DATELINE: April 21, 2013, Brooklyn. REPORTER: Sarah Schmerler
It was much harder than I expected. I mean, I have nerve. And I have creative ideas. But reality did not cooperate with my over-active imagination of just what would happen on April 18th, official “Poem in Your Pocket Day.”
by 8:00AM: I had already read a bawdy poem to the proprietor of my local coffee shop. He liked it. See?:
It was called “Them Moose Goosers” and I’ll let you have it (apologies in advance for any offense or copyright infringement issues):
Them Moose Goosers
by Mason Williams
How about Them Moose Goosers,
Ain’t they recluse?
Up in them boondocks,
Goosin’ them moose.
Goosin’ them huge moose,
Goosin’ them tiny,
Goosin’ them meadow-moose
In they hiney.
Look at Them Moose Goosers,
Ain’t they dumb?
Some use an umbrella,
Some use a thumb.
Them obtuse Moose Goosers,
Sneakin’ through the woods,
Pokin’ them snoozy moose
In they goods.
How to be a Moose Gooser?
It’ll turn ye puce.
Gitchy gooser loose and
Rouse a drowsy moose!
Don’t jump to conclusions. I am very very highbrow in my taste. I’m just telling you that I had to, you know, change up, keep it ‘real’ and all that.
8:15AM: a gentleman whom I had told about PIYP day was waiting for me inside the coffee shop, ready with a stack of fresh poems. He has a weekly poetry group. He writes his poems ‘old school,’ by hand. And he didn’t have any spare copies. I said I didn’t feel comfortable carrying around originals, so we sat and listened to him read them to us. I had already copied one down by hand for myself to fit into my pocket. Here it is, called “Wheat and Water Dreams”:
9:00 AM: I try to read something to a woman in the coffee shop, but she censors me first, saying she refuses to hear any Ezra Pound, and I must be sure to pick something else. So I read her “Shedding Skin” by Harryette Mullen.
by Harryette Mullen
Pulling out of the old scarred skin
(old rough thing I don’t need now
I strip off
slip out of
I slough off deadscales
flick skinflakes to the ground
peeling layers down
to vulnerable stuff
And I’m blinking off old eyelids
for a new way of seeing
By the rock I rub against
I’m going to be tender again
She nods, quickly. Rushes off. Impossible to tell, but I think she liked it.
9:30AM: My friend, Alanna Wray, showed up with a sh*tload of impressive poem books. One of them was of the work of Eileen Myles. Turns out, not only is Alanna packing Myles in her book bag, but she’s also driving Myles’ personal pickup truck. So we pile in (no, it does not smell like a rotten banana, even though Wray unceremoniously removes a rotten banana from the front seat) and head out to a local bookstore where we figure people will be more ‘well disposed’ — literary types, aching for fresh art. Alas, “Girls” the TV show is filming up and down the block and has taken over the bookstore vibe completely with their whirring generators and long trailer-trucks. As we sit in the pickup, Alanna spots a short-story writer walking down the street. She comes over, and assails us with her many observations about life and contemporary culture. (Translation: we all bitch.) She calls our little quest “cute” and then says she feels bad that she doesn’t have any poems for us. She asks us if “Green Eggs and Ham” would be okay. I say ‘sure.’ But she still doesn’t recite it.
11:30AM: We go into the bookstore (which has displayed its contemporary poetry holdings prominently) and see all the titles of poets and writers whom these two gals know, all of whom seem to have been published before either of them. Jealousy sets in and gets layered over our desire to be open and happy poetry lovers. We look around, and Alanna and I pick out the shortest poem ever by (one of my very favorite authors!) Proust. Who can begrudge Proust fame? We decide that if she takes the first line, and I take the second, we can memorize it. It goes like this (apologies if I memorized it incorrectly!):
Perhaps you love much less than me, these storms.
Could be. The mind is varied in its forms.
The day is far more overcast and cold than we’d like. Why can’t it be a sunny day? Ah, well. Maybe there’s poetry in that. It seems appropriate, the unsettled feeling we’re having… Outside the book store, I stop a lovely Jamaican man on the street, and recite “Wheat and Water Dreams” for him. He gives over some verse, something (I forget!) he learned back in his early school days. Heartened, we pile back into the truck.
1:00PM: My editor texts and says we should try to see a sculptor at Long Island University who, ostensibly, will have someone in a local faculty or class or something to whom we can read. We drive and drive. We can’t find parking. We head on up to Pratt Institute, my Alma Mater, largely because it’s not far away.
2:00PM: After a few more random encounters, Alanna and I are pretty tuckered out, and I am rather car sick. I suggest that we just start drinking beer. Only, no place is open yet. The only place we can find is the cafe of a yoga studio, and the only near-fermented style thing we can have there is Kombucha. So we drink. We read each other really dark things like “(Carion Comfort)” by Gerard Manley Hopkins and “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath. We start to feel a bit better, but I think the yoga studio people must be bugging out:
40. (Carrion Comfort)
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
3:30PM: We go, at my insistence, to a coffee shop where Alanna used to work, and where I know the baristas enjoy poetry (it was a barista there who first introduced me to Harryette Mullen’s work). We assault a lovely Czech woman who is writing her dissertation on Modernist architecture while waiting for her kid to get out of school. She loves everything I read, and says what a great idea this all is. But we are already too cynical for words. We leave the coffee shop and move on, killing time until 4PM and the first bar we can find, opens. We sit down, order a Tecate and a Jameson, and I, finally, get to read the Ezra Pound. No, I don’t like his politics or his taste in much of anything, but what he says speaks to me:
—from “Ripostes” by Ezra Pound
WHEN I behold how black, immortal ink
Drips from my deathless pen – ah, well-away!
Why should we stop at all for what I think?
There is enough in what I chance to say.
It is enough that we once came together;
What is the use of setting it to rime?
When it is autumn do we get spring weather,
Or gather may of harsh northwindish time?
It is enough that we once came together;
What if the wind have turned against the rain?
It is enough that we once came together; Time has seen this, and will not turn again;
And who are we, who know that last intent,
To plague to-morrow with a testament!
5:00PM: We part ways in the too cold and slightly rainy evening. We have little more to say.