While it may come as a bit of an unexpected discovery, this new portal (see link below) focused on contemporary poetry features such unconventional events as a "Hard Cash Poetry Contest" - but it's not as if they're offering big cash prizes. (All contestants took part by personal offline invitation, so it's not an open contest in the first place.) Instead, "hard cash" was the theme participants were asked to write poems about.
Moreover, the web site masters (Marc d'Ardennes and his team) made a point of approaching people from all walks of life, no matter their age - or, for that matter, their writing experience. It's not very often that you get to read bona fide poetry crafted by amateurs who, in "real life", hold jobs as forklift operators, fire inspectors, law enforcement officers, landscape architects, gaugers or dump-truck drivers, many of whom obviously only started writing poems when proactively asked to do so for the contest.
While the results are expectably of a rather mixed quality, this doesn't seem to be of major concern to the people running the portal. Here's what Marc d'Ardennes has to say about this grassroots approach:
Rather than try to coerce, push and drive people towards poetry, as most Western educational systems are wont to do, we chose to adopt an entirely different, contrarian approach: that of bringing poetry to people by proactively soliciting them as contributors to our regular poetry contests, no matter their age, their gender, their educational background or their writing experience.
So why the "hard cash" bit, then? Again, there's a specific rationale involved - one you may certainly prefer to disagree with, but perfectly logical and poetologically sound nevertheless:
Moreover, we make a point of selecting contest topics targeting “mundane” fields not commonly associated with poetry and the classical poet’s stance. A perfect example being our very first contest focused on “hard cash”. This is done to liberate the creative poetry writing process from time worn associations and topical clichés as transported by – and in themselves constituting – mainstream literary conventions, mores and tastes. If anything, this levels inhibitions and makes for a free creative flow as our regular postings will easily prove.
But what about the results? After all, a poet should always be judged primarily by his or her work because that's what will really interest readers, nothing more, nothing less. Well, as mentioned above, results are somwhat mixed, and regrettably the website doesn't expound on their editorial policy. (Questions such as how much of an editorial review and modification process contest submissions were subjected to, the precise submission criteria, etc. aren't being addressed.)
Be that as it may - for anyone with a bit of experience in the field of contemporary poetry, a "themed contest" doesn't, as a rule, bode too well in terms of quality, especially where such blatantly mundane topics as money (and what's next: taxes, perhaps?) are being focused on. Then again, rolling out a more mainstream type of contest targeting tread of the mill themes such as love, sorrow and death won't necessarily cut the mustard either...
Surprisingly, some of these contributions seem to be very subtly critical of capitalist politics and its intrinsic hypocrisy. Take, for example, this poem by Maxine Attendorn, a 46 year old photoengraver from Pennsylvania: "creditor = credit, or?" The focus of this piece are obviously the musings of a cash strapped narrator on her (or maybe: his) creditor.
Said financier, it appears, was advised against giving the narrator any credit by his aides, "inferring that my/flagrant lack of lucre/undeviatingly/upheld all his major doubts". They're afraid that the narrator might not be as docile and willingly compliant with their customary restrictions placed on just about any debtor:
perchance i would be
ticketing all those compensations
in coined equivocation
refusing remotest kinship with
their grim army of ants
to have no part in any of
their testy computations
nor prizing filigree intricacies
of that bean counting craft
And now – the really evil bit. The investor seems to shrug off their bean counter admonitions, but not, as one might believe, out of the goodness of his heart or perhaps even because greed manages to get the upper hand of him. (The latter would, after all, be in full compliance with the "evil loan shark" cliché lesser talents would probably have fallen for.)
No, the perverse driving force of this decision is his purely sadist enjoyment of viewing the throes of someone cringing in abject impecuniousness:
and would it not be
quite unthinkable else
to let that sweetest
dirge of destitution
Now if this isn't outright political, radical even, and subtle, it would really be hard to define what it is supposed to be instead...
The Contemporary Poetry Portal at PoetryPortal.net has recently devoted an entire section to Maxine Attendorf's work: Obviously, they've recognized what a gem of a talent they have managed to get hold of there. It will be interesting to see how she fares. A newcomer to the world of contemporary poetry, academic and non-academic alike, she certainly shows more than a bit of promise, illustrating, as she does, that political poetry can - and really should be - very subtle if it actually wants to get its message across. There's a number of bigger names around who would do well to mind this little piece of advice Maxine Attendorf seems to have grasped quite naturally without an academic background driving the point home.
