O, how good the morn does find me today!
And rest assured I ask of yours as well.
For never have I a thought for myself,
Without sparing a tender regard
The heat wave has broken. We took advantage of the nice weather yesterday for part two of the acreage reclamation from the weeds in the morning, then did a car repair in the afternoon/evening/night. Boy, was that a tough repair, simply because we work in our driveway. If we had a lift, or even a pit, we could have done it in an hour or so. Ah well, it is done, and now all our cars are fully functional…
…for a hot minute and you bet your ass I’m knocking on wood as we speak. I’ve got to intentionally disable one of them to start the massive body work next week, but let me enjoy the moment.
Shopping today, then more of the back forty. I’m hacking it down with my kukri, because the weed whacker we have just laughed when I showed it the job I expected it to do. It’s a small electric one, a trimmer more than a whacker. I fired it up and moved it towards the thick stalks of long-ignored growth and as soon as the plastic whacker cord did no more than annoy the thick weed, I knew it just wasn’t the tool for the job.
That’s fine by me! Did you hear me say kukri? Any excuse to use the kukri.
Plus, it scares my bad neighbors when I’m out there swinging that knife. I stopped and smiled at the drooling one who was about to put his Barking Dog of Hell on the runner out back so the beastie could whine and cry for hours on end. The guy stood there for a sec, then turned around and returned Cerberus to his lair instead.
Oh the power.
“Um, Bethie? Are we totally going to ignore your uncharacteristically proseful greeting?”
Oh, right! That.
Poetry. I love it. I even love bad poetry, because I’m a jerk and get endless amusement out of horrible writing. I know, I know. I get it. It’s not nice to say or do. I can’t help it, though. People cannot help what makes them laugh. You think little old ladies LIKE laughing at an ill-timed fart in church? No. They are always mortified at their inability to keep their composure. But still, they laugh. I laugh at bad writing. I admit it. I laugh harder at bad poetry.
However, I actually really enjoy good poetry, too. I love it when a poet can actually grab a moment, a thought, a feeling and put it into words. I must admit, I’m not a fan of rhyming poetry…it’s got to be spot on or have the rhymes in a unique way for me to get over the fact that it rhymes. I like poetry that mixes up the cadence, or has a complicated pattern.
Let’s put it this way: I’m also a fan of modern art.
“Ah, okay. You’re one of *those*.”
Hey, now, don’t get all judgy. As you can tell by today’s salutation, I also like the classics. I like a wide variety, I guess that’s what I’m saying.
Poetry is very popular, but very rarely makes the news. It’s not really one of those professions that leads people down the road of controversy. “Poetry slams” are actually calm events, in spite of their name. I’m not saying it’s a boring line of work, but it’s not one that welcomes news coverage. What are they going to write?
“Thirteen poets gathered today in an orderly fashion and shared their poems with one another without incident. At one point during the event, a man rose and the crowd tensed, wondering if he was about to throw a rotten tomato. However, calm returned when the gathered group realized the man just needed to use the restroom. Afterwards, the participants all enjoyed a lovely bundt cake and coffee as they discussed the weather.”
Not really gritty stuff, is it?
Ah, but every once in awhile something happens that sends a ripple through the poetry community and makes national news. I’m talking about Valerie Macon, the disgraced former Poet Laureate of North Carolina, who just buckled under the weight of condescension from the North Carolina Arts Council.
“Oooh, sounds juicy, Bethie! Dish.”
So North Carolina was in need of a new poet laureate.
…hang on. Let’s look that one up, because you hear the term “poet laureate” but does anyone outside of the poetry world actually know what the heck that is?
A quick search on the Google Overlord’s site has informed me that a poet laureate is much more than a title. The position has been around since the 13th century, when political mud was slung through the songs of traveling bards. Poets would go from place to place and sing the news in return for food and a place to crash, not unlike Metallica in their early years. It didn’t take a genius to discover that if you were a king or lord who paid the bards well, then they would sing about you in a way that made people believe you were so good and righteous and amazing that you shit rainbows. After awhile, the kings even realized that giving the bard a permanent position, with a real room and a bed that wasn’t also shared with dogs in the threshes of the feast hall, would make all the poetry that flowed from the grateful bard’s lips very much in their favor.
