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Friday, March 2, 2007

Letter of the Day

posted by on March 2 at 14:04 PM

EDITOR: For some reason, I have this nasty habit of reading poetry posted on those ad boards near the ceilings of buses. Reading it is not so bad (as long as you’re quiet about it), the real difficulty is liking it. I’ve discussed this with numerous people. I can’t help myself. Whenever I do broach the subject in mixed company (much to my regret later), there are always two standard responses: (1) I hate poetry, it always seems to be a bunch of flowery words about someone’s feelings, or (2) I write poetry. Would you like to hear some? The answer is always no. But the ‘I write poetry’ response always prompts me to ask a discouraging question, ‘do you read poetry’? Which is always followed with, ‘no… not really…’ and then, an awkward silence.
The ‘poetry sucks’ response is a little easier to handle, mostly because it is, for the most part, true. Most poetry does suck. And it is usually the people with the second answer, the ‘I write poetry’ response, who make the ‘poetry sucks’ people come to that conclusion. Anytime they see (like on a bus) or hear (at a slam) poetry, it is the epitome of all that they dislike about it – it feels like they are uncomfortably sitting in on someone’s counseling session or listening to a very bad white rap album. It’s no Wallace Stevens or Ai. It’s the guy in the cube next to them writing synthetic verse about the standard social issues (a poem about racism – how shocking!) with overused words he’ll rap out at the next open mike, or the oddly librarian friend of the family who self-publishes book after book and attends Richard Hugo House seminars, or its some random person with a brain 50-words or less who finds it fulfilling to have his or her creativity on a placard beside an ad for a topnotch divorce lawyer and Metro’s mechanic of the year.
All this promotes the view that poetry is crap. But without question, the worst offender is King County Metro’s contemptible program, Poetry on Buses (now accepting submissions for 2007!). I have never met anyone who can defend the aesthetic quality of any poem posted on the ad space on a bus. It is all so horrid (as I said, I do read them); I more often feel embarrassed for the poet and feel worse for the poor commuter subjected to this perversion of poetry.
And this is why Metro needs to stop the program entirely—to save poetry. It already has a dismal readership. There is no such thing as a poetry best-seller (unless you count Jewel’s hideous collection of bad song lyrics peddled as verse a few years back). People either detest it or write it, no one wants to read it.
The only people who think poetry on buses is a good idea support it out of principle. These are the same people who consider themselves patrons of the arts because they go to an independent film once a year and regurgitate adages they heard on NPR, i.e. non-bus-riders.
So, why is Metro forcing detestable poetry on their poor patrons (who already have to deal with late buses, gridlock, and nutty commuters)? So more people can come to conclusion that it sucks? To promote (the lack of) careers of more dreadful poets? We don’t need any more. Leave them in small bookstores reading to empty chairs and at touchy-feely workshops where they’ll be told to keep trying and competing for the poet populist honor. Don’t force it on the uninterested public. Metro would do better to commit their resources to improving their services, not to destroying an art form already emitting a death rattle.
CA WonderLee

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Posted by Jason | March 2, 2007 2:15 PM

That was the worst rant I've ever read: Whiny, too-cool-for-school tripe, and with no positive alternative. I get it, you hate everybody. Next: why kittens aren't all that.

Posted by chris | March 2, 2007 2:23 PM

The problem with poetry and lots of art for that matter is that everyone thinks they can do it. This is especially true for people with no other redeeming or useful life skills. "Well I have no job, friends, or activities, but I'm an "artist" so its all ok." No its fucking not. Your not an artist just because the fucking bus company posts your drivel. No more then 'winning' an award that requires you to purchase a stupid plastic plaque.

Your art is a hobby and like all good hobbies they should be kept to your fucking self.

Posted by Giffy | March 2, 2007 2:27 PM

I would rather ride a trivia bus than a poetry bus anyday.

I was reading reviews of "Zodiac" today which drew me to an article about the movie "Dirty Harry", which was inpart inspired by the Zodiac killings.

