Here is a poem

March 2, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Posted in poetry | 9 Comments

Last night, in a fit of boredom with my dissertation reading, I decided I needed to make something. I have a bunch of back issues of Poetry, the incredibly dreary magazine of the Poetry Foundation, an organization whose website invites you to “discover poetry” via the six essential categories of “love,” “weddings,” “autumn,” “sadness,” “death,” and “funerals.” (I once got so livid about this fact that I wrote a sestina with those six categories as the end words, but it wasn’t very good so you don’t get to see it.) Anyway, I came into these back issues of Poetry in college, when one of my professors was getting rid of them and I thought that reading them would be a good way to figure out “what was going on in the poetry world.” But I figured out quickly that Poetry is about as on the cutting edge as the Grammys, which recently gave “best rock song of 2008” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.” I grew up in New Jersey and I love The Boss, but that song utterly fails to rock — and there are plenty of yowling young bands with questionable haircuts that could teach him a thing or two these days.

So anyway, I cut apart the first one of those back issues last night, which required me to read it pretty closely. This was at times physically painful, but one unexpected result of scanning these poems for interesting words or phrases was that I noticed that of the fifteen or so poems in the magazine, at least five contained the word “mirror,” another five contained the word “river,” and another five were on the subject of aging. Furthermore, these groups overlapped somewhat and were arranged sequentially in the magazine — it began with “river” poems, then moved into poems where “rivers” were compared to “mirrors,” then “mirror” poems, then poems where people looked into mirrors & saw themselves aging, & finally moved into “old age” poems. These observations represent a general trend & don’t cover absolutely every poem in there, I don’t think, but I was somewhat surprised to see the organizing hand of an editor so clearly visible. However, ultimately, nearly all these poems were nothing but triteness and treacle. Do we really need more poems comparing rivers to mirrors? Come the fuck on.

These were my rules: I could use nothing other than material in this one issue (June 2003), and I was limited to what my scissors could actually remove. So if I cut out something on one page, and in doing so I mangled something on the reverse, that thing on the reverse page was lost to me. Furthermore, if I messed up in cutting something out and cut the word apart, it was lost to me. Rather than agonize over whether the poem on the front or the reverse of the page had “better” material for my purposes, I just went straight through the magazine page by page — which means, I suppose, that poems on odd-numbered pages are probably represented more heavily than poems on even-numbered pages. Fun fact: one of the poems that I harvested from was by Kay Ryan, our current poet laureate. It was called “The Niagra River,” and while not actively offensive to my sensibilities, it was pretty boring.

I apologize for the quality of this picture; for some reason it was really difficult to get the text to photograph legibly. Also, you might be interested to know that the picture at the bottom is from a Visa ad, and the whole thing is pasted on the side of a shoebox with an interesting texture that I found in my closet. Without further ado:



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  1. Your page cheers me. Any thoughts of putting several pages together in an album, or something of that sort?

  2. Thanks! I plan to do more of them as the spirit moves me, but I have no idea how frequently that would be. I have five or six more issues of Poetry from the same time period that I feel no need to leave unmutilated, so maybe there will be a series.

  3. The stanza that begins “she understands” is pretty incredible, if you read it as a reference to Leda.

  4. Thanks Matt! And yeah, the whole thing was sort of envisioned in reference to Leda.

  5. rock

  6. This really is delightful. I especially like “the real and the reflected flight-paths”.

  7. Hey I find this poem that you’ve invented quite amusing ! Really ! 🙂

  8. I know that poem of Ryan’s–I’ve picked up her books at least three different times in stores, wanting it to be something I wanted to read, and it never was… The impulse must be a holdover from reading Paterson too many times while living in Buffalo.

  9. […] today.” So instead I wrote a poem, using the same collage method I used on the one I posted in March. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that collage really might be where my poetic […]

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