A Proposed Solution to the American Poetry Problem

Where once the poetic community bemoaned a lack of readership, recently the problem has shifted—too many Americans are now endeavoring to produce poetry of their own. In a world where everyone considers themselves capable poets, artists with actual merit risk finding themselves subsumed in static, or worse, demonized as being no better than these poseurs. The poetry community hasn’t experienced such crisis since Frost came across a fork in the road (forgive the joke, I simply can’t help myself) and it is clear that a solution must be found, as this sudden zeal on the part of amateurs has already proven to be at best a nuisance, and actually dangerous in the most extreme cases.

For example, just the other day I was forced to endure an interminable wait in the check-out line at my local grocery store while the clerk, inspired by the image of two cantaloupes in a plastic sack, attempted to extemporize in free verse about the commodification of female flesh. All that his insipid mutterings accomplished was backing up the line so that by the time it was my turn to pay the ice cream in my cart had melted, Rocky Road reduced to debris strewn pond. And of course this example pales in comparison to the fact that the US Department of Labor has recently announced surges in both the jobless rate and the number of unemployment benefit applications arriving in Pantoum form, and especially in regards to the tragic tale of Flight 160, which ended abruptly in an Illinois cornfield after its pilot was suddenly overcome by the urge to compose a sestina describing the buttons on a first-class passengers overcoat, the scrap of paper containing these six clumsy lines being the only survivor of the crash.

Last month, in response to the crash of Flight 160 and the ensuing public outcry, the Institute for Higher Poetics released their list of approved poetic topics in an attempt to codify actual poetry and differentiate from amateur work, and while this was a valiant attempt I must agree with those who found the list sorely lacking. For example, the IHP lists ‘faded polaroid pictures of your former lover as a child’ and ‘sunlight breaking against a windowpane in your grandfather’s cabin’ on their approved list, but make no mention of ‘rusted combine tractors in an overgrown field’ or ‘inclement weather as metaphor for failed love.’ There are other major omissions as well, the most boggling perhaps being a complete dearth of entries regarding orchards of any kind. Can you imagine American poetry without any orchards? Would you want to? Perhaps this omission might be credited to the difficulty of the task and the limited amount of time they were given to complete it (the IHP was under some pressure from the White House, after all) but nevertheless many believe that the IHP’s attempt was ultimately futile, a glancing blow in place of the necessary total evisceration.

Luckily, I am prepared to offer what I believe will be a much more successful fix. The first phase of my plan calls for all currently practicing American poets of true merit to be quickly and quietly plucked from society and moved to a fortified compound deep in the Appalachian Mountains. According to my calculations, there are only twenty-seven American poets currently worthy of the title, so their sudden disappearance should go relatively unreported. It is likely that some poets will resist being uprooted and transplanted to a fortified compound far from their family and friends, but my hope is that once they become aware of the full scope of my proposal they will acquiesce.

Simultaneously, a group of carefully vetted academics will be tasked with sifting through the masses, searching for students who show actual poetic potential. Their findings will be forwarded to the mountain compound, where the twenty-seven poets in residence will select a single student from each of the fifty states (and possibly one from Puerto Rico, should a suitable candidate be found there) to invite to join them as students in the worlds most secretive and exclusive academy. The chosen twenty-seven will serve as their faculty, and I their headmaster.

Once the academy is established, phase two of my plan begins. This phase concerns the public perception and knowledge of poetry in American culture and calls for the immediate end of poetry education in every American school (save ours) at every level. Dedicate this class time instead to instruction in the maintenance of air conditioners, or tips for removing various stains from linen. In addition, the poetry section of every American bookstore must be removed, replaced with, perhaps, books on child rearing or how to carve intricate sculptures of exotic birds from driftwood. Bonfires will be held to destroy privately held volumes of poetry, these events festive in nature, with copious amounts of alcohol at discount prices available to participants and perhaps presided over by popular musical acts. I have already taken the liberty of reaching out to The Foo Fighter’s management inquiring as to their interest and am currently awaiting reply.