After Frank Sinatra, John Wayne*, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman all turned down the role of Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood was recommended for the part by Newman. Eastwood would only do the movie if they set the story in San Francisco, not because of its proximity to the historical killings, but because it was closer to home. The movie was originally supposed to take place in Seattle. (*John Wayne did not want to do the movie because in the end Callahan throws his badge in a lake, an homage to High Noon. This pissed off the Duke as un-American. After Dirty Harry's success, Wayne wound up starring in McQ (set in Seattle) where he trades heroin for information).

Anyway, I would rather read something like this than most of the stuff that passes for poetry on Metro.

Posted by elswinger | March 2, 2007 2:29 PM

This is a brilliant letter. I feel exactly the same way.

Also, most poetry readings are terrible. HOWEVER, I did see a poet recently at Benaroya Hall (a friend's suggestion) and much to my delight, he was an excellent reader, explaining the context along the way and repeating the lines over and over again so they didn't just blow by unexamined with the assumption that we all knew what he was talking about.

While the reading didn't make me a poetry fan, I did enjoy myself and could appreciate the work. The bus poetry, however, has no context, no reader, and just comes across as pointless and irrelevant. It furthers the notion that poetry adds no value to our society (not true).

Posted by yay | March 2, 2007 2:34 PM

Yikes, #3, did some artist shoot your dog or something? Yeah, some people are lousy artists, but who cares?

The problem is that the great artists are often too shy to promote their good work (namely because they know how people like #3 feel about artists) so they do something else for a living and we never get to see their stuff.

There are artists out there that I'm glad did not keep their work to themselves.

Posted by yikes | March 2, 2007 2:39 PM

I've been amused by a few poems on buses, but I can appreciate the sentiment.

And why can't Metro mix it up a little? I mean, I realize they're just copying a program from some other city, but does that mean they can't experiment with other media?

I'm pretty sure "painting on buses" would share some of the pitfalls of poetry, but how about "photography on buses?"

"sculpture on buses" and "dance on buses" might not work, and "film on buses" will have to wait, but come on, does it have to be poetry every time?

Posted by robotslave | March 2, 2007 2:51 PM

The crap of most Metro poems makes the few gems shine all the brighter. In 2002-03, it always made my day when I hopped on a bus that contained "Human," "to icarus," or "Jonas' Car." Try 'em:

Posted by giantladysquirrels | March 2, 2007 3:20 PM

Why not publish poetry on buses from established poets? I understand the desire to get the community involved, but must everything in life be part of a reality TV show?

Posted by Alternative | March 2, 2007 3:21 PM

I love reading poetry, and I certainly don't write it. I guess I'm just a lonely weirdo ...

Posted by SeattleExile | March 2, 2007 3:26 PM

Pardon me, but I go to an indie film once a year and regurgitate NPR axiums, and I ride the bus all the time.

Posted by mattymatt | March 2, 2007 3:36 PM

I must be an old fuddyduddy. I don't understand why most of what is called "poetry" today is actually poetic. At least in the old days, you could hear the meter and the rhymes. I'd love to find a web site where you could enter some text and have the system explain why it's a poem...or not. Anybody?

Posted by missing something | March 2, 2007 3:53 PM

Just this morning, I was reading the Poetry on Buses 2007 call for submissions, and the rest of the bus ads.

I think that Metro's ad space, far from being works of are, really are more the "Social Hygiene" films of our day.

Eg., a PSA on my bus this morning: "There are lots of reasons to wait to have sex - what's yours?"

Well, maybe that I'm sitting on a bus.

And, looking at the people around me... that gives me a second reason.

Posted by asdf | March 2, 2007 4:06 PM

Give me someone who is actually involved with an act of artistic creation- however dull, malformed, impossible - over a bitchy, snide, self-centered, life-is-so-mundane, non-generative cynic, any fucking day of the week.

