Remember those great black and white movie montages….where the pages of a calendar begin to turn, or tear, first slowly, then faster and faster, finally flying off into the air, as if blown by a summer wind or whipped by a winter gale? This wasn’t that. On February 1, 2016, the date of the Iowa Caucus, the traditional onside kick which begins every presidential scrum, I decided to write a single poem “about” the election, with the vague idea I might write another. To allow for the possibility that something serial, tight, and deliberate might actually happen, I knew I needed a form—an existing form or one of my own. Having toiled (happily) upon the sweltering rack of the ghazal for my last project (DIRTY BABY), I thought it would be more fun to just concoct something. I didn’t want anything symmetrical or pleasant. I wanted something wrong-footed and corrugated, but self-contained. So: I created a deliberately awkward, rollickingly restrictive form—seven beats per line, eleven lines per poem, one stanza fits all. And given our country’s preference for the convenience of sound-bite news and junk-food polls over more nutritious fare, I decided to call them “7-Elevens.” Slurpee Heaven, 7-Eleven. Seventy-seven beats per poem, no exceptions: it’s got a beat and you can’t dance to it.
I used to be a journalist, and quit that gig—which began in high school—in 1993. That makes me a “recovering journalist” still three-steps short in my twelve-step program. I still read the paper the way a journalist might, and still have the instinct: I respect deadlines, respect the Five Ws—what, who, where, when, why—and still respect the value of history’s rough draft. What if, I thought (perhaps dimly), I tried to cover the election through poetry the way a journalist might cover it through prose? What harm would it do? No animals would be hurt (except perhaps my children), and if, in the end, I had only sweat to show and no inspiration, so be it. Nothing beats a failure but a try.
Maybe something interesting might happen under the pressure of a reporter’s daily deadline. My wife, sensing a chance to keep me busy not just for days or weeks but more than three-quarters of an entire bloody year, set up a blog in a few hours time, for this exact and sole and tortuous purpose: because she knew, once these things were out in public, that I would be chained to the mast. The journalist’s itch with a ragged-right edge.
Once I got going, I thought I should really do this like an old-school journalist might: without fear or favor. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t exactly in Ted Cruz’s targeted demographic, and would have voted for him only after being waterboarded by his Texas henchmen, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) be just as hard on Hillary or Bernie or Marco or Jill or Carly as on Lyin’ Ted or the man who would, strangely, become our president. If everyone is not fair game it’s no game at all. And so I kept at it, and, tellingly, it kept at me.
19 April 2017