Saturday, June 20, 2015

Formal Verse Series #3, I Read Poetry on a Poetry Bus, It’s Starting Already

Today, I was at Anderson Park in Redmond for Poets in the Park. I was double-booked to read for both Rose Alley Press and the new anthology “Raising Lily Ledbetter” from Lost Horse Press, which published one of my poems from “The Acme Employee Handbook”. When it comes to public displays of myself, I’m a bit of a Nervous Nellie under the best of circumstances, but all of the unknowns involved in reading at this event conspired to make me an anxious wreck: The event was outdoors, and I’ve never read poetry outdoors in the daytime before. I didn’t know the layout of the park, I didn’t know where I would be reading, what the acoustics would be like, and how many people would be there. And I didn’t think my selections were suitably summery, but I do not have any summery poems, as I am decidedly not a summer person. (I have few poems that speak bitterly of Spring, but that’s about it.) It turns out that the first reading for Rose Alley Press was on a literal poetry bus, one of the Metro buses that displays poetry from their awesome “Poetry on Buses” Program. So all of us poets were reading poetry--on a poetry bus! Which is pretty poetic when you think about it.

The only problem was that the space was cramped, as buses are, and I was all tied up in nervous knots because of how intimate it was, and I had so much adrenaline coursing through my body I was shaking, which made me self-conscious that everyone was thinking I wasn’t cool because I was shaking, and I don’t feel like I turned in a great performance. But Mr. Typist assured me I was “fantastic”, which is what spouses are for. I felt a little better about the Lily Ledbetter reading, which was on a proper stage, but then I found out later that I mispronounced a word in one of my poems. Pshaw, whatever. Then, as we were driving home, Mr. Typist informed me that my black tights were “a bit sheer” and that while “it’s nothing to be embarrassed about” I should be aware of that. I wore a blouse and a long, light sweater that I thought adequately covered my assets, but apparently maybe not. I didn’t delve too deeply into his comment, but I’m going to assume that at least one point, I inadvertently flashed some cheek. So that’s it. It’s starting already. I’m the spaced-out, eccentric poet-lady doddering around at public readings mispronouncing words, completely unaware of the inappropriateness of her clothing.

But the good thing is, there was another female poet who read on the bus, too--who had something like seven Master’s Degrees--and I loved her poetry! I talked to her briefly in the bathroom, but I had to get ready for the other reading so I didn’t have time to get her contact information. But when I got home, I had a Facebook invite from her, so yay!

Overall, the event was very inspiring, and has me thinking about a possible new poetry project.

Continuing with the Formal Verse series, below is an early formal verse poem of mine called “Miss America”, which I now feel a little bit ambivalent about. It’s not that I don’t like it anymore or don’t think that it’s a good poem (it won third place in a contest once if that means anything), I just feel like it veers uncomfortably close to being a cheap shot at a group of people who are just trying to make their way in the world the best they can, and if that involves grubbing for diamond tiaras and touting world peace, who's really the worse for it? It’s satire, but I do have a slightly more nuanced perspective on the whole thing now. And full disclosure—I was absolutely captivated by the Miss America competition as a little girl. I think it was mostly because of the red roses. If the winner hadn’t gotten that fat bouquet of beautiful, deep red roses, I don’t think I would have had quite the same interest. At my wedding, I had a huge, “let me walk around it”-sized bouquet of velvety red roses, and I loved them with all of my heart. Anyway, I hereby present you with “Miss America”:

Miss America

Crown me, beautiful me: America in an evening gown.
Awed to be chosen, ready for service in the army of cheer,
The icon of our personification, our collective noun.
Even my teeth are graceful, and my humble tears shimmer as clear
As diamante on my cheekbones, as I drift like sunlight down
The holy strewn walkway, floating in the winner’s blessed sphere.
In a flashbulb storm, I’m dazzling yet yielding as a willow:
I’m your pristine sweet queen, clutching twelve red roses like a pillow.

How you love my fragility; I’m as cherished as blown glass
With my innocuous intelligence, my benevolent flaws,
My love of all the needy children, and my plucky southern sass.
I love you back, America. I’m you. I’m gorgeous, with a cause.
You acclaim my scholarly ambitions and my pert, pretty ass.
I’m offering my unmarred soul to your expectant, open jaws.
I’m riding the glazed slip-stream bliss-wave of your self-adoration.
I’m the promised maiden-mother of our loneliest nation.

Pay no attention that sullen girl hunched in the front row.
My unknown sister, this defeated American, a renter
Who can only dream in gray and white, and who never had my glow.
All my lessons on womanly charm don’t seem to reach her center.
I’ve warned her; she is what happens when a woman lets herself go.
She’s got nothing to show for her life except the love I’ve lent her.
But she goes on unshaven, wearing used clothes and reading old books
And strange of all, she’s lost her fear of losing her declining looks.

She watched her mortgage, her mental health, her second marriage, all fail.
She’s not us, America. She just quit; just dropped out of the fray.
Now she sings jazz songs on the street corners and throws away the mail.
All out of options, she acts like she’s onto something anyway
As she scribbles poems in the bars at night and sells her verse for ale.
She says she feels so damn free since she’s lost her American way.
But don’t doubt yourself, America. My flag will always billow.
I’m your pristine sweet queen, clutching twelve red roses like a pillow.

Kristen McHenry

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