Ashley Wilmington, 58, is a political commentator and literary critic focused on analyzing meta political trends in modern day arts, culture and society. She has been following the online world since 1995 but does not maintain her own website. Ashley is currently observing a two years' sabbatical, extensively traveling Europe.
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(Note: The following article was relayed to us via an otherwise respected author, who told us he had transcribed his dog’s musings on humanity to him. While we were, shall we say, skeptical to the max, the, uh, dog had some interesting points to make. We therefore present this four-on-the-floor account for your reading pleasure… or consternation. Good luck. –Ed.)
Humans are fascinating creatures. I don’t think any other animal spends so much time doing things it doesn’t want or need to do—except maybe ants—and finds so many justifications for doing them. But the thing that is most confusing for my canine friends and me is that humans seem to spend the majority of their time engaged in falsehoods. You are either lying, prevaricating, stretching the truth, spinning, or misdirecting. These are traits you never find among canines! That’s probably why you like us so much. You say it’s a dog’s world; you should be so lucky!
I have been observing humans since early puppyhood, mainly to compare how my humans and I were doing things to other dogs in the neighborhood. As I got older, I was exposed to more and more experience, because my humans liked to travel and they rarely went anywhere without me. My experiences don’t make me an expert on humans, but from down here on all fours I certainly have a different viewpoint from you. Because so many of you are—or can be—really nice, I want to share some of my perceptions with you so maybe you can have nicer lives. It is not my intention to teach you to be dogs, or even that you should take up any particular doggie habits—though who can deny the joys of a wet nose, chasing cats, and chewing your own crotch—but rather to just share a point of view that leaves the observer—me—confused. Maybe if you see some of the contradictions in your behavior as I do, you can learn to make life more pleasant for all of us. You never are far from help with this, either, because there is always a willing and helpful dog ready to join you and share life with you.
Much of what I have learned about humans is that you are generally inclined to be lazy. Hey, that’s not a put-down (perhaps a bad choice of term), but it is true. You drive everywhere, even if you could walk. You eat fast foods rather than cook, and you eat them quickly. You can spend more time sitting motionless in front of a TV than a dog can spend asleep at one stretch. If there is a problem, you want someone else to fix it. You get the picture?
I guess laziness isn’t bad in itself. It works well for sloths and toads. But it means that we dogs need to keep things simple for you humans or we’re liable to loose your attention. That’s why we train you to use one-word instructions when you are talking with us. Like “sit,” and “shake,” and “stay.” That is also why I am going to put my observations together for you alphabetically by subject. That means we’ll start with the letter A. So sit. Read. Enjoy.
ASSES. On this subject humans and dogs share a common fascination, though our specific approach to asses is rather different. In contrast to humans, who shake hands or bow or do some other eye-to-eye greeting with other humans, we dogs make introductions by sniffing each other’s ass. We get a whole lot of information this way, such as what kind of food do you eat, what kind of mood are you in, are you ill or well, will we be friends or at odds, do you want to date? Think of all the time and trouble this could save you.
Ah, but humans have no respect for asses, though you are inordinately concerned with them. I think that if you spent your time sniffing asses rather than kissing them, you’d save yourselves a lot of trouble.
You also tend to divide asses into two categories, those you can sit on and those in the horse family. Sometimes you are clear on which one you mean, like when I hear men in mating mode saying “look at the ass on that!” (Though, I hasten to correct them, it should be “on her,” not “on that.” See, by not sniffing first, you aren’t even sure of the sex of your ass.) Then, too, they call someone an ass, which must refer to the animal. Ask any horse or zebra, and they’ll tell you that asses aren’t the swiftest pacers on the track. Mentally, they rank right down there with mules. Which means that if the Democrats really want to be taken seriously, they need to ditch the ass as their symbol. It would also help if they would stop acting like asses. Let me give an example.
From a dog’s point of view, the Republicans are a well-ordered wolf pack. The leaders set out the agenda and get the goodies first. Whatever is left over gets passed down to the lower ranking Republicans. If a leader makes a statement, the rest of the pack rallies to defend that statement, even if they personally disagree. They let the world know that if you attack any one of them, or their ideas, the whole pack will stand together, ready to rip opponents to pieces. They limit internal mutilations to something called “primaries,” at which point they are as vicious towards each other as they usually are to Democrats. You can enter a den of Republicans at any time and sniff their asses, and you will get a pretty uniform reading. Like their symbol, the elephant, Republicans never seem to forget. But then, elephants don’t have much to remember.
