As I may have mentioned, I have never been the outdoorsy, active type. I like to contemplate nature while walking on well maintained trails or sitting on charming porches in a comfy chair with a seasonally appropriate beverage in hand. I think sweating is overrated, and since getting through my days already requires prescription anti-inflammatories (not to mention that half the contents of my freezer is ice packs of various descriptions for various body parts), I don’t really feel that sense of triumph that comes from exhausted muscles that some people get.
Sports require a level of physical ability that I don’t possess; and they generally entail a level of competition that baffles me. I can’t get that excited about anything, as I tend to compete only with myself. So over the years, I have accepted my inner geek, and gravitated toward just about all the non-sport activities out there. In school, I was in the orchestra, in drama club, worked crew for most of the school plays, wrote for the school newspaper, occasionally contributed poetry to various literary efforts at school, helped with spirit week festivities, and was the president of the Spanish club. None of these activities required the wearing of cross-trainers, and that was all right with me. I tried intramurals twice, but I never had time for the softball team I signed up for in high school, and my college intramural volleyball career ended when a serve hit me full in the nose—I was standing in the back row!—with such force that I actually felt my brain slosh against the back of my skull and nearly lost my cookies. I went back to writing after that, where paper cuts were the most serious injury I was at risk for. And I took a little pride in my activities. So what if I wasn’t an athlete? I was an aesthete. I didn’t need all that rah-rah sports stuff.
For me, poetry writing and reading have always been solitary, quiet activities. I tried a poetry open mic once; it wasn’t really for me, and I prefer to read, not listen to, other people’s poetry. I like to savor the words, see them arranged on the page, and ponder their meaning.
Imagine my feelings of confusion when I received this e-mail the other day from the coffee house I do open mic at, which also does a poetry one. (Click to read without squinting)
I’m sorry, but …
“Haiku Death Match”? DEATH MATCH???
“Knock-down, drag-out Poetry Slam”?
“Battle it out for fame and glory”
When did poetry become a competitive team sport? Long the safe haven for the gentle, sensitive soul, poetry evokes (for me, anyway) images of pale faces, billowing shirts, long hair, and maybe even a little opium. Poets swan about; they do not slam. And yet, these people who should know better than anyone the power of language have adopted the lexicon of competitive violence wholesale. What is this world coming to? I have spent 35 years avoiding sport and enjoying the shelter of poetry, only to learn that the barbarians have crashed the gate, and before we know it, there’ll be poets doing interviews on TV, talking about how they give every metaphor 110%, and they just came to rhyme.
How does one qualify for the poetry Olympics, exactly? Given that poetry is such a subjective thing, as all art is, how did one woman become the Poetry Queen? I don’t recall receiving a ballot in the mail. Is it an inherited position? Was she originally a Poetry Princess, or did she win it through her cunning use of hyperbole? What I’m asking here is, what are the rules? Do they ban dictionaries and thesauri and other performance-enhancing drugs? Is rhyming encouraged or penalized? Are there cheerleaders, slender, tattooed waifs, braless in tank tops and broomstick skirts grazing the tops of their white feet?
“Leif, Leif, he’s our man!
No one does enjambment like he can!”
(Of course his name is Leif. You know it is.)
I just don’t get it. I’m more of the Emily Dickinson school of poetry, myself: alone in the room with a quill and a piece of paper. How can one contemplate the nature of the universe, or the universe in nature, with a crowd of overstimulated poets whooping it up over someone’s failed simile, or high-fiving (natch) a well-executed cinquain? It’s undignified, I tell you.