re: Poet Laureate

Poetry / Mark Neely

:: re: Poet Laureate::

I am afraid 
I have to refuse 
the laureate  
after all 
must envision  
edifying projects 
stroll through schoolrooms 
dropping verse 
into children’s beaks 
or force it down  
their pretty teenage throats 
to fatten up their hearts 
a laureate should 
have the gravity 
of a minor planet 
a gaseous atmosphere 
that can easily liquify  
a soul 
and my mornings are rough 
already I choke down coffee 
by the thermos trying 
to see in the ink 
something other 
than self- 
loathing zipped in my space 
suit even simple chores 
become difficult there 
are days I cannot stand 
to look at my shoes 
lined up by the door 
once I saw a moose 
swim across a bay 
the miraculous driftwood 
of its antlers 
hovered above the water 
a laureate 
would have to get that 
in a poem somehow 
I want to build a monstrous ship 
that eats ten thousand 
tons of plastic every second 
that squeezes through each canal 
suturing the planet’s scars 
I steer  
it towards my father 
as his hospital bed sinks 
in the waves 
and the sun closes 
its furious eye 
I taste salt on my lips 
he can barely lift his arm 
to wave goodbye 

From the writer


:: Account ::

There was a time when I didn’t like “poems about poet­ry.” As soon as I caught a whiff of that kind of thing, I tuned out. Now I see how nar­row mind­ed I was in those days. Poet­ry is per­son­al­i­ty. Poet­ry is pol­i­tics. Poet­ry is how we love and grieve. The best ars poet­i­cas are, like all good poems, about a bunch of things all at once. These days I find myself work­ing away on a man­u­script about teach­ing, poet­ry, and art—a fact that would cer­tain­ly hor­ri­fy my younger self, who want­ed to be Gary Sny­der and write poems about chop­ping wood and oth­er such man­ly things. 

In one of the poems from the man­u­script, “re: Poet Lau­re­ate,” I want­ed to have a bit of fun—both with the idea that any­one would ever ask me to be poet lau­re­ate of any­thing (ha!), and with the whole con­cept of the lau­re­ate, which is the awk­ward mar­riage of poet­ry (per­haps the most thought­ful form of lan­guage) and gov­ern­ment (where lan­guage is typ­i­cal­ly man­gled and manip­u­lat­ed in an attempt to con­vince peo­ple to vote against their own best interests). 

Mark Neely is the author of Beasts of the Hill, and Dirty Bomb, (Ober­lin Col­lege Press). His third book, Tick­er, won the Ida­ho Prize for Poet­ry and was short­list­ed for an Indi­ana Author Award. His oth­er awards include an NEA Poet­ry Fel­low­ship, an Indi­ana Indi­vid­ual Artist Grant, the FIELD Poet­ry Prize, and the Con­crete Wolf Chap­book Award for Four of a Kind. He is a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Ball State Uni­ver­si­ty, and a senior edi­tor at Riv­er Teeth: a Jour­nal of Non­fic­tion Nar­ra­tive.