This is just poetry. It won't save you, but it may locate you so that a rescue party can be sent out. — Dean Blehert

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Rude Riddle

How is flatulence after eating cherries
like a crooner tripping on the stairs?

Both are Bings
that go thump
in the night.

Note: Some poems have no redeeming social value, unless a good groan can be as wholesome as a laugh. For my friends, the pun-impaired readers, the crooner here is Bing Crosby. And in my poems, it is logical that if things go bump, Bings should go thump. Why the cherries? I had BING cherries in mind, and cherries, eaten late, may cause farts in the night, which are perhaps "thumps" (smothered, as they are, beneath the blankets and against the sheets). Well, I just couldn't be satisfied with a single spoonerism. Had to double it.

Is it a poem? For whom? I don't know, I'm just the writer here.

When people ask me how many poems I've written, these days I answer "About 100,000" -- just a guess, but not far off. But that answer is based on my estimate of ALL the stuff I've kept (not counting obvious prose works). And I keep almost everything. If it sits on the page like a poem ("Sit! Good boy!"), I call it a poem. I don't throw back the little ones (how unsporting!). I count the puns, the jokes, the lampoons, the witticisms, the limericks, palindromes, riddles, etc. And (in the other direction) I count the long discursive essay poems, slightly denser than prose and taking riskier leaps of logic, but still, to some readers, too prosy for what they're used to calling poetry.

I've had people who admired many of my poems scold me for mixing my "true" poetry (or "serious poetry") with witticisms and puns that "trivialized the serious poetry". In my printed poetry letter, DEANOTATIONS, that went out to a few hundred subscribers for 20 years (1984-2004 -- sample issues can be seen on, I would follow a lyrical poem, even a tragic poem, on some topic with a silly poem on the same topic, playing leapfrog with emotions and attitudes. I had the idea this might do us some good, free us up, enable to move into and out of our customary mind-sets more easily.

But I've never bought the idea that "serious poetry" is superior to silly jokes. I don't know that a fine poet is better than a fine stand-up comic or that Lawrence Olivier beats Laurel and Hardy (I prefer L & H myself) or that the Beatles need to roll over for Beethoven any more than Beethoven needed to roll over for Chuck Berry.

What I do is write, and if I'm feeling "profound", I try to do the profundity justice. If I'm feeling silly, I try to do the best silliness I can do. I do recognize that sometimes I feel fraught with poetry ("inspired" -- though I do all the breathing around here) and pour poetry onto the page as smooth as milk from Vermeer's maid's pitcher (that thread of pearl). (Just thought I'd throw in that fancy simile, since that's my favorite painting. If this were a TV show and if Vermeer were a corporation, I'd probably be mailed cartons of, say, Vermeer cigarettes for smoking the product on my show. But probably no one will send me a Vermeer original for mentioning it in my Blog. Life is not fair.)

But I digress: So sometimes the poems pour out. I used to believe that was the only kind of poetry -- back in high school and college -- so I'd wait for the "right time" to write, and one day I'd go for a walk and feel noble and lofty and infinite and bubbling up with ideas, words, perceptions, rhythms, like a character in a musical about to burst into songs, and I'd go home and write, as quickly as I could move the pen, seven or eight poems whose eloquence surprised me, finding voices I didn't know until then were mine and thoughts I hadn't realized I'd thought.

And that was so much fun that I'd try to extend it, force out a few more, and find myself squeezing, dribbling the last drops onto the page in the form of trivial wit, puns, self-conscious thoughts about having nothing to say, a sort of afterbirth. Then I'd reproach myself for thus polluting true inspiration, and hover over myself for about 8 weeks until the next burst of poetry bubbled up.

Later I discovered that I could simply decide to write, then write. And that the trivial stuff didn't have to be tossed or invalidated, that it was fun in its own way -- especially after I found that many others got a kick out of it.

I also discovered (from critiquing groups and from being dilligent about inviting feedback from readers and maintaining communication with them (you), that if I were going to decide what to write based on the opinions of my fellow man, just about anything I could write would be wrong -- or right -- for large numbers of readers. For one thing, there are many who reject a poem that lacks rhyme and meter. And there are many others who consider that rhyme and meter are antique encumbrances that ruin a poem.

So I soon learned that I might as well go with what pleased ME. I listen to the opinions of writers only so long as they are talking about ways I can get the poem to do better what I intend it to do.

I still have days when I come up with ideas that strike me (and later many other) as brilliant, followed by days when, having reaped that crop, I'm fallow. But even then, I can play, can generate out of sheer determination a sonnet here, a limerick there, a terrible pun, a brief comment on a politician (who knew, for example -- before the dictionary told me -- that there's a word, "algor" -- so close to Al Gore -- that means "a chill felt before a fever", and what could be more appropriate!), etc.

And here's the funny thing: Sometimes one of these relatively "uninspired" or "artificially induced" poems or trifles turns out to be terrific. One of them became my single most published poem, "How Poetry is Done"; I was going to leave it in my notebook -- my back burner -- but my wife read it and cracked up and said "This is great!" So I polished it a bit and sent it off, and the rest is as close as my poetry has yet come to being "history".

And sometimes, in the middle of a fallow period, playing with words as idly as a child toys with his food, I come up with "the real thing", some realization that opens me up.

In other words, when I don't reproach myself (or let others reproach me) for my trivial stuff, when I treat it all as poetry, I have a lot more fun, get a lot more written and come up with more of what my more serious friends would call the real stuff.

(The major change in my attitude toward writing came when I realized that what opened me up as a writer was having someone else to receive the communication, and that when, as I wrote, I put someone else there -- as we all do when writing a letter to a friend and/or a lover -- THAT'S when I had things to say. And when I got in better communication with the embodied people in my life and freed myself of most unwillingnesses to communicate, I found myself always in a state similar to what I used to call "inspired". And for me that's the only reality required to make poetry real poetry. Whether it takes to form of a pun or a sonnet or an epic is irrelevant to me if you're there and I can find you with something.)

Therefore I often throw groaners at you and hope that you won't think less of yourself or me when you enjoy them, if you do. But will you still respect me in the morning?

1 comment:

Lowell said...

I like you and your stuff. Your total honesty is utterly refreshing. Your breadth of execution and spirit are astoudning. Keep doing what you're doing...moreso, if possible.