The introduction to this week’s Poem Worth Reading is taken from Bart Schneider’s forthcoming novel, the highly Minneapolized The Man in the Blizzard:
"Sometimes I wonder why Americans are as afraid of poetry as they are of al-Qaeda. Screw the ones who’ve decided that poetry’s an effete enterprise. Let ‘em party with the homophobes. It’s the others who concern me, the folks who claim they don’t get it, who think they’re too dumb to read poetry. Thing is, they’re not willing to be dumb enough. That’s their problem. If you want to get inside a poem, you need to dumb down your senses. That’s where the receptors are. You need to accept that you don’t know. Why should you know? What’s the matter with a little mystery? They think the poem’s a theorem. If they can’t solve it, if they can’t control it, then they’re afraid of it. It’s so American to want it all or nothing. If you can’t conquer it, what good is it? Americans have become so frozen with fear, they’ve lost their sense of play. It’s time to lighten up and lower our expectations. It’s time to rediscover our basic fluency. If a man’s not fluent, if he ain’t got flow, what chance does he have to converse with his soul?"
Isn’t that kind of great?
And now the actual poem. Or actually, this week it’s not an actual poem. Rather, this is a segment from the beginning of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, whose language and progression I found to be somewhat poetic. Originally it was in paragraph form, but it broke down fairly easily into stanzas.
"The Seniors in St. Jude"
Nobody laughed at seniors in St. Jude.
Whole economies, whole cohorts, depended on them.
The installers and maintainers of home security systems,
The wielders of feather dusters and complicated vacuums,
The actuaries and fund managers, the brokers and tellers
The sellers of sphagnum moss and nonfat cottage cheese and nonalcoholic beer
And aluminum stools for sitting in the bathtub with
The suppliers of chicken cordon bleu or veal Parmesan
And salad and dessert in a fluorescently lit function room at $13.95 a head for Saturday night bridge clubs
The sitters who knitted while their charges dozed under afghans,
The muscular LPNs who changed diapers in the night,
The social workers who recommended the hiring of the LPNs,
The statisticians who collated data on prostate cancer and memory and aging,
The orthopedists and cardiologists and oncologists and their nurses
Receptionists and bloodworkers,
The pharmacists and opticians,
The performers of routine maintenance on American-made sedans with inconceivably low odometer readings
The blue-uniformed carriers of Colonial-handicrafts catalogues and pension checks,
The bookers of tours and cruises and flights to Florida,
The projectionists of PG-rated movies at theaters with Twilight Specials,
The drafters of wills and the executors of irrevocable trusts,
The radio patrolmen who responded to home-security false alarms and wrote tickets for violating minimum-speed postings on expressways,
The elected state officials who resisted property-tax reassessment,
The elected national representatives who kept the entitlements flowing
The clergy who moved down corridors saying prayers at bedsides,
The embalmers and cremators,
The organists and florists,
The drivers of ambulances and hearses,
The engravers of marble markers
and the operators of gas-powered Weed Whackers who swept across the cemeteries in their pollen masks and protective goggles and who once in a long while suffered third degree burns over half their bodies when the motors strapped to their backs caught fire.