Friday, October 3, 2008

OMG! Buddhist Nun Texting Novel

Appeared in the Press-Citizen on September 30, 2008

Cn u c hr, reachng out 2 the nxt
genration of rdrs via cel,
renvntng how 2 read nd spel?
Nd as the kids dvour al hr txt
I cn hear the critix strt 2 db8
if this travsty shld b aloud
(cn u hear the rdrs lol?)
nd if the bk cn qualify as gr8.
The nun is 86 bt avant gard
nd if, when 2mrws rainbos snt 2 u,
u feel a lttle shok, well, thts the nu
nd the nu cn b a lttl hard.
2 me, these qs nvr seem 2 nd—
like whats the snd of 1 hand prssing snd?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guest Posting: Poetry from the Prairie

Poetry & Popular Culture correspondent James Sullivan breezes in to report on poetry, festival broadsides, and the winds of change a-blowin' in the Land of Lincoln.

My small town of Delavan, Ilinois—near the middle of the state, on the wide open and wind-swept prairie—has a festival every Labor Day weekend, and I picked up a poetry broadside at one of the booths this year. This booth was staffed by people from Rail Splitter Wind Farm, a proposed but controversial wind farm project that will be going up soon within sight of town. The broadside takes a passage of a speech by Lincoln and chops it into verse:

Farming the Wind

‘Of all the forces of nature
the wind contains the largest amount
of motive power—

that is, power to move things.
Take any space of the earth’s surface—
for instance, Illinois—

and all the power exerted
by all the men, and beasts,
and running water,

and steam, over and upon it,
shall not equal the one hundredth part
of what is exerted

by the blowing of the wind
over and upon the same space.
And yet it has not,

so far in the world’s history,
become proportionably valuable
as a motive power.

As yet the wind is an untamed
and unharnessed force;
and quite possibly one

of the greatest discoveries
hereafter to be made
will be the taming
and harnessing
of the wind.’

The broadside they set up at their booth was 3’ by 4’, and the one I obtained from them is 8½” by 11”. It has, in the upper right, a reproduction of an old illustration of young Abe a-splittin’ rails; below that, the wind farm’s logo—propellers at the end of an ax handle; and a citation of the source at the bottom—a speech in Bloomington, IL, April 8, 1858.

Rail Splitter Wind Farm, LLC, is owned, though the broadside doesn’t mention this, by Horizon Wind Energy, LLC, of Houston, TX, which is in turn owned by Energias de Portugal (EDP), SA, the biggest utility in Portugal and a major player in the international renewable energy business.

Interesting little bit of propaganda in my hands here. While I am a proponent of wind power, myself, some of my neighbors dislike the idea of the view and (they fear) the sound. To mitigate the fear of technological progress and its impact on the life of our small town, this enormous international corporation turns, of course, to poetry.

As poetry, “Farming the Wind” has the flat-footedness of Edgar Lee Masters or Carl Sandburg at their most prosaic. That’s no coincidence. These are some of the local literary heroes in this part of Illinois. There’s nothing romantic and luscious about this sort of poetry. Spoon River Anthology, after all, took a clear-eyed view of small-town life, without sentiment or nostalgia. This is not some pretty, lilting evocation of sunset over the corn, but a vision of power. In fact, they bold and italicize several words—“motive power,” “valuable,” “untamed,” and “unharnessed”—that might add to the testosterone appeal of the text. The verse, then, in its stylistic evocation of local writers, suggests that the wind farm is not an imposition—some huge corporation descending upon us from Houston and beyond and forcing its will upon our beloved landscape—but rather a fulfillment of the potential inherent in the local.

And then there’s the other and stronger Central Illinois connection, one more evocative than any other: Lincoln. Ah, what a visionary! He saw and believed in this project before it had ever been conceived! Surely we must finish this work to which he called us!

James Sullivan is the author of On the Walls and in the Streets: American Poetry Broadsides from the 1960s. He teaches English at Illinois Central College and, among other things, raises llamas in Delavan.