Small-town newspapers, where they still exist, are a precious treat. In Spring Green, Wisconsin, we get The Home News, “the only newspaper in the whole, wide world that cares about the River Valley area” every Wednesday. Of course, The Voice of the River Valley, a free monthly, also implicitly cares (though that’s not on its masthead). This past month The Voice had poems (in honor of National Poetry Month) and has regularly carried poems in the past. One of the things I enjoyed about the Home News’ former editor, in addition to his progressive politics and weekly editorials featuring his dog, was his willingness to publish poetry on the editorial page. He was following a long tradition. According to Mike Chasar (whose blog I like and whose book I want),
“through most of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth…amateur poets hotly debated issues of abolition and women’s suffrage in verse form, writing their poems quickly in response not only to the day’s current events but also to the specific ideas and claims put forth in the previous day’s poems. As recently as the mid-1950s, in fact, the New York Times was in the habit of printing poems alongside letters to the editor on its opinion pages, making little or no distinction between the two.”
The fact that I am able to quote at length from Chasar’s article, entitled “Writing Good Bad Poetry,” which appeared in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers magazine in 2008, is the result of an argument I lost (am losing). “We do NOT need to keep all these,” I’ve insisted repeatedly to my husband over the years about the boxes and boxes of magazines. But my school library doesn’t subscribe to Poets & Writers, and there aren’t very many articles archived online, so when I remembered the article & looked it up in the database at school, I could have ordered a copy of the article on interlibrary loan. Or I could do what I did, come home and find it.
The willingness to wait a few more days
To get what I wanted from interlibrary loan
Would free up so much square footage in my home
That I could house a family of refugees.
But I’m married to a pack rat. I am one, too.
It’s just I used to purge more often. He won’t.
Or rather, he seldom does. We never do
Much of anything until we absolutely must.
In preparing for a visit from the appraiser this spring
We both set to work cleaning and organizing
And yes, purging. The appraiser was the amiable dad
Of a former student of mine. He and my husband had
A rambling talk. Appraised well, we locked in three percent.
We’re not an episode of “Hoarders.” At least not yet.
Chasar recounts writing poetry for Iowa City’s Press-Citizen in response to an editor’s request. The editor was wanting something “akin to what George Orwell called ‘good bad novels,’ which the author defined as fiction that doesn’t aspire to official literary greatness but that is nonetheless skillfully and admirably written for the purposes or entertainment or political effect.” He analyzes some of the poems that got printed there and discusses what they did and didn’t accomplish, what “good bad poetry” in the newspaper can and can’t accomplish in general, and concludes the article by pretty much bragging that if nothing else, publishing poems in the paper got him a free beer.
When I include poems in my blog, my pay scale is even lower than Chasar’s (he wrote them for free), because no one’s bought me a beer as yet.
(Consider this a bald plea for a Furthermore or Lake Louie.)
So why do it?
Some of it’s inexplicable: I don’t really know why I write. I don’t really know why I’m compelled to share what I write (although every other memoirist and confessional poet understands why I feel copacetic about sharing my life with strangers).
I do know why I love sonnets, through which I record the world and process the world fairly often. Bob Wrigley once called sonnets the most anal-retentive form in the English language. In one way, you might think sonnets are the anti-clutter form, since you’re limited to a certain number of beats and lines (Song of Myself or Howl being the ultimate hoarder poems). But I think of a sonnet more as a phenomenally well-designed closet. You can pack an awful lot in there. And given the existence of sonnet series, and crowns of sonnets, and George Meredith’s 15-line sonnets, it’s an ever-expandable closet.
I could say I like posting poems in blogs because they encapsulate and elevate my everyday existence.
And if that’s true, it also explains why I don’t mind that the poems I post there aren’t even trying to be my best poems. Not art, necessarily. To chronicle the everyday, I have to write every day. And post every day. (Or as close to it as I can get—can I substitute everyfewdays as a synonym? My everyfewdays existence?) Other than minor tinkering, there’s not a whole of revision that can happen in that scenario.
Ron Wallace published a terrific book with the best sonnets from his project of writing a sonnet a day for a year–but he revised a lot to get to the book, The Uses of Adversity.
In general, I think art takes revision.
This is not all merely to say that when I look back at “Metaphors: A Semester” I pretty much go “meh,” although that is pretty much what I go. I suppose in that sense the five stanzas were art imitating life because “meh” was how I was feeling about the semester at that point, but we don’t really want art imitating life in those moments, now do we.
This is just to say–wait! Where have I heard that before?
And thus the most compelling question I can think of at the moment (other than the whole “What’s cooler? Mod Squad or Starsky & Hutch?” conversation we had at supper) is this:
If all our favorite poets had blogged, what would they have posted?
For better or worse, I feel certain Robert Lowell would have posted EVERYTHING. With him in mind, let me just say that I hope some of my blog poems, eventually, could end up in my own Life Studies. Until then, you know where to find them.
Marnie, there is so much about this post that I like, but can’t comment on and do justice (I need to read some more poetry, truly). So I will say this: as I was reading this, I was drinking a Kiss the Lips by Lake Louie, and then I got to your plea–consider it a tribute!
Oh, and I’ll buy you that Lake Louie should we ever have the chance to drink beers and talk about TV and other stuff in person. Promise.
Bring on the poetry. It makes my day. And relieves me of the guilt that I am at least reading it if not writing my own.
Happy to be in the absolution biz!
Marnie, I will buy you a beer the next time I see you.
Loved this post.
BTW, I am friends with Mike Chasar from WAAAAAAY back. We were in middle school together. It was so cool to reconnect with him and to see what he was up to–he’s on FB, so I’ll help you get connected.
Love that small-world moment!
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