Ars Contra Poetica
Modern lives are fractional.
Some even lack denominators,
which affects the bottom line.
Numerators? Let’s not go there.
Let’s not name names.
For “modern lives are,” substitute “truth is.” (Singer’s the name, poetry’s the game.)
Last year, during an autumn of hot days and cold nights, my wife and I went out to Utah for two weeks to hike around looking at rocks. Since we visited half-a-dozen parks, you might even say we were collecting rocks. From one such park came this:
Birdville, Utah 84777
Gaze up at the cliff face as you walk through Capitol Gorge. There it is:
Birdville! Vertical potholes (ventricles –no, auricles) dot the variegated
Residents include –just the tip of the bird-berg-- the Northern oriole,
canyon sparrow, rufous towhee (as in “His toe, he stubbed”), black-
headed, and evening, grosbeak… .
That’s about 1/8th of the poem. Not to be hypercritical, but the only part I still like is “rufous towhee (as in ‘His toe, he stubbed.’)” I find the rest labored and cute. I hate “cute.” It’s one of those morphed words that has a completely different meaning from the original, which, in this case, was “acute.” Unless, of course, people used to be charmed by cleverness.
Is there any worse kind of amour proper than quoting yourself? Isn’t it (un)funny that poets, in their supposed quest for self-knowledge, so often seem oblivious to what fools they are making of themselves? Especially the antic ones, who constantly and tiresomely beg our indulgence by flashing their badges: “Licensed Poet: Official Holy Fool.”
To wit (towhee): consider this excerpt from “Something about Bisbee, AZ,” another poem I wrote, after another trip out west:
...We were riding up a hill to Kartchner Caverns,
a famous state park, celebrated site,
in an electric cart, twelve tourists packed tight,
when, unprompted, he remarked to his own wife
how much he’d liked “Frisbee”: how good the shops,
how tasty the lunch...
The husband’s mistake was cute; the poet is trying to be acute. And talk about amour propre!
“Why not cut to the chase?” you ask. By this point, you may be suspicious that there is no chase (only a whatchamacallit, which is where we’ve just been). Well, in fact, there is one. Briefly, and in prose, so as not to belabor it:
About a week ago, Juney, the cow (waxing bovine, are we?), escaped into the woods, and it took two hours for the farmer, our landlord, to catch her. It was my fault, indirectly, because I had asked him to remove her bell, which had been driving me crazy. It was a very hot day, and, as he mopped his red face afterwards, I thought he was going to keel over. But he didn’t.
In case it’s still not clear, this chase is an anecdote that I, finally chastened, have resisted turning into another poem.
--“Birdville” was published in Waterways, Volume 32, #11. The bird list was taken from www.capitol.reef.national-park.com.info
About the author:
Contrary to what he says in "Ars Contra," Ron Singer has been a poetry aficionado since he was five (1946). Readers interested in a less ironic take on his literary notions might enjoy Laurel Johnson's current interview in Midwest Book Review. Last summer, Singer published Look to Mountains, Look to Sea (River Otter Press), a selection of five decades-worth of poems set in Maine. He has published five other books, and two more are forthcoming.