Saturday, November 7, 2009


Random Acts of Poetry, a project of the Victoria READ Society, began its sixth year of poeming this past October 5-11. They’re a non-profit literary organization funded by the Canadian Council for the Arts. During that week, 31 acclaimed poets across Canada, from Victoria, British Columbia read poetry to strangers and gave them their books.

This is the first time I’ve ever come across the word “poeming”. 

What exactly is “poeming”? In the context of the above project it would seem to mean randomly approaching people and reading poetry to them, as poemer Domenico Capilongo is doing here, where he’s apparently got the captive attention of a window washer, who has even apparently agreed to be photographed holding up a sign documenting the event.

I wasn't sure all of the poemings were entirely random, however. Standing on a sidewalk and poeming at  passersby is ‘random’.  (How often, though, does one randomly run into the mayor or  an officer of the RCMP, for example?)   But random doesn't just mean having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective.  It can also mean "not expected."  These poemers had a purpose:  to invite people to celebrate and to nourish literacy and to treat anyone who cared to listen, to an unexpected reading of poetry.  Having a poet suddenly appear and read poetry to you can be a surprising gift and is indeed, a rare treat. 

Of course, as in all noteworthy projects—and make no mistake, this is a very worthwhile one--humor inserts itself.   Not only did these poemers read in donut shops and to the homeless under bridges, they even went out to the countryside to poem to farmers where the captive audience also consisted of some sheep and a miniature horse!.

Never mind the how’s and the where’s—the point is, these poets have found a very effective way of getting the word out, so to speak, in promoting the reading of poetry. Kudos to the Victoria READ Society for making poeming an annual event.

The folks at this literary organization use the word "poeming" to mean reading poetry out loud to random local listeners.  Others on the internet use it to mean the writing of poetry ("I started poeming this because ....", etc.).  People have aslo used it as an adjective ("The poeming class will meet tomorrow."). 

So, I learned some new words today--or rather, one new word with a myriad of possible amusing derivatives.

Poeming (n.):the act of a poemer who goes out poeming pedestrians and other people to introduce them to poetizations by published poetizers, inviting all to partake of the poemifying elixir of poetic poeminessence.  [This definition is an extreme example of pompous pollut-alliteration].

Exercise for the day: Create an imaginary scenario incorporating the various possible permutations of the word “poeming” in the context of a parody of the world of modern advertising, and include some reference to why poetry still matters.  Ouff!

Here goes:

Conversation between a Marketing Agent and a Potential Client (Poetry).

Poetry (the client) comes in and says, “Not enough people are investing in me. After all these centuries I’m still neither widely known nor fully appreciated, except by people in the field, and even then, there’s disagreement as to my quality and/or usefulness. How can I get more people to buy into me?”

“Well,” says the ad agent, “you could begin by dispensing a few freebies. The way Proctor & Gamble used to do years ago when they were introducing a new laundry product—you'd find a sample packet of detergent delivered to your door so you could try it out before buying it.  If your product is of superior quality, it should sell itself.  ANYone will try something if it’s for free.”

Poetry scratches its head. “I dunno…. In these uncertain economic times … it sounds kind of expensive. Besides, there're lots of samples already out there, all you need do is look.  Most people, alas, don't.

“Well then,” the marketer counters, “how about we conduct a vigorous campaign of poeming? Poem the people stuck in traffic, poem window washers on their coffee breaks, poem students, politicians, musicians, plumbers, shoe salesmen. Go poeming on the freeway, the subway, at the mall, at restaurants, tennis courts and pubs; poem everybody everywhere. It’s called saturation. Be like Pepsi or Coke. Make yourself a household word.”

Poetry isn’t sure this will work, however. "Mass poeming strategies aside," he pontificates, "people are fickle: they only stick with a thing if it's a real necessity--if they feel they cannot live without it.  What would entice someone to stay with me, in spite of the ups and downs brought about by my many warring factions with their endless obsessional internal squabbles, the constant change in my form and style, and the embarassing lack of quality in the work of some of my practitioners?"

"No problemo," chirps the ad guy.  "The answer is image.  You gotta change your image.  We're adept here at marketing images.  We can make you trendy, 'cool' even."

"No, no," protests Poetry petulantly.  "You miss the point. Never mind the gimmicky come-on's—that’s fairly easy. You can rope people in with any number of clever attention grabbers. It’s keeping them after the trend has passed, it's getting them to invest in me long-term--that’s the problem.

“So what you're saying," frowns the ad guy, cocking an eyebrow, " is, that we gotta find out why some people devote their life to you, while others only occasionally dabble. Okay, okay, let's go with that.  [He paces back and forth, restlessly ruminating.]  Okay, what is it about you that makes you irresistible?  In other words, what would convince people that you’re--what's the word--necessary?"

Poetry attempts to answer: “Because without me, life would be …” [insert long pause.]

The ad agent, unused to verbal renderings not condensed to 30-second sound-bites, completes the sentence for his potential client: “would be boring.”

"I beg your pardon?" says Poetry.

"Life without Poetry would be boring!" says the ad guy, though he doesn't really believe that.  He personally finds Poetry insufferable, and has done so since he was first exposed to it in the third grade.  "You must alter yourself to fit readers' expectations.  We have to make you not boring," he beams, as if uttering an epiphany.   His eyes light up as he flits about the room, pulling ideas out of his now jump-started mental cloud.  "Yes, yes, that's it!!  Boring is bad.  Entertaining, good.  You have to be more entertaining, Poetry."

But it is Poetry who is now bored by the whole ridiculous exchange. The ad agent has never obviously sampled its wares though they are available in abundance in every conceivable variety. Wait, Poetry thinks.  My existence is not at stake. My place in history is well established and there will never be a lack of practitioners. Ever.  There's obviously something inherent in me that somehow guarantees that that will continue to be the case--that there'll always be an audience for what I have to say. [Poetry acknowledges a certain bias in this assumption.]

"So what if I'm distorted from time to time," Poetry says to the fly on the wall. "So what if I remain, for some partakers, completely unintelligible. So what if five hundred million people now and in the future may never be exposed to me. I will still be capable of reaching receptive eyes and ears.   There will always be persons who will intentionally seek me out.  I’ll be discussed and deciphered, explained and kept and cherished and shared for eons to come." [The invisible choir immediately behind Poetry, poemingly united, concurs.]

So Poetry abandons the idea of the poemification of its poemignacity, ignores the pernicious postulations of those who howl about its irrelevancy, and goes about doing what it has always done (and always will do) with respect to its inherent poemingness:  inspire new poemings.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Words are so interesting. They’re like potato chips. Someone puts a bowl in front of you, and you can’t just take one.  You want to scoop up them all!    More, I say.  Gimme more!   First thing you know, it's a habit.


*Do you think there's a special room in Limbo reserved for those who spend more time writing about poetry--what it is and what it isn't, about who's winning prizes and who's copping out and what the latest movement is; spending more time on reviewing and critiquing, praising and grumbling, and playing with words as distracton--making of procrastination an art as fine as the art of Poetry itself, which one delays practicing because one takes such delight in these absurdly addictive little side trips?  Just wondering ...  

As to this poeming post today:  The other two members of Word Addicts Anonymous are pretending not to know me...

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