April 08, 2009

Oh, I Know It...

Ladies & gentlemen, my top 5 favorite responses I get as an MFA student studying poetry:

5. I once wrote a poem; it was for a girl (or guy); it sucked; she (he) dumped me.
4. Isn’t poetry that crap my 11th grade English teacher taught me and kept asking how it made me feel?
3. What’s that thing Shakespeare did? Amniotic Pentagram?
2. Do poets make any money?
1. Doesn’t poetry have to rhyme?

Of course, I always have answers to those folks.

5. It must’ve sucked if she (he) broke up with you. Did it rhyme?
4. Yep. I find therapy is more cost effective to get that question answered myself.
3. Shakespeare was indeed a satanic obstetrician. Oh, you mean Iambic Pentameter. Sorry, I get William Shakespeare confused with Lord Shaitan Shakespeare.
2. Only Maya Angelou and Billy Collins. Oh, and any rapper.
1. You bet. Don’t fret. Rhyme is neat. Take a seat. Open an eye. And learn why.

April, if you didn’t know or couldn’t guess, is National Poetry Month. I find this ironic and inspirational since the month begins with the most humorous holiday ever and poetry is intrinsically unfunny. Moreover, I was told by one of my students that April is also Traumatic Mental Disorder Month. This would also fit as most of us who write poetry can relate.

I think in the end, all the questions people ask about poetry really sum up to: why would anyone write poetry at all? And I agree. It’s outdated. It’s complicated as hell to figure out. It sounds like some dude is just standing there yelling about:

on my heart...
colored in melancholy.

In fact, aside from Billy Collins and Maya Angelou, why would anyone want to write poetry?

Love. No not romantic love, I mean that tiny fleeting moment when you develop a crush on someone. That’s how I got into poetry. In fact my first few poems throughout my life were about women. First, I wrote a poem about a field of daisies and how it made me miss her when she went away on Spring Break. I gave her the poem, she broke up with me two weeks later. A year later, I wrote a poem about how my friend (who I had a crush on) reminded me of sunsets. I gave it to her. She laughed. And we never dated.

Then I met a girl at a coffee shop who had tattoos on her wrists. We chatted. I thought it was cool. She thought it was cool. I got my coffee, sat down, and started writing this really mopy, self-depricating, moody, sad, longing, rhyming poem.

It sucked.

I went home and revised the hell out of the thing. It still sucked. Moreover, I was in a poetry workshop and it was due the next day. At about eleven o’clock at night, I was freaking out (again insert the multitude of questions about how writing a poem should be simple; and why would anyone freak out over it).

Then I stared at a picture my friend drew for me of that tattoo that I wanted. I thought, why wouldn’t I get that tattoo? Why did that tattoo girl intimidate me? Why would I write a poem about a guy who was intimidated by a girl with cool tattoos? In fact, why wouldn’t that guy just go out and get a tattoo, and be like...wait...how about this for a poem instead...

Foreign Policy

I want a tattoo...

There’s something
about indelible ink
identifying you, uniquely
artificial thumbprints
painted with surgical precision
by some dude named Steve,
not Rico, or Chaz, or Dali
just Steve, his needle,
and operating room fluorescence
bathing my already albino
flesh with light so dull
every pock, scab, and scar
erupt from my back
to celebrate their cancerous
enslavement of my epidermis.

I want a tattoo...

Pass the primaries,
skip the secondaries;
no simple palette
can honor a symbol
grafted by a gruff,
tar black lunged,
bald, B.O.ed
sensei (his mother
calls him Steven)
who sketches dreams
below an invisible dermis;
these dreams are smooth
to the touch, glossy
to the eye, and,
intriguing to the intellect,
so, when the last follicles
fall off my scalp,
other octogenarians
will gaze, through coke
bottled specs,
at crimson, maroon,
and cinnamon hues,
dancing with navy, ocean,
and regal blues
choreographed on a dance
floor of thin black lines.

I want a tattoo...

Colorful, curvy
bar codes, sought
by collegians
before sweltering
September school days,
after intoxicated interludes,
or during long gaps
of loss (Dr. Steve will
see you now) result
in the hot pink butterfly
fluttering on the underside
of a smooth belly;
the serrated shark
swimming on the wave
of a muscled shoulder;
or the cracked, ripped,
and dripped-blood
tear of a heart
bemoaning a lost love.

I want a fucking tattoo...

Time to enter
the smoky sacred den,
so my skin can begin
its vision quest;
Steve, the silent
shaman, scans
my shell, surveying
the barren landscape,
purifying the pink territory
a dozen cells north
of a purple surgical scar,
where a dark red demon,
and bold blue seraph,
will meet, waging
a silent, painted war.

I want that tattoo...

As soon as its affixed,
I’ll walk through wafting
clouds of vanilla lattes,
mocha macchiatos,
and robust black decaf
up to the navy blue counter,
where she works;
we’ll exchange currency,
simple salutations,
a cinnamon glazed smile;
and discuss
the emerald calligraphy
etched on her wrists:

the Chinese symbol of Hope;

the Celtic symbol of Prosperity;

foreign policy;

then my own:
the dualistic nature of man.

We’ll share
the story of our skin signs;

both bestowed
by a surgical spirit named Steve.

Like you (and by you I mean the six people who read this blog, their six friends, those who like to play six degrees of Kevin Bacon, and those who don’t get poetry) I too thought and asked those same questions. As student poetry I still ask those questions. I still question why anyone would spend any amount of time writing something which criticizes themselves then twists that criticism into a powerful, fast paced, humorous speech about getting a tattoo, paying hard earned money, all in an effort to strike up a conversation with some rando girl.

Throughout history, all poets (and poetry was the first writing we had, poetic performance was a very common and admirable tribute, and, as I stated earlier, rap is heavily influenced by...well, you get it) have written poetry to discover that voice. That inherently powerful, immediate, and individually owned music that doesn’t really aim to charm, but is meant to help all of us find out who we are. What causes us to dream. What causes us to be afraid. And how to combine those two to overcome fears to get to dreams.

The above poem isn’t a love poem. It’s an understanding of insecurities through humor and sound. And strangely, it gets laughs, praises, and applause when read. Inevitably I do get asked: who is the tattoo girl?

Sadly, she doesn’t know how popular she is.