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Bruce Watson: Poetry month kicks out the enjambs

“We poets in our youth begin in gladness,” Wordsworth wrote. “But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.”

The same could be said of National Poetry Month, though it also began in debt and will end in Pittsburgh.

Here’s an early report.

The annual April Fools Day Simile Contest drew just a few hundred to the Superdome in New Orleans. True, the winning entry comparing Congress to “a mess o’ roadkill” drew a standing ovation, but otherwise the mood was dark. And the darkness deepened when organizers realized they’d blown more on the halftime show, featuring an entire field of strutting Alfred Lord Tennysons, than they’d taken in at the gate. Despondency was just around the corner.

Festivities continued but few noticed. A poetry slam in Oshkosh ended in disarray when poets began arguing over the meaning of synecdoche and wound up hurling mixed metaphors and, eventually, chairs. A few days later the ritual pilgrimage to Manhattan bars where Dylan Thomas drank himself into an early grave ended in an outbreak of cirrhosis. Two poets went gentle into that good night. Several more survived but had no health insurance and had to get real jobs.

Next came the Joyce Kilmer look-alike contest, an event that always leaves poets waxing eloquent on the same motif — “Why?” Why a look-alike contest based on a poet half the contestants think was a woman and the other half know was a man? Confusion reigned as several transgender poets vied for the title. And the room was cleared when some fool grabbed the mike and started to read, “I think that I shall never see…” Poems lovely as trees?

Tell that to the poets who gathered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for another “Beats Barbecue.” Once the kegs started flowing, the tropes flew thick and fast. Several spectators were wounded by errant metaphors and two Berkeley bards had to be hospitalized with AHS, Advanced Hipster Syndrome. The best minds of their generation? Ginsberg wept.

But National Poetry Month is a work in progress. So as we head into the final three weeks, watch for gladness, such as it’s been, to accelerate beyond despondency.

First, there will be next week’s finals of “American Idol — The Poets.” Last year’s show, which featured several Midwestern women re-enacting the death of Sylvia Plath, drew record ratings. This year will see three T.S. Eliot imitators going head-to-head in readings of “The Wasteland.” Watch for crowds to chant “T.S. T.S. T.S …” but don’t be surprised if they just sit there.

And it wouldn’t be National Poetry Month without the Emily Dickinson Monster Truck Rally. Yes, the Mullins Center will again host the big ugly trucks smashing over junk heaps while drivers recite “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” and the perennial crowd favorite, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.” At least a dozen Dickinson devotees will be in attendance.

Despondent? Don’t be, because the madness is yet to come. National Poetry Month will close in Pittsburgh, where native Gertrude Stein will be honored by not reading her poetry. Sparing us the pain of repetitive stress, several poets will pinch-hit for Stein. However, watch once again for Stein purists to rise in rebellion, reading “a rose is a rose is a rose” over and over again until a deep sleep grips the tiny audience at Pittsburgh’s PNC park.

And then another National Poetry Month will be over, and if we’re lucky it will pass without anyone mentioning the cruelest month, that being obvious.

Bruce Watson’s column appears twice a month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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