Thursday, May 30, 2002

Only Half Stupid

Let's talk about found poetry!

One of our unstated goals here at Adventures in Poetry is to find and expose the poetry in every doorway and alley, anywhere it seeks rest from the great outdoors. We do this partly because we are lazy, and it beats making up our own poetry, but also because we think it ends up pretty good, even if it usually doesn't end up looking like poetry.

Well, the art of writing and not writing found poetry, itself, is right up one of our metaphorical alleys, snoring away as we speak. Just let me sneak up and nab it from its metaphorical behind. I'll make it breathe some metaphorical chloroform -- there, that does it, it's stopped struggling. Now let's ease it ever so gently onto the metaphorical examining table, and -- there! We're ready to talk about found poetry!

By the way, I call my last paragraph "Metaphorical Chloroform", or, when properly chopped into lines, "Opus Prose Poem Frank, Serial Number 05200230, PFC," or just Frank No Last Name, for short. It is my first poem named Frank No Last Name. I find that which I just said deeply poetic, so it's just the sort of thing that I am talking about. I do not digress!

But let's inject some Generality into our subject. Next, let's slice our subject in half. Doing so we find it consists of two pieces, one "found" and one "poetry". Well that's about as General as you can get. Now let's reel back in disgust and consider another example.

Remember that ordinarily when we make a poem while being stupid or lazy, we do it by taking someone else's poem, throwing out all the words to get an empty form, and then stuffing our own words in. The result is an ordinary poem. But in the example I am giving, half the words stuffed into the form are found words, so the result is an ordinary poem slash found poem slash mutant clone poem, or something. And since it's half as hard as a regular poem, that means it's twice as easy, so we can be twice as stupid while we write it!

"Song of the Printer's Dummy,

Packed Reluctantly Into

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,

How'd the heck I get so wet?

Consetetur sadipscing elitr,

that's not a very good space-heater.

Sed diam nonumy eirmod,

I laid upon it with naked bod'.

Tempor invidunt ut labore,

The wetness came from out' the floor.

Et dolore magna aliquyam erat.

My song is not about a bat.

Sed diam voluptua at vero.

My song is not about DeNiro.

Eos et accusam et justo --

I sing my song with cheer and gusto.

Duo dolores et ea rebum --

a printer's dummy is not at all dumb.

Cha, cha, cha.

See how that works? Only the half that I wrote is stupid. Or is it? You can't tell without a working theory of stupidity, but all the world offers are countless theories of intelligence, as if intelligence were something more than the absence of stupidity. Oh stupid world.

But I have been talking about found poetry. I will have to talk about theories of stupidity in another issue. Perhaps when I get distracted by politics again.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Nonconsensual Induced Retching Is Wrong

This probably won't be one of my cheerful columns, because the last few days I have been preoccupied with varieties of violence. It just seems like everywhere I look someone is engaging in some sort of violence. Sometimes it's physical and obvious like the wars in the middle and not so middle easts. Or you've got stupid mailbox bombing violence. Other times it's psychological and social violence right around here.

The funniest example of the latter appeared in Saturday's Times in the, erk, Dilly Dally Alley.

Come to think of it, right there, calling the comics pages the Dilly Dally Alley -- there's some psychosocial violence in that, isn't there? When did that start? What were they thinking? It's like those silly names some restaurants give to menu items so you can't order anything without sounding stupid. "We'd like one Dilly Willy Burger and two Dally Pally Patty Melty Welties. Oh, and Alley-Size those please." Inducing retching is a form of violence that doesn't get all the attention it deserves.

OK, but that wasn't what annoyed me Saturday. What annoyed me Saturday was the "guest" strip, Lola.

As best as I can tell, Lola is meant to be an endearingly crotchety woman of advanced years, who goes around saying endearingly crotchety things that are meant to be amusing. I don't know, I don't usually read it, but Saturday's strip caught my attention because of the appearance of a homeless stereotype, a bench-sitting bearded knit-cap-wearing shopping-cart-near-by guy, "Carl."

Lovable Lola establishes her inherent goodness at once by asking Carl if he is ready to go to church. Carl says, "Can't -- I've got a hangover," thereby rounding out the constellation of the stereotype and providing that hook that every good strip needs, making us want to read more.

