Mr. Cid Vic, Manager – Household Appliances
Home and Yard Haven
1231 Mark Drive
Union Heights, New York
Dear Mr. Vic:
My wife uses baking soda for a lot of stuff: freshen the fridge, clean the counter, bake cookies. She uses it when she takes a bath. It’s also a great antacid, and if we run out of toothpaste, baking soda does the job.
I just found something that’s just as handy as baking soda. I hope you’ll think about stocking it.
I’m always fixing things around the house. Sometimes, I come across a problem I can’t solve. For example, a wheel broke off our bed a couple weeks ago. So I needed something to prop it up until I got a new wheel. Tried a brick – wife said it clashed with the room. Wood worked fine, until I got a sliver in my toe. And I couldn’t prop it up with my home improvement books because I use them so much.
Another problem: for years, me and my buddies at the factory crammed an old glove beneath the break room door so it wouldn’t slam shut. Sometimes, we pulled out the glove and let the door shut. Didn’t want the bosses bitching about the smell of our lunch. Trying to mash that glove back under the door pissed us off. Just when we thought we had that damn door propped open, the glove started to slide. And eventually, the door closed.
One day, I was cleaning some stuff out of my basement, and I stumbled across the answer to both these problems, and many more. Believe it or not, it was from my son’s college days. An anthology of contemporary poetry. I opened the thing, scanned a few lines. At first, the book seemed to be as useful as a snow blower in Death Valley.
Just as I was about to toss the book in the garbage with the other useless crap, I heard a gagging sound. Darn cat! The thing was about to cough up a hairball. I had about five seconds before it puked on the carpet.
Then, it snowed in Death Valley. I ripped out a page from the anthology, and put it in front of the cat. Just in time! I saved the carpet.
When I picked the page up, I noticed a poem called “Ars Poetica” by this guy Archibald MacLeish. Most of it was covered in vomit. But I could see the last line: “A poem should not mean, but be.” At first, I thought it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, when Archie says a poem “should not mean,” he’s making a statement that has meaning. That’s like creating a television program that talks about how people watch too much T.V. Made no sense to me.
I balled up the vomit-covered page and tossed it, and I thought about the line. Then, it came to me. I understood why poems make just as much sense to me as they do to our cat: since they have no meaning, poems aren’t supposed to be read. Thank you, Mr. MacLeish. Think about it: if a piece of paper has words on it, it usually gives you some information. Or, if the paper is blank, you can write information on it. But poems offer no meaningful information, and yet the paper isn’t blank. Poems are just supposed to “be,” like a pile of vomit. So we can use them not for reading, but for other stuff.
I ran upstairs and used the book to prop up the bed. Perfect! Next day at work, I used another of my son’s contemporary poetry books to make the perfect doorstop.
After I found out about how versatile and useful contemporary poetry is, I was using it for many things: ripping pages out to keep paint or kitty litter from spilling onto the floor, using whole books to kill flies, or to give my grandson a target when I let him use my bow and arrow.
Once, when I was at the bookstore replenishing my supply, this guy with a beard and glasses and a black turtleneck was looking through a book and holding his chin. He saw one of my books and said, “Ahhh, a fan of Adrienne Rich?” I said, “Oh absolutely. Her work just seems to…ignite.” “A very accurate word choice,” he said. “After reading her work, one gets the sense of her connectedness to the public realm, her strong support of social transformation.” I said, “Yes, her work has actually transformed the atmosphere in my family room on many cold nights.” He said, “Your family must read together.” “Oh, no,” I said. “We actually burn the pages to help start a fire in our fireplace.”
I even used modern poetry to help out my daughter. She’s a high school teacher, and was having trouble with her students. They were misbehaving. And many of them don’t care about serving detention time. So I told her to force them to read contemporary poems out loud for the two-hour period. She followed my advice. Hasn’t been a kid in detention since.
Now, a lot of the poets will probably get upset. But I think they’re very talented people. I mean, how many of us can write stuff that’s completely useless and get it published? That’s a talent.
People like Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, Maya Angelou (get a lot of these), Robert Haas, Lucille Clifton, and Rita Dove have really contributed something to the world. Not their poetry, which people don’t get an ounce of practical knowledge from. But the books that contain the poetry? That’s another story.
So many people say that poetry contributes nothing to society. Not true! For instance, I recently started using pages from contemporary poetry collections to teach origami to sick children at the hospital.
My hope is that, one day, every home may have a collection of contemporary poetry in every room. So I suggest you start stocking your shelves with the stuff. Think of it like this: the home is one of the crops that feeds a good life, and contemporary poetry can be the manure that fertilizes it.
Mr. Art D. Testen
Douglas J. Ogurek is a dink. Though it has been banned on Mars, his work appears in the British Fantasy Society Journal, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales, Gone Lawn, and several anthologies. He is the communications manager of a Chicago-based architecture firm, where he has written over one hundred articles about facility planning and design. Ogurek also reviews films at Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. He lives on Earth with the woman whose husband he is. They are owned by four pets. More at www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com.