Sunday, May 06, 2007


I’m sort of a trained poet.

In 1967 (or so) my teacher, Dan Langton, who always took an anti-heroic attitude about the poetry profession, used to say that he was a poet because, when he graduated from college, he realized it was the only thing he knew how to do.

There’s not much of a career path for poets, at least in the USA.

Dan’s pitch was:

“How much does it take to sustain life these days? Twenty-five dollars a week?” [This was forty years ago.]

“So how many poets in the world make $25/week in royalties for their poetry?


Working poets require “real” jobs or independent means.

The standard career path is to get an advanced degree, kiss the proper asses to get published in sufficiently stuffy poetry magazines, win some awards, then get a university teaching position. That’s a “successful” poet.

A failed poet was someone who followed this same path but wound up with a high school teaching position.

Then why train poets?

Two reasons:

1) Poetry creation is a major part of some occupations; and

2) Poetizing skills enrich the language and make life more fun.

One of my favorite definitions of “poetry” is “utterances repeated verbatim for pleasure.”

One of the most satisfying events in my life is when someone quotes me. Even better is when I can’t remember having said it, and it sounds really good. Like, did I say that? Good for me!

I woke up smiling this morning thinking about a cheer I created one afternoon years ago. I sat for a few innings with some fans of a softball team I didn’t like very much and they didn’t much like me.

Rolo, a Castro District fashion empire, was kind of snooty, tending toward A-gay. They did, however, have a couple of players that were way cute.

Poor Rolo was getting beaten and they were hanging there heads. They needed some perking.

Their beautiful uniforms (the team was more about fashion than athletics) were white with purple trim, so I made up this cheer:

Purple, purple, white white white,
Rolo, Rolo, fight fight fight!
So simple! I shared it with four or five folks near me, and after just one sotovoce rehearsal, we yelled it clean, first time through.

I can’t remember if Rolo’s play perked, but their ears pricked.

Poetry is an essential ingredient of stand-up comedy, advertising, and speechwriting. Also title and headline writing. I guess we should include song lyrics and rap.

Dan Langton used to say that, if you include song lyrics and advertising jingles, the average American knows thousands of lines of poetry by heart.

This is a utilitarian view. Some poets pursue purely personal goals, such as, “To be lucid at the moment of ecstasy.”

I say, “Where’s the beef?”

Yesterday with my old friend Paul, when I expressed pessimism about the future of the human race and the decline of my own culture, he quoted one of my familiar lines: “I’m glad I’m old and I’m going to die soon.”


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sfmike said...

I have a friend who uses the soon "I'm glad I'm old and am going to die soon" phrase, although usually with the added proviso, "apres moi, le deluge" (after me, the deluge).

This doesn't work so well, however, if you believe in reincarnation as I do.

sfwillie said...

"I am just a poor boy, trying to find out what price

You have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice."

Bob Dylan (pre-crash)