise it’s alive and well all over the world.
Well – except for with me. I stink at poetry. My idea of a classy poem usually begins with “There once was a man from Nantucket”.
For those of you who don’t know, that’s the classic beginning of a limerick, a five
line poem in anapestic or amphibrachic meter. Eyes glazed over yet? Yeah, mine too. Let me just give you an example:
Mark hit the roof with his ladder
To find out what could be the matter.
The rain on his head
While sleeping in bed
Was making him mad as a hatter.
Or something like that. I don’t have a clue what amphibrachic means – I thought it was a female lizard. Limericks often start with “There was a”, are generally humorous, and the best ones are also offensive. They’re also generally considered low brow, but Shakespeare himself wrote some.
Maybe bringing up Shakespeare at a time like this isn’t such a good idea: It just makes me look that much worse. Although I’m fairly good with prose, my skills with rhyming are questionable, at best.
I did have a little success with taking established songs and putting new lyrics to them. For instance, I once took the Huey Lewis and the News song “I want a new drug (called love)” and changed the words as a tribute to my brother, to “I want a new truck”. Part of it went:
GMC or Mazda,
Ford or Lincoln too,
As long as it’s got four wheel drive
I’ll take a Subaru –
As long as it’s brand new.
Another time the muse struck me in the form of a rainstorm that backed sewage into my basement, which I discovered just as it reached a wire and blew a fuse. If you think about it, I get inspired by home disasters so much that if I ever had enough money to buy a new house, I’d have to retire from writing.
Anyway, I set my rhymes to the music of the song “You’re the one that I want”, from the musical Grease. That travesty surely exists in storage somewhere, because I published it in one of my early columns, but the last time I tried to find something in my basement I got lost and almost starved.
I remember it started with:
I got spills
And it’s pooling on the floor.
There’s a wire, in the water.
The title was “It’s a Pump That I Want”.
You could argue over whether lyrics count as poetry, but to a clueless person like me if it rhymes, it’s -- hard. How do people do that? Especially when poets are among the most unappreciated and underpaid of artists? Poets slave away all day getting a handful of words perfectly aligned, while I pound out thousands of words at a time – a quantity over quality things that may not be easy, but at least leaves me with more saleable product at the end of the day.
Still, this is Poetry Month, so I figured the least I could do is take a crack at one myself.
Some poems take a very strict structure; others are so free flowing that there’s no actual rhyme at all, but I don’t argue with those people because they’re usually the ones screaming about blackness and hate at poetry slams. A few people try to shape their poems so that they become an actual picture on the page, and in that case they have the duel challenge of literary and literal shape.
I call my style “Panicking the night before a high school sophomore poetry assignment is due” poetry. I have some experience with this. (I got a C minus.)
I feel great, some lucky king,
The day I head outside in spring
Without a hat, gloves or a coat
Or flannel stuff that makes me bloat
Into a fat, unhappy drone
That drags through winter with a moan
That would make zombies quake and shiver
(if they weren’t busy eating livers.)
But springtime comes, and I run out.
With happy voice I jump and shout:
“Look out world! My pasty skin
Shows happy times have come again.”
It last a week, or maybe three,
And then it’s toned down a degree
By little irritants, just small
Reminders that it isn’t all
A perfect world (when it is ever?)
And yet, I’d add, I almost never
Complain about the summer heat
That leaves all others down and beat.
Humidity, the little bugs
The hypo-allergenic drugs
Poison ivy, mowing lawns
The screaming of the neighbor’s prawns,
They may seem irritants to some,
But not for me! I need the sun,
Warm summer rains that come to grant
the kiss of life to trees and plants.
Some love winter, this I know.
Those nuts are welcome to their snow,
but for me Heaven, until I pass
Is insects, heat, and fresh mown grass.