Friday, November 7, 2008

The Civil Defense of Poetry

Last month, while crawling under my desk–long story, don’t ask–I came across an unopened letter in the sprawling mess littering my study floor. Its time beneath my feet had rendered its return address illegible.

Looking inside the envelope, I found a long treatise in verse, a mock crown of sonnets scribbled in purple ink, devoted to the frustrations of the lofty, lowly life of a poet, along with a terse, enigmatic handwritten note that read, “Like to know what you think–I’ve gone for sheep.”

Scrawled atop the first page was its title, “A Civil Defense of Poetry,”& under this, presumably, the poet’s name, Edwin R. Beaverman.

I’d attended a poetry workshop years ago with a fellow student named Eddie Beaver--I think. Admittedly, I’m horrible with names, so maybe it’s the same guy, maybe not. Even so, why had he written me? We shared nothing except an affinity for ampersands.

I don’t know what to make of it, but since I can’t return it to Mr. Beaverman, I’m sharing it below.


My friend, before you commit to the cause,
weigh the advice Rilke gives the young poet:
Ask yourself, alone in your bed at night,
if there’s anything else you’d rather
be doing. Wink, nudge. But say cable’s not
available in your area & you
don’t know what opportunities await
you at DeVry. Well, let me point
out many find careers in computer
programming extremely gratifying.
Poetry requires a life’s devotion,
whereas DeVry offers a two year plan
with financial aid if you qualify.
You should at least read the literature.


You should at least read the literature
of previous generations if for no
other reason than not referring to
Alexander Pope as His Eminence.

Sadly, much of this second sonnet is lost, for which I take some responsibility. During my lengthy deliberation on what to do with this poem, I had set it atop my desk, where it doubled as a coaster. As a result, a series of watery purple rings have replaced most of the octave & the sestet.

However, from what I can discern from the smudges, the sonnet derides others for not knowing the great poets, whom Beaverman implies are difficult primarily because they are dull. This segues into his lampooning poetic diction in the third sonnet. He says somewhere within the concentric purple rings:

Oft poets hide with odd syntax notions
which, like stroke books under mattresses tucked,
when uncovered embarrassing prove & dumb.

The sonnet devolves into angry, explicit claims about the uncertain sex lives of certain poets, which for legal concerns, I think it best I not repeat, no matter how intriguing, then concludes with lines that serve as a strange springboard into sonnet 4 & the subject of the writing craft:

Such fetishes, however, represent but
one reason poets turn suicidal.


One reason poets turn suicidal
is to free themselves of the burden of

Recognizing Mr. Beaverman’s tips for composing poetry has proven difficult, for he has repeatedly crossed through lines & drawn arrows pointing to shorthand scraps of marginalia that resemble aimless doodles more than words. At one point, he'd written, See back, but as fate would have it, I had used the back to jot down a few items I needed to pick up before going out of town for the weekend. I accept total ownership of the blame, but in fairness, if I hadn't made a list, I probably would have forgotten something. As is, my trip went fine.

In any event, the next sonnet, the fifth, discusses the different ways poets find inspiration for writing. I truly regret that I, for reasons that if roles were reversed would be obvious, can’t share these with you other than a paltry few stray lines. In this sonnet, the speaker endeavors to answer the self-imposed question: How do poets use sex to invoke the muse?

Here Beaverman returns to his unsubstantiated, often graphic, usually titillating depictions of ritualistic activities involving, for instance, farm animals, electrical appliances & the exhumed remains of Edna St. Vincent Millay. The sonnet ends with the lines:

. . . Then there’s booze. Sometimes nothing
more than whiskey made Dylan Thomas write.


More than whiskey made Dylan Thomas write . . .

I don't know if Thomas wrote for whiskey, because of whiskey or both; frankly, I don't think Mr. Beaverman does either. Herein lies one of the problems with his poem: he makes unwarranted allegations, often scurrilous, against others, but provides no evidence of the validity of the assertions, save that his saying so makes it true.

Quickly changing subjects, Beaverman somehow maneuvers the sixth sonnet into a retelling of what appears to be a personal experience, though seemingly not particularly appropriate given his purpose. He recalls a professor at the University of --- made copies of around 50 poems he planned to use in the class. Pages secured, but copyrights not, with large binder clips, Prof. G- required students to purchase the “book” from him for thirty bucks or something, which, back then, back in the 80s, I assume, given Beaverman's myriad references to Lycra skirts & leg-warmers, well exceeded the cost of copies.

Again, I can’t reprint this sonnet because of legal concerns. Too many individuals are implicated, including the professor, several snobby nonfictional students, one of whom, by way of full-disclosure, I personally know, & the apparently indifferent head of the Library of Congress.

Fortunately, the seventh & final sonnet, the mock jewel of the mock crown, unsullied by legalities or the smudges of condensation, I can, will & do reprint in full below:


Consider the thinly disguised travelogue,
ornately versified to illustrate
that classy Charlie Poet’s got good taste.
Sputtering along in his clunker up

the tree-lined Champs Elysees, making
observations one step removed from seasoned
lecture notes as he continues to recount
the minutia of his trip, all without

benefit of the corresponding slides,
he slips in a metaphor, comparing
the Arc de Triomphe to a baguette--
“after a nip,” he quips. Subsequently, he’s
praised for his biting wit. Think about that,
my friend, before you commit to the cause.

Thus ends Mr. Beaverman’s sonnet sequence. What do I make of it? Well, Eddie, if you’re out there, good luck with your sheep.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


After Barack Obama's historic victory yesterday, I am reminded of a Life in Hell strip from 1992, in which Binky asks Akbar & Jeff if they're going to "miss those Republican sleazeballs just a little bit."

Over the next 14 panels, Akbar & Jeff skip & dance acrobatically--& poetically, if I may, to return this blog to its purpose--then reply in unison, "Not really."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

As If You Didn't Already Know . . .

The Great Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge endorses Barack Obama for president.