“The Poetic States of America” by John Laue

John Laue


The demand for poetry suddenly multiplied.
Dealers paid big bucks for original manuscripts
while the country’s readers clamored for more.
Garrets and attics went out of style:
poets lived in mansions. Anyone who could write
gave it a try and most sold whatever they scribbled.
Poetry factories sprang up. Dozens of new MFAs
had desks in giant rooms with supervisors
patrolling the aisles to make sure they were producing
eight hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year,
with two weeks off for inspiration. If a son or daughter
wished to be a poet parents raised their eyes
from the newest volumes, nodded yes, a wise choice,
much better than doctoring or lawyering.
Just be sure to get your education, they said,
so you can be hired by Random House
or another of the 50 better publishers.

Those with talent made it to the highest levels:
some went into quality control, others marketing,
or sales. On the stock exchange the happy publishers
made fortunes for delighted investors.
Boeing Aircraft converted all its factories
to produce high-flying poems.
The newest TV serial was called The Poet.
There were poet detectives, poet trashmen,
financial poets, athlete poets. Presidential candidates
toured the country reading their works.
Poets became Presidents of General Motors
(now called General Poetry) General Electric
(Electric Poetry Plus).

But all wasn’t right in the poetic world:
there were still the homeless
(those who couldn’t or wouldn’t pen poems);
the hacks in boiler rooms writing lame clichés.
The Poets’ Union fought for better contracts
and succeeded. A thriving black market grew
where one could buy original manuscripts
verified by DNA at tremendously inflated prices.
There were those who hoarded poems;
those who consumed inordinate amounts
thereby beating others to the most important writings.
Not to mention people who spent entire lives
addicted to poetry, sacrificing peace of mind
often spending till they starved.
Poetry Anonymous was created for them,
but most were content to be the way they were.

Then came the great crash of 2089.
The best poems lost over half their value;
others weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.
This brought suicides by the thousands
with investors and authors jumping out of windows
staining with blood the worthless poems
that littered downtown streets. The President
was impeached because he’d covered up
his writing block, had had a staff of ghosters
producing what he called his crucially important works.

All was as it had been: schools stopped admitting poets,
turned out scientists and soldiers by the thousands
in the United (no longer the Poetic) States of America.
We invaded several sovereign countries,
bombed a few others. Only those who’d been poets
all their lives, and always would be, kept producing
odes with broken lines, odd-shaped stanzas,
while they either starved or did manual work to eat.
Intellectuals cited Plato who had said no crazy poets
would be allowed in his peaceful perfect state.
TV news proclaimed A VICTORY FOR SANITY.
Only a few madmen and eccentrics
wondered if it really was.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
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