Yes, the first poet laureates were nothing more than ass kissers with flair. As the world expanded, one of the key jobs of a poet laureate was to basically list the king or lord’s credentials to visiting guests, sometimes spending over an hour telling one poem of the king’s greatness. Imagine how boring that must have been for the guests!
Over the years, people began to appreciate art and literature, and not just want a lyrical ass kisser, and the position morphed. In modern times, while a poet laureate is still often charged with creating poetry about the nation, state, province, or group they represent, they are, most importantly, considered like the gatekeepers of the arts and culture for that body. In the US, we have a national poet laureate, but also individual state poet laureates. While salary and specific duties seem to differ slightly, the idea is the same for each. The poet laureate of the state makes poems about the state/region/people/local culture, and also devotes time to helping bring poetry and arts to the different regions of the state. They coordinate with libraries and other gathering centers, help host workshops for aspiring artists, visit schools, etc.
And, above everything else, they must really know their poetry shit.
Now, back to North Carolina and the Great Laureate Debacle of ’14. The governor needed a new laureate and bypassed the usual process. He selected Valerie Macon without consulting either the North Carolina Arts Council or the four people who previously held the honorable position. Tres declasse.
“So? Is she a good poet?”
See, that’s the thing. I don’t know. Under pressure from the Arts Council, and a general outcry from North Carolina poetry lovers who had never even heard of Ms. Macon, she resigned only a couple days after the announcement of her laureateness. Not only did she resign, but she pulled the website that had some of her poetry. I can’t find any examples of her work. In fact, even the Google Masters are stumped. If you type a google search for “Valerie Macon poems”, Google comes back with, “Damned if I know. Here’s a picture of a kitten in a hat. Oooh, pretty kitty…”
Her credentials were not the best. She’s got two self-published books out there, but not in digital format as far as I can tell. And that’s it for her poetic resume. The governor claimed she was up for many distinguished awards, but the facts show that she was not even eligible for those “distinguished awards”. She works with the state in a department that oversees and implements social services, and the governor said her poetry highlights the human struggles with homelessness.
“Cool. Lemme see.”
…oh, wait. You can’t.
I’m with the Arts Council here, and not because she was “self-published”. I get the feeling from reading their statements to the press that they may have a little snobbery going there.
Hey, just callin’ it like I sees it. I personally don’t care if everything Ms. Macon ever wrote was self-published. If it’s good poetry, it’s good poetry! The problem is, she does not appear to truly be a poet. A poet puts stuff out there. A poet has a site they don’t take down. In fact, a real poet would be out there publishing MORE poems to show their poetry chops in the face of the critics. I can’t find a single poem, or even an outside reference to one of her poems. You cannot be a poet laureate if you don’t make poetry.
In NH, our poet laureate is Alice B. Fogel. There are Alice B. poems all over the internet. Here’s a snippet of one off her website, from a poem called To The Bone, about autumn changing into winter:
…the way it breaks you down,
over and over, to mean you are
alive. the way you rub it in
the wound that you never
come close to wanting to close–
as if you could scrub away the whirling
of everything else and come down
like snow to the center, the eye, so close
to the purity of knowing inside this
present pain, that searing
white place without wind or words.
Now THAT is the work of a real poet laureate!
Is Ms. Macon a nice person? Maybe. Hell, let’s go so far as to say she is. She’s flippin’ fantastic, a real nice gal. But the very fact that I can’t find a single one of her poems lets me know that as wonderful as she is, a poet laureate she ain’t. I’ve got to back the North Carolina Arts Council here.
Thus concludes a culture-filled Musing for Friday, July 18, 2014.
And now we part,
To go our about our lives in separation
But leave each other older, wiser,