I took my poem to the mechanic today. I was going to get an oil change. Simple, I thought—a minor monthly adjustment. Standing in the drafty lobby, I looked out the window onto the busy street (MFA Avenue). There were other poems parked at different angles alongside the building, awaiting attention. Student poets sat in the grass sunning themselves, lounging, looking contemplative. I reclined in the air-conditioned lobby, reading Bukowski. After a while, a woman wearing a wig and thick glasses approached with a clipboard in her hand. Across my page was a rubric of runny smears and blotchy black sharpie stains. Amendments, adjustments, alterations in orange and squiggles in pencil. Her diagnosis of my problem, they covered the page, almost obscuring what I’d written. She shrugged and looked at me like she just hated giving bad news. I just hate giving bad news, she said. But you’re lucky you came in today.
Because I don’t see you driving this poem much longer. Apparently I need a new meter and
My iambs are loose and my spondees are spongey. My trochees are tripping over themselves
My diction’s disastrous, my meter’s monotonous. Nearing the end of the list, she added, your similes are falling apart. Also, she said, you should refrain from refrains. Your poems try too hard to be absurd, she said and then she pointed to an example: A polar bear on roller skates regrets mistakes he forgets to make. Too self-conscious, she said, shaking her head—like song lyrics or something. That’s not poetry, she said. You need something simple and clean, something pristine. Like William Carlos Williams. Like “Uses of Poetry?” I asked
Of course not, she said. Something more like “Pastoral” or “This is Just to Say.” Leave the complicated stuff to those guys in the grass, she said, pointing outside. I nodded, looking at the floor, embarrassed, feeling like I was ten again. Then she gave me a wave (was it a valediction?), wandering back to her office. I sat back down in that lobby, picked up the newspaper, and perused the want ads.
Seattle writer Jason M. Thornberry’s work appears in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Soundings East, Broadkill Review, TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, Sleet, and elsewhere. His work examines family, disability, and social justice. An MFA candidate at Chapman University, Jason taught creative writing at Seattle Pacific University. Twitter: @thornberryjm