Those stubborn in their insistence on practicing amateur poetry will be discouraged and discredited by a series of television commercials in the style of the successful anti-smoking ads currently prevalent in prime time. Perhaps one commercial might depict a hip teenage boy attempting to exchange a chapbook of Haiku for condoms only to be rebuffed due to his lack of actual funds, then cut to the boy’s future when his failure to procure the prophylactics has resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, and him forced to work inserting the eyelets into sneakers in order to support his burdensome family. Another of the ads might show a chic female poet enduring a harsh critique from a group of peers and turning to crystal meth in order to dull the pain, ending with her alone in a filthy alleyway, spitting her moldering teeth into her hands and wiping the blood from her chin with the very manuscript that led her to this sad state.

Phase two will be complete once poetry is either forgotten, unknown, or reviled by the masses. I expect that those of you still enthralled with the idea of some nation-wide poetic renaissance might balk at this point. I myself would once have been repulsed by the idea, save for previously mentioned events opening my eyes to the reality that the mainstream’s embrace will only cause poetry to asphyxiate and expire.

Rest assured, poetry will indeed survive. The elite students in the proposed mountain compound, guided by their twenty-seven tutors, will be immersed in the great works denied the rest of society, free from the feeble misinterpretations of boorish adjunct instructors, sheltered from shabby sonnets produced by drunken co-eds attempting to approximate hidden depths of intellectual ability. Here, poetry will thrive, taught as it was always meant to be—stringently—at the feet of established masters sharing inalienable truths. In addition, the work produced by our students will be carefully cultivated to conform to approved topics and forms. A part of each instructional day will also be devoted to rigorous instruction in the martial arts and small arms combat.

I expect at this point many of you might suspect me of planning to build a sort of heavily armed cult in the mountains, especially since I slipped in earlier that I will take the role of headmaster at the school. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, I believe that I am uniquely qualified for the position. I am the author of thirty-nine chapbooks of verse, the most recent of which has been celebrated as ‘unexpected’ and ‘lively’ by online commentators. I am also an educator of note, and have been narrowly edged out of winning ‘teacher of the year’ in my district no less than three times.

Next, allow me to assure you that the compound will not be heavily armed, I specifically stated that the students will be trained in small arms, meaning handguns, rifles, submachine guns and some light machine guns. Hardly the armory of a crazed doomsday militia. Weapons training will be necessary in order to defend the compound should it be discovered and fall under attack. There is every chance that despite our best efforts to dissuade the America people away from poetry, some of them might resist, and should they discover the school there is every chance they will become enraged with jealousy.

I may as well state here also, in a show of complete transparency, even though this part of the plan is still hazy at best, that I do anticipate the implementation of a tightly controlled eugenics program within the compound. Not immediately, we’ll give everyone six weeks to settle in. Poets will be paired based on a variety of characteristics in hopes of spawning offspring with optimum physical beauty, intelligence, and poetic capability. Will I be joining in the breeding? Possibly. Twenty-seven poets plus fifty students equals seventy-seven total persons, a very odd number, and if the breeding program is to be successful there must be complete participation. Unless a suitable student is to be found in Puerto Rico, I will have no choice but to take the hand of a specially selected female and enter the breeding chamber (there will be a special breeding chamber located on the top floor of the compound, down the corridor from my quarters and directly above the brig). How else will our new world—a world of pure poetry—survive? To forgo mating will ensure the demise of poetry within decades

Phase two of this plan should take around thirty years to complete. In that time, the original students will have grown to take the place of their tutors, their offspring will have replaced them as students, and the first grandchildren should be emerging. At that point we will rejoin American life, beings of pure poetry, having elevated the form so far above the heads of the masses that they would not dare imagine themselves capable of even the most innocent dabbling. Finally, poetry will be known as a precise art, suitable for the smallest percent of the most elevated humans. I cannot say with a certainty that the people of the future will fall to their knees in worship of our great society once it is revealed, but I suspect that is a strong possibility. If they should fail to do so, their subjugation through more traditional means should prove a simple task.