Saturday, January 10, 2009

Laura Bush Unveils George W. Bush State China

Appeared in the Press-Citizen January 10, 2008

Some might wonder, in an economy this unstable,
about the First Lady’s departing wishes
to leave the White House with a set of dishes
that isn’t even microwavable.
Drapes, perhaps. Maybe knick-knacks or doodads
to decorate a shelf or windowsill,
but 320 plates for a cool half mil?
Some might react with surprise, oh-nos, egads,
and what-in-the-world-was-Laura-Bush-thinking?
But not me. I don’t want Sarkozy sitting there
mocking the presidential tupperware
or having to use a styrofoam cup for drinking.
Besides, the china isn’t all that bold:
the plates she chose are only rimmed with gold.

Update: Interestingly, the public appears to have some, er, appetite for the subject of Presidential China, if not for "good bad" poetry itself. Over the weekend, both the Tallahassee Democrat and the San Francisco Chronicle picked "Laura Bush Unveils George W. Bush State China" off of the wire and used it—one in print, one online.

More on Good Bad Poetry:

"Writing Good Bad Poetry"
"My Poetic License"
"At the Foxhead on Election Night"
"OMG! Buddhist Nun Texting Novel"
"Dinosaur Descendant to be Dad at 111"
"Cat Chasing Mouse Leads to 24 Hour Blackout"
"Man Faces Jail for Smuggling Iguanas in His Prosthetic Leg"
" 'Lingerie Mayor' Vows to Stay in Office"
"O.J. Simpson Questioned in Vegas Incident"

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dear Reader: Get a Set of the Palace Cards!

"Poetry & Popular Culture" continues to showcase the small-business poets of yesteryear—such as Dr. C.B. Weagley Veterinary Surgeon and C.G. Blatt's Photographic Emporium—who hawked their services, wares, and varying levels of expertise via poetry. Relying on their bardness to take care of their bidness, these inglorious Miltons participated in the project of America's free enterprise if not the freeing of its verse.

About a month ago, "Poetry & Popular Culture" introduced readers to The Palace Saloon and Restaurant of Hagerstown, Maryland, which issued a series of bawdy poem cards around the turn of the century in order to promote the fine dining and drinking establishment. This month—after fielding several requests from eager readers asking for more—we are happy to present poem number 13, "Ladies Favorite," for your reading pleasure. In addition to the double entendre that drives the verse and its casual use of rhyming fourteener couplets hearkening back to the 16th century, "Poetry & Popular Culture" is especially pleased by how "Ladies Favorite" evokes in its penultimate line the "dear reader" of Victorian convention:

Ladies Favorite

Ladies like it in the morning, some prefer it at night,
Some love it Oh! how dearly, and for it they would fight;
Some love to gently play with and feel its silken hair,
To see it sweet with passion and spit up in the air,
Some take it in their little hand and stroke its little head,
Some take it in the cellar, some take it in the bed;
Some gently rub it up and down, with soft and tender hands,
And so dearly do they love it—they quickly make it stand;
Some take it on the housetop—on the comet to gaze,
And others toward the twinkling star make its bull head raise.
Many have been sorely bitten by the naughty little thing,
And then give to others so they may feel its sting;
Forgive me my dear reader I forgot to tell you that—
The subject of my little poem is nothing but a Cat.

Grab your teacups, folks, give that parasol a turn, and gather up your petticoats indeed!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Poetry Beat: San Francisco

"Poetry & Popular Culture" has just returned from a week in San Francisco, part of which was spent attending the 2008 convention of the Modern Language Association—the largest gathering of teachers and scholars in the humanities. There was admittedly some material of interest (a panel on Byron as popular culture, for example) but, as usual, we found ourselves wanting more scholarship addressing the intersections of our two favorite topics: poetry and popular culture. The fires of this perpetual craving were further stoked, however, by the city of San Francisco itself—the birthplace of Robert Frost, by the way—where we were assaulted by poetries of all sorts and on nearly all fronts.

The onetime haunting ground of Bret Harte gave us, of course, the San Francisco Renaissance and City Lights Bookstore—the first American publisher of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and center of the subsequent 1957 obscenity trial. If one looks hard enough in North Beach, one can even find Lawrence Ferlinghetti Way; poetry has become part of the city's literal map as well as its literary one. San Francisco State University is home to The Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives, an amazing storehouse of audio recordings of poets reading their work. And the Mission District includes 826 Valencia, a rockin' pirate-supply store and after-school literacy tutoring center which offers—so a flier I picked up explains—a "Poetry Class for Teens." Open to 18 students, the class will be taught this March by Meghan Adler and Emilie Coulson. It carries the following description:

"Do you find yourself comparing the rain to a harmonica, your heart to your breakfast or some other unlikely noun? Do you scribble song lyrics in your science notebook? WARNING: you may be a poet. Join us to learn about new forms, practice old ones, and carve out a little time for poetry. Share your favorite poets and test-drive their best techniques. Bring those words you've been hiding in a diary out into the open! We will create our own literary journal/chapbook and have a poetry reading (berets are optional)."

If poetry is in San Francisco's history and bookstores and literacy programs, not to mention on its audiotapes and maps, it's also embedded in its sidewalks. The language around many storm drains not only reminds city dwellers to (re)consider what they toss into the sewers but does so in rhyme: "Only Rain / Down the Drain."

At risk of sounding too much like a homebody, "Poetry & Popular Culture" found itself overwhelmed by poetry within the hotel room as well. We flipped on the tv to watch Adrienne Shelly's 2007 film Waitress (starring Keri Russell) and encountered a character who composes spontaneous poetry in his wooing of one of the main character's best friends. We then flipped the channel to MTV, where the dating reality show Next is narrated in rhyme. We flipped the channel again—can you tell we don't have cable tv in the "Poetry & Popular Culture" office?—where Puffs Plus tissues were being pitched in rhyme; not to be outdone, a longer infomercial for Snuggies (the blanket with sleeves!) incorporated rhyme and was composed in a loose but indisputable four-beat iambic line.

In short, no matter where we went or where we looked in the city by the bay, poetry had not only gotten there first but was waiting for us. Which is exactly how we like it.