In the next panel, Lola sets up the gag by saying, "You're becoming like family, Carl..." The figures are inked over to encourage the reader to hurry on to the zinger. And there it is in the last panel: Lola turns her back to Carl, and says, "I know, because sometimes I feel like smacking you."

Ha, ha! She meant THAT kind of family. She meant the kind of family where she is the one in power and she gets to hit the other members of the family and get away with it. Isn't that hilarious?

No, it isn't. It also isn't hilarious to suggest that an appropriate way to draw an alcoholic homeless man into mainstream community is to threaten him with violence if he doesn't go to your church with you.

An even subtler kind of violence has been becoming popular in, of all places, Seattle's social service workers and those connected with them. Some of the people who are in favor of proposed changes to the Noel House mission are resorting to a rhetoric that includes specifically attacking the idea of a homeless community.

Ordinarily, attacking an idea is not what I would call an act of violence.

But the idea under attack in this case is the idea that the people who are most affected by the proposed changes form a people at all. By destroying this idea, supporters of the Noel House changes would forever deny the homeless women who live at Noel House or any other homeless any right ever to speak on their own behalf.

If there is no community then there is no voice. If there is no voice, then you might as well have clipped tongues. Stealing people's voice is always an act of violence.

Thursday, May 2, 2002

No-Sitting Ordinance Prevents Hemorrhoids

I want to discuss a delicate subject today. It's a subject that we homeless and/or formerly homeless folks feel very uncomfortable discussing. It's not passing gas. It's not the heartbreak of psoriasis. It has nothing to do with hemorrhoids. Heck, homeless people almost never get hemorrhoids, they aren't allowed to sit anywhere that long.

Besides, what I have to say is more embarrassing than hemorrhoids. Here it is: Hitler Was Homeless, Too, You Know.

A month doesn't pass us by here at Real Change that some submission doesn't arrive from a well meaning supporter, which has as its gist the alternate thought that Jesus Was Homeless, Too, You Know. And we almost invariably reject said submissions, with extreme prejudice.

Writers want to know why. Now you all have it, here's your answer, I'll say it again: Hitler Was Homeless, Too, You Know.

You just can't have one without the other. If you make a big deal that one of us was a Son of God, you have to also allow that one of our number turned out to be an icon of evil incarnate.

For that matter, if I have to own Christ's homelessness, I would also have to own the temporary homelessnesses of William Shatner and Joan Rivers. Would YOU want to be compared to William Shatner and Joan Rivers? I thought not. There, now you know how I feel.

Recently a satisfied reader informed me of a site on the internet that lists "noted celebrities", both alive and dead, who have been homeless at one time, and pointed out that somehow the list mistakenly contains my name! When have I been a "noted celebrity?"

But there I am. The site is at for those who are internet linked and want to see this nonsense with their own eyes. I am on the same list with William Shatner and Joan Rivers! I'm on the same list as Sally Jesse Raphael! AND Jesus! Oh, the shame.

And the worst of it is, Hitler isn't on the list. That makes it worse, because it makes it look like we are all trying to say that we formerly homeless belong to one big club of good guys.

As if homelessness were ennobling, when it's only a very tiring and dis-abling experience, of itself.

Our goal here at Real Change is to break down stereotypes about homelessness while focusing attention on the fact that the real problem is a shortage of affordable housing. Not to make the homeless (or the obdachlosig) out to be saints.

Maybe Hitler could help there. In one respect Hitler fit the stereotype of the lazy panhandler. At least, he DID turn down some work, as being beneath his dignity. And he did resort to begging.

On the other hand, in spite of that, he managed to work his way out of park benches and into a hostel (today's reader read: "transitional housing") in a matter of months.

Also, Hitler's situation was clearly due to the overcrowding of Vienna at that time, and the corresponding lack of affordable housing. Whatever else was wrong with him, he wasn't a drug addict or an alcoholic. He wasn't even mentally ill, so much as anyone noticed at the time.

I can't quit without mentioning some other "Hitler Was ___, Too, You Know" lines.

Hitler Was a Teenager, Too, You Know. Hitler Was an Artist, Too, You Know. Hitler Was a President, Too, You Know. Hitler Was a Self-Righteous Former Smoker, Too, You Know -- he even came up with the idea of warning labels! Hitler Supported Light Rail, Too, You Know.

Hee. I made that last one up.