Somebody tell the pinched, blinkered universe that is "CA WonderLee" to look outward. For chrissakes.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | March 2, 2007 4:21 PM

What Laurence said. For chrissakes.

Posted by MvB | March 2, 2007 4:33 PM

I am pretentious
I speak only in Haikus
Why won't you listen?

Posted by Aexia | March 2, 2007 5:14 PM


Hey - it's facetious, cynical and somewhat self-destructive, but at least it is a haiku.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | March 2, 2007 5:32 PM

funny comments! Slog readers never disappoint. (#13!)

I also think that "CA WonderLee" has a problem, and that this "Letter of the Day" was not worth posting. He/she said: "People either detest [poetry] or write it, no one wants to read it."

That's bullshit.
But I guess all the fans of literature in the world don't count?

I do like the idea from #7.
And to #12: I'm inclined to believe that you are joking, but perhaps you are an Extremely Old Fuddyduddy. Meter and rhyme were tossed aside many, many, many decades ago by long dead famous poets.

Happy weekend, all!

Posted by Jamey | March 2, 2007 5:43 PM

@18: I will admit that it was a slow day for letters today. People, send letters! To

Posted by Amy Kate | March 2, 2007 9:49 PM

I really hope the recent spate of people speaking out against the poems doesn't get them replaced with more ads - as much as they're lame poetry (and I have no idea how one judges poetry anyway), black text on a white background is still way more aesthetically pleasing than goddamned advertisements competing for attention.

Posted by Noink | March 3, 2007 1:43 AM

Noink, one judges poetry with greatest certainty, authority, and snobbery possible, focusing on what 'sucks'.

By the way, this was a dumb letter for a number of reasons.

"And this is why Metro needs to stop the program entirely—to save poetry." Yes, Metro will "save" poetry.

"People either detest it or write it, no one wants to read it." Do you think you can just say things with a lot of fervor and certainty and people will think you must be right?

P.S. Many people on Slog love whining about all the crazy, annoying, or unattractive fellow-commuters on the buses. But guess what, you may think you are one of the proper Metro users, but to other people, yourselves are all those fellow commuters - you are not special. Besides, here in NYC I love seeing the diversity of the city on view on the subways - its one of the things I love about the city.

Is it a Seattle or Slog thing to make clear that you ride the bus but then bitch about the other people who ride it?

Posted by Jude Fawley | March 3, 2007 9:25 AM

I like your comment: "to other people, yourselves are all those fellow commuters - you are not special" that's true and it'd be helpful if more Seattleites considered that.
You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake

I really like riding the bus because someone else does the driving. I find most of my fellow riders to be interesting. It's a slice of humanity, a showing of that diversity you mentioned. I'm just glad I have yet to encounter any of the bodily-fluid-spewing freaks that get reported on in Last Days. I hope the few that are out there continue to stay away.

To answer the question, I think it's a Slog thing, not a Seattle thing.

Posted by Jamey | March 4, 2007 9:25 AM

What a fucking stupid topic. If you don't like the poems DON'T READ THEM.

Most of the hipsters on this slog would declare it the end of the world, or the dawn of facism or some such shit if, say, a movie theatre refused to show Quintin Tarrentino movies (which I think are the essence of suckiness, but I would never advocate banning) but they are happy to dictate what should be on the fucking bus.

Posted by You actually get paid to do this? | March 4, 2007 11:30 AM

I completely agree with this letter, with the exception that I almost always enjoy the poems written by 8 year olds.

#23 I do have to wonder why people are always so angry on the internet. Metro Poems suck, why did you read this letter if it's a waste of your time? And where did the random Tarentino hate come from? Is one of his films showing, I haven't seen any running in years? I am not a "movie" person (if it has pretty people in it or makes me laugh, I like it), but I think Quentin Tarentino is the only modern filmaker to "get it." And no, I can't explain what that means. Like I said, I'm not a film person, his movies just jive with me. Almost as much as "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle."

Posted by exelizabeth | March 5, 2007 3:48 PM

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