Then there are the Democrats. They are not wolves. They resemble a pack of Pomeranians, with a few noisy Chihuahuas thrown in for getting attention. Throw a nice meaty bone to them, and it’s every dog for itself. They rarely have a common plan or idea, even when they think they do. The few smart ones usually can’t be heard by the yapping of the Chihuahuas. It hurts my head to try to listen for the few glimmerings of good ideas. On the rare occasions when they get a good idea and can generally agree on it, they compromise it into puppy piddle. It gets attention, is useless, and everyone wants it to go away. Sniffing asses here is like taking a whiff at one of those indoor international food courts. Lots of odors, no consensus. They certainly live down to their symbol, which is why I think they should ditch the jackass and get something more focused and intelligent. Just don’t pick a dog! We have enough troubles already and don’t need the stigma of being seen as political animals.
SEX. Wow, if there is any subject that really throws humans into a mental frenzy, it has to be sex. You use the word as a noun and a verb, which is already pretty interesting. I mean, how should one really respond to the question “you want to have sex?” Don’t you already have sex? You are either a boy or a girl, right?
Well, okay, you even complicate that. You have veterinarians—surgeons, I think is your term—that can turn boys into girls and girls into boys. Then there are those humans who don’t get surgery, but dress and act like the opposite sex. I think you call them trans-vegemites. There are human males who have several wives, and women who have several husbands, and there are humans that only do sex stuff with members of the same sex. You have sex, alright, more than a simple hound can figure out. And to think how whacked out you get when a dog rubs a trouser leg!
That fact that an impartial dog observer is confused about your take on sex is a sad statement. I mean, what should be more basic and natural and simple to understand, right? It’s one of life’s most basic acts, like eating, watering the bushes, doing number 2, and using a can-opener. But no, humans have to go complicate this, too, with Americans among the worst of the lot. In America, sex is even divided along political lines:
Sex (n.) Republican version. 1. Demographic term to distinguish those with real power from those without. 2. (verb) An activity to be performed no more often than necessary to produce two to three highly photogenic offspring. 3. (verb) An evil and dirty activity to be performed only with one’s spouse, then deny ever having performed.
Sex (v.) Democratic version. 1. An activity that should be practiced as if an Olympic event. 2. An activity that provides comic relief for voters who have been terrified by Republicans. Best done with multiple younger partners not your spouse.
Democrats get bogged down in sex scandals the way flies are attracted to poop piles. The only disgrace for them is if the scandal costs them an election, otherwise they just say “I’m sorry” a lot while lining up the next intern in heat. Republicans, however, simply do not have sex. I heard about former Senator Bob Dole and his pitching Viagra ads, but come on! He was a Republican, a guy who never takes off his suit and tie. You can’t have sex in a suit and tie. Not really.
There is no topic in America that confuses us dogs more than human sex. It’s quite a mystery to us, and to other critters we talk with, too. Ask a fox or wolf, and they just scratch their ears with a hind leg and shrug. Raccoons, voyeurs that they are, watch humans “do it,” but still come away confused. Here’s our conundrum:
Americans talk about sex, use it to sell magazines and food and toilet paper. They dress like dogs in heat (at least in warm weather), and do all kinds of things to display sexuality. But look at television, and try to find a naked human, or a couple doing sex things. Or look in a mainstream magazine to find the same thing. It isn’t there. Newsmagazines even brush out “parts” so readers don’t become—offended? Aroused? You don’t see this problem in Europe, where nude humans are on TV and billboards out in public, but Americans both want to have sex and deny it is in America.
But more serious, in our opinion—even bears, weasels, and squirrels agree on this, and they rarely agree on anything—is that Americans regularly watch murders and war as (gulp) entertainment. Grisly stuff, with dismemberment, blood, and all the screaming and moaning that goes with such pain. Television shows and movies offer murder, torture, terror, and war as ways to spend a fun evening. I can’t even keep track of how many murders I saw one week, just on commercials.
We animals just cannot understand why violence in all its forms is considered appropriate fare for entertainment (even the pups get to watch “cartoons,” which push the violence button as hard as anything adults see), but a depiction of humans making love or procreating practically causes rioting in the American streets. Now I may be “just” a dog, but the human viewpoint strikes me as ass backwards. It is just not healthy, for example, to have a society where a person would rather be accused of, say embezzlement or even murder, rather than an illicit sexual encounter. I think most humans would much rather have the encounter, but they just can’t admit it in American society. Weird, and dangerous.
