The poet’s daughter wrote: Only now, years after my father’s death, do I think I understand a little of what he must have felt, unable to feed his heart, unable to write his poems, because he worked so long for the machine that fed us, clothed us, kept us under one roof.
Sometime before he passed away, he cautioned as he sat in weak sunlight in the garden, checkered afghan over his knees, jacaranda blossoms fallen across the driveway: Don’t let the world take away that which allows you to burn— no matter what.
Yours, mine, others’— What can I do with a poem, Carlos, what do I do with poems?
And yet, to certain audiences who cut their teeth on the workshop model practically from babyhood, I am a fraud, not a real contender, a lightweight, someone with aspirations to those revered and most holy of names: writer, poet; or am I dilettante, gatecrasher, someone not invited to the party?
Step into this line. Credentials, please? And who is your patron? your escort?
A colleague once said he did not think I should “advertise” the fact of my National Book Awards (4, given by the appropriate award-conferring body in a closely refereed process, in a country that used to be a colony of the United States) because No American writer has won but one National Book Award in his or her lifetime. (Subtext: how could any of these possibly be real?)
Say the word “poet” in ___, and in at least two linguistic cases, you will have been perceived to have said the word “butt.”
Choose the best poet accessory: (a) Flowy sweater; (b) Flowy vest; (c) John Fleuvog T-strap pumps; (d) Notebook; (e) Moleskine notebook.
Do you remember that year-end party? (a) Only two in that group of writers did not skinny dip in the hot tub; (b) Only one in that group of writers did not skinny dip in the hot tub; (c) The wife of one of the writers in that group found out about the hot tub and ordered him to pack up and come home; (d) Only one of the writers in that group is a real star; (e) All of the writers in that group are stars.
Stars are a higher category of being. Why should they be governed by rules coming from any useful idiot’s office?
My friend returned from the ___ weekend writing institute. Her class waited for famous writer ___ to return their critiques. Maybe she forgot? However, they did remember what the famous writer ___ said in the cafeteria during the farewell meal: “Good poets write; great poets steal.”
Choose the best answer: (a) Poets know no other work except sitting on their butts; (b) Your butt is calling; (c) Your butt is your calling; (d) None of the above; (e) All of the above.
Verse is cheap, lives are cheap, plastic is cheap, cardboard is cheap. (Have you seen the twee desk accessories in Ikea’s new spring catalog?)
Often, I am the one that gets thanked last, if at all.
The big themes are still “Recycle,” “Buy Local,” “Diversify.”
A UK “poet” made the news recently when it was discovered “the poem he wrote” that had been awarded a prize was plagiarized.
Hurry along out of here, now. The useful idiot has to draw up schedules for the next group.
Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss the clerical types, the ones that mind the boring archives or change the lightbulbs in the storage room.
Since when did we care about red carpets? Since when did we perfect the sound of catalogues and couplets rolling down the conveyor belt?—Luisa A. Igloria
01 25 2013
In response to Via Negativa: Inaugural poet as useful idiot.