Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Poetry Racket

Those of you who are on my e-mail list may recognize this as an updated recycling of letters from July and September of 2004. Hey, I needed to get something out for National Poetry Month.

A few months ago, while wasting time surfing the web, I was distracted by a pop-up inviting me to test my poetry IQ. I took the quiz, which included writing a short poem. I was happy to see that I got 11 out of 11 right in the quiz. About a week later, I received a letter from Poetry.com that my poem was a semi-finalist for their contest. I had looked at poems on the website by other people named Wylder (none of whom I knew). They were dreadful. Maybe my amateur effort had some chance among such competitors.

But when the mailing went on to offer me a book containing my poem for the low price of $49.95, I began to wonder. Is this like the old "We're Looking for People Who Like to Write" scam of the 1960s? Later I received a chance to get a trophy for my poem--all for another nominal fee of $120 or so. It turns out that everyone who submits a poem is a semi-finalist, and the only people who get the poetry collections are those who shell out the fifty bucks. Quite a few people have been taken in by the scam. It's too bad that this organization uses such a marketing scheme, because its website has some wonderful features. Anyway, here's my "semi-finalist" poem, as printed on the poetry.com website:

Aboard the Lake Shore Limited

Rolling north along the Hudson

past Tarrytown, where Washington Irving

penned his tales.

And Sing Sing Prison, where the state

Wreaked its vengeance on the Rosenburgs

Fifty-one years before.

Just past Croton

the ruin of Bannerman's Castle appears--

And for a few minutes I'm in

the Scottish Highlands.

Until I see the Bear Mountain Bridge

Where Kerouac was caught in the rain

And gave up his "stupid hearthside idea

to follow the one great line

across America."

As I watch from the window, following

the line north and west,

to home and love.

Stephen Crews Wylder

(Sorry about the double-spacing. My knowledge of HTML is minimal)

The poem has a geographical problem--Bear Mountain Bridge is actually south of Bannerman’s Castle. But if Shakespeare can add a seacoast to landlocked Bohemia, a little relocation of landmarks seems in keeping with tradition.

I’ll conclude with a reminder of that poetry, like politics, ain’t beanbag. Last year, when I was suffering from depression, I took solace in poetry. One poem in particular helped me preserve what was left of my mental health:

On What Planet

Uniformly over the whole countryside
The warm air flows imperceptibly seaward;
The autumn haze drifts in deep bands
Over the pale water;
White egrets stand in the blue marshes;
Tamalpais, Diablo, St. Helena
Float in the air.
Climbing on the cliffs of Hunter's Hill
We look out over fifty miles of sinuous
Interpenetration of mountains and sea.
Leading up a twisted chimney,
Just as my eyes rise to the level
Of a small cave, two white owls
Fly out, silent, close to my face.
They hover, confused in the sunlight,
And disappear into the recesses of the cliff.
All day I have been watching a new climber,
A young girl with ash blond hair
She climbs, slowly, precisely,
With unwasted grace.
While I am coiling the ropes,
Watching the spectacular sunset,
She turns to me and says, quietly,
"It must be beautiful, the sunset,
On Saturn, with the rings and all the moons."

-Kenneth Rexroth


Susan said...

I liked your poem quite well!
and I am wondering what about the second poem helped you cope with the depression?
I often tell people that my poetry writing is only cheap therapy.

steve said...

Susan, I'm honored that you like my poem. I've been impressed with your writing. I think the images of the two white owls and the young climber were the key. Her simple words about the beauty of the sunset on Saturn reminded me of something my own wife might say.