Just think of the different ways that sex and violence have impacted the two most recent American presidents. Bill Clinton had sex with a consenting (and legal-aged) adult who was not his wife. Congress asked him about the affair, and he lied: “I did not have sex with that woman.” The sex got Clinton in trouble, but the lie got the whole country in serious trouble. They set up something called an impeachment, trying to throw the president—the popularly elected leader of the country—out of office because he told a lie about something that shouldn’t be the business of Congress. Clinton is a Democrat, and he acted like an ass.
More recently, though, President George W. Bush told Congress—and just about anyone else who was listening—a whole pack of rabid lies. He told people:
Iraq was linked to the terrorist attack that destroyed thousands of people and the World Trade Center and Pentagon buildings
• Iraq had weapons that could reach the U.S., and was planning to use them
• Iraq had tried to obtain weapons-grade uranium from Africa
• A guy named Chalabi provided lots of information about how the Iraqi people wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq (even weasels blush when they hear this whopper)
• Iraq had stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction”
• The Qur’an had not been abused at any time while interrogating prisoners at Guantanamo Bay
• He is a compassionate moderate
• If elected (the first time), his cabinet would not be his daddy’s White House (except for Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice…)
Granted, Mr. Dubbya was continuing a family tradition started by his daddy who, when running for president, had promised “no new taxes!” That wasn’t true, either.
It’s hard for a dog to understand the ethics here. Clinton lies to Congress about something personal, and Dubbya lies about something of international importance. Clinton’s lie didn’t get anyone killed, but did make the U.S. a laughing stock. Dubbya’s lies have cost thousands of lives and made the U.S. almost universally detested. Clinton’s lie caused the government to lock down on everything but impeachment. Dubbya’s lies just rolled off him, as if they were of no consequence. But as a dog I can tell you, Dubbya’s pile is one even I wouldn’t sniff! Even his wife has confirmed the Republican stance on sex in the First Household—she described herself as “a desperate housewife.”
WAR. Speaking on behalf of a great many animals, I must loudly protest the human use of the word “animal” when describing unspeakably violent people. Sure, we have our black sheep and bad dogs, but we have nothing like the crime you call war. At worst, a few of your primate cousins may launch a troop-to-troop battle, resembling the tribal warfare still practiced by some humans in places like the New Guinea highlands and Amazonia. But the mass-destruction, genocidal, ideology-driven terror you call war is wholly human.
Why, I ask, is war so popular and so persistent, with your species? You didn’t learn it from us, so stop blaming your “primal beast.” For as long as humans have had civilization you have decried war for the terrible and pointless thing it is. You have wept rivers of tears over human losses, watched vast fortunes and empires crumble into oblivion, and destroyed the art and literature of your predecessors. You do this continuously, not repeatedly—there hasn’t been a year in history without some war somewhere. And still you wage more. Even my fleas can’t understand that mentality.
But war is popular, being practiced for and waged constantly. Old men who don’t have to face combat easily order young men and women to places where the terror and immorality will forever brand them physically and psychologically. The old ones keep talking about patriotism, glory, booty, and heroism. They offer uniforms, medals, ceremonies, and martyrdom. For all the talk about how much people say they hate war, there is really little evidence to suggest that is true.
As seen through a dog’s eyes, wars are generally about acquiring more land, or expanding the power of leaders. Most seem to be battles over God. This really makes no sense to me, because as I have learned it, the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is the same god. The wars cannot, therefore, be about “my God is better than yours,” can they? Each religion springs from the same people, places, and cultures, though members of one group seem offended by such thoughts if presented by members of another group. Is one way of interacting with God superior to the others? If so, which one? If so, how can each group apparently be based on the same Old Testament? If so, in which set of God’s words did God command any group to slaughter the others? Or did I just not get that lesson, and there are indeed new testaments with titles such as “Who Would Jesus/Mohammed Slay?”
But that still wouldn’t explain why groups from supposedly the same religious base are so angry at each other. In North Ireland, the war is waged by Catholic Christians against Protestant Christians. I do not understand, and what is more, I do not think the humans understand, either. We doggies make friends with humans on all sides, treat them with kindness and respect, and hope they will learn from us that life can be good. Humans, alas, are not doing their homework.
King is a sheperd-mix who is frequently stymied by humans and their odd habits. He lives with his humans in Seattle, and helps with many tasks around the house. Reach King via Dr. Sprackland.
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