I was indeed unfortunate enough to be selected as poet laureate
of a to-remain-unnamed institution of public health in Northern
California some years ago. The circumstances of my election to
that post are too tawdry to report in detail here, but I must
say that they involved a heated campaign of intimidation and
corruption among the patients in that institution.
The campaign involved myself and a young woman named Laurie
who was herself not even a poet. To the contrary, she was barely
literate. However, the male patients were smitten with her ample
physical bearing, as well as with the gifts promised by her father
who was a wealthy drug addict in the hills of San Leandro. A number
of patients simply thought it would be amusing to have a poet
laureate named Laurie.
Of course, the competition being poetry-based, the campaign for
the post, while cutthroat, was entirely behind-the-scenes, while
Laurie and I pretended to mutual respect and love, if not adoration,
of one another’s works. This despite the fact that Laurie could not
have written a grocery list if her life depended on it. Her poems
were frightful scratchings on wrapping paper, made by a gouging
pencil she held like a butcher knife with her tongue sticking out
the side of her mouth.
All of my poems, on the other hand, were stolen directly from Gerard
Manley Hopkins. I made sure first that none of my fellow patients had
ever heard of Hopkins and could not make heads or tails out of them.
I could barely pronounce half the words myself, and stumbled terribly
over the tongue-tripping tricks Gerard got up to. My hopeless fumbling
amused the patients greatly, caused them to laugh, and made them feel
better about themselves the worse I performed.
I did not know at the time that one of the laureate's duties was to
read an original poem in front of the city council, which consisted
of various borderline criminals and their relatives. I had no intention
of even trying for the post. Laurie was the only one who wanted it,
urged on by her father who liked the idea of his daughter
embarrassing the city council with an illiterate poem, for
the council had refused to grant him a permit to build a ten-story
castle/fort on his downtown property.
Then one day I was reading a Hopkins poem as a lark, to impress the
other patients, when Laurie began making farm animal sounds under
my recitation. I would read, "Her flower, her piece of being, doomed
dragon’s food," and Laurie would mumble underneath, "Quack quacky,
neigh moo, oink boink quack."
After that, the campaign for poet laureate was on, which consisted
of my mispronouncing and bumbling of Hopkins, and Laurie reading
her illiterate scratchings from the point of view of farm animals.
For some reason, the patients laughed like crazy at my elite
blitherings but listened attentively to Laurie’s mooings, brayings
and quackings. It may have been in part because Laurie always seemed
to inadvertently leave an extra button or two undone on her peasant’s
blouse while “reading” her "poems."
As I say, I did not know, as I began my campaign, that the poet
laureate was required to recite a poem before the usually drunken
and boisterous city council, the point being to demonstrate how
effective was the treatment of the hospital in reforming we variously
troubled and deranged. I had no idea how to write a poem at the
time, though since I have learned all the tricks of the trade and,
frankly, can turn them out now like burnt toast.
In any case, I was indeed elected as poet laureate, the patients
deciding that laughter at the stumbling and bumbling of my (Hopkins’)
poems was more precious to their well-being than the unlikely promise
of sexual relations with Laurie or even the bribes of money, drugs
and candy from her father. So enamored were they of my poetry, or,
rather, Hopkins’ poetry, that, when I came clean and admitted the
poems were not mine, they volunteered to write an original
poem for me to recite before the city council.
Here is the poem they produced by each writing
one line after the other:
I have come to you on a orange horse I left in the hall
who is playing with a big idea and an invisible ball.
All of my pals came with me in words I give you for free
like clouds, monkey bars, found candy, the Beatles, and purple tea.
Gentlemen and ladies of the illustrynous council ilk,
remember that a poem ought to tickle you, milk
your tears, and perhaps crawl up your bum and do
the macarena to get your circulation going, because elsewise you
’ll forget it and go count your money and suits,
but may you remember this forever and ever, Toots.*
*I decline to apologize for vulgarities, bad grammar or
misspellings from my fellow patients, for if it were not for them
I would not be here today, much less a steamed poet laureate.