EAST BANK APOLOGIA,
WITH APPEARANCES FROM TIM WATTERS,
NOAM CHOMSKY, AND RICK ROCKWELL
by Daniel M. Nester
My immediate task here is filling the page that has been thrust upon me. Our East Bank Editor, Tom Hartman, is hard at work putting the finishing touches on his essay on the vagaries of shopping at IKEA, one that he may or may not hand in in a timely manner, and one that I can only assume will not be in haiku form.
It would be wonderful to know that there's random hakuists out there, trolling the web looking for places to display their work. But there aren't. Think of all of the free-versists hitting those links, reading submission guidelines. Now think of writers of Eastern forms, perhaps by nature a more reticent lot, doing the same thing. Doesn't happen. Maybe that explains why this current issue of La Petite Zine lacks any contents in this section. For now, however, I have this apologia, plus a story with real live famous people, which I offer now to you.
All I'm saying is that there's one thing that isn't pointed out enough in this super-serious PoetryWorld. It is this: We got here first. Prose is the johnny-come-lately. Poetry came out singing. Prose debuted on the bottoms of invoices, orders for wheat, dispositions of armies; prose, in short, was functional marginalia.
What's left for poets? Dubiousness? Randall Jarrell, in his 1951 essay "The Obscurity of the Poet," writes that "today, many of the readers a poet would value most have hardly learned to read any poetry; and many of those who regularly read his poems have values so different from his that he is troubled by their praise, and vexed but reassured by their blame." How true today, for any poet of any form. And although I am by no means a master or expert of tanka or haiku, I consider myself nonetheless a "reader." I would even go so far as to say that I relish being on the receiving end of casual haiku; I am, in short, in the Jarrellian position of audience member.
But Nick Virgilio left this mortal coil years ago. Someday, I may get to see his papers at my alma mater, but for now, I was stuck for haiku.
Most of my poet friends, I assumed, had written haiku or tanka at some point, and I was right, but that would have been boring. The poems of the moonlighting free verse writer, like most poets who reserve a subject for a particular form, such as a sonnet for a dog, smack of either a lost weekend or, yes, as I would call it, poetic condescension. What I needed was immediate poetry, not the kind that is slave to a form; rather, one from the surprises of limitation, adapting to our non-musical, non-pictographic language.
So a second question arose. Why not ask famous people? Pure genius! What could be more inspiring than non-poets writing poetry for our humble literary webzine?
On problem: I don't know any famous people. Besides my Uncle Tom's friend Tim Watters,
who appears as a Bill Clinton impersonator on the Jay Leno show and at industry conventions (that's him up there), I knew nada, none, zippo famous people. So I did what any red-blooded literary webzine editor would do: I hit the search engines.
My own exercise, I reassured myself, was at least as genuinely eccentric as that. Famous People Haiku! The idea was interesting, and, yes, benevolently condescending to all those concerned. I was excited to get my first response from Noam Chomsky, the world famous linguist from MIT, who wrote back,
I sent this
along to Tom Hartman, and asked him to take a break from his IKEA shopping
essay and look at this our, first response. Were we doomed to failure?
Tom, ever the optimist, and using the eyes of the expert Tuesday-night darts player that he is, responded back to me within the hour. There was no personal message from him; instead, he had provided Chomsky with line breaks
If you sound out the syllables of "idea" in line 2 (eye-dee-ya), stick a double-time Treach from Naughty by Nature skat in line 3, we've got ourselves a haiku. 5-7-6. Success! The Famous People Haiku venture had officially begun.
Finally, a bit of a Famous People Haiku coup occurred. A star did write back to me. But first, a bit of backstory.
A few months ago, I had caught a glimpse of the E-mail address of Rick Rockwell,
groom of the now-infamous Fox TV show, Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire?
The ex-husband of Darva Conger had a surprisingly simple E-mail address,
which I memorized from the TV set. I then started the practice of sending
my group E-mails to Mr. Rockwell, as the main recipient; friends and
family were then relegated to the "CC:" part of the message.
stuck, striking up a few conversations with non-famous friends (foolish
mortals!) who inquired about my association with Rick, to which I would
be coy and aloof, telling them that whatever association I had with
Mr. Rockwell was mine and mine only, and No, I couldn't ask him for
an autograph, and No, I will not ask Rick to play your nephew's bat
mitvah, it just wouldn't be right.
So my interactions with Rick over the past few months had become more infrequent. My desire to reach out to Rick, however, never waned. This Famous People Haiku project seemed to be the perfect place for me to ask him for a contribution, a fresh start to our correspondence. So I sent Rick a message, asking him for a poem.
giving him the rather form letter-ish request I had been sending to
his contemporaries in the entertainment world, however, I tried to customize
the note, the kind of hand-written, intimate memo you'd send to a dear
colleague. I would ask you then to read the below-quoted message in
that context: One writer asking another writer friend.
And the words
themselves were awkward"for"
my bank account should have been "to," for instance. Clearly
sub-par material. No Rick Rockwell Famous People Haiku for LPZ;
I felt, frankly, condescended to.
wants a million
Daniel M. Nester is editor-in-chief of La Petite Zine. His poetry has most recently appeared in Cream City Review, Fine Madness, Slipstream, and online at The Cortland Review, The East Village, Exquisite Corpse, and XConnect. And he doesn't want to condescend at all to you in this self-conscious, writerly bio paragraph.