I’m a fan of words. I used to spend time browsing the dictionary. Indeed, I don’t know what happened to that habit, though I suppose the convenience of an online version had something to do with it. Well, that and the fact the Ex took the humongous dictionary and I’ve yet to procure for myself a big, honking dictionary that weighs 50 lbs.
Someday I hope to own a complete version of the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s looking less likely – the publishers are suggesting they’re going to quit offering a print version. I suppose it’s possible to browse an electronic copy, but the aesthetics are going to be compromised. Of course, I have no idea where I’d find room to put the twenty volumes of the complete set, but I’m quite sure I’d have fun figuring it out. Less fun would be the process of trying to justify spending $995 (plus shipping).
Truly, yea verily, I do love words.
I can’t remember the first time I encountered magnetic poetry; nor can I remember if I actually squealed with delight or just remember it that way. I do remember delight turning to dismay when I looked at the price tag. A pittance in comparison to the OED, they hit the market about the time buying a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s was a major budget decision. The sets were expensive. If comparison shopping and looking at the price per word, magnetic poetry is far more expensive ($12 for 200 words) than the OED ($995 for 59,000,000 words). The magnets are sold in sets with themes – Shakespeare, haiku, erotica, food, etc. Choosing just one set was beyond my ability. After all, and is my favorite word. I wouldn’t consider owning just one or two volumes of the OED – when I want something, I want it all. It’s not likely there are enough themes to come close to 59 million words. It would be quite a feat to spend nearly a grand on magnets. While I do want it all, all does not include the Guiness Book of Records for most magnetic poetry sets.
Magnetic poetry stayed in vogue long enough for the budget to ease up. I was able to partake. In fact, the sets are still available although I’m not likely to find them in convenience stores like I could at the height of their popularity.
While I wasn’t an early adopter, I embraced the trend with fervor making up for lost time. As usual, I didn’t just wade in – I swan dived. I have hundreds of tiny magnetic pieces in stark black and white to jump start my creative engine. While I didn’t procure each and every word printed on a flexible magnet, I’m no dilettante either.
As did most folks, I placed my single-word magnets on the refrigerator. I’d wander by and move words into phrases, phrases into lines, lines skewing to Scrabble-like configurations. Eventually, I decided it would be more fun and far more comfortable to recline while wallowing in words. Ever mindful of my needs, the magnetic poetry folks manufactured a spiffy board to allow me to do just that. The refrigerator was denuded, words were arranged on a black metallic sheet and an old, pseudo-Chinese tin was used to store the excess pieces. All these accoutrements of my Inner Poet now reside on the étagère in the guestroom.
[I’m thinking of moving them back to the refrigerator. I spend more time near the refrigerator (as my hips will attest) than I do the guestroom. I miss sliding words around while waiting for water to boil or, too often these days, cherry pie to cool.]
Like every moody teenage girl (is that redundant?), I wrote poetry. With one exception it was all the purest of pure dreck. The one exception wasn’t all that good, but I labored for days to successfully fit my thoughts into the singsong, rhyming cadence I thought defined poetry. And I did so without it sounding like Dr. Seuss. It was a success of sorts and the subject meant a lot to me.
With enough reading, most former teenage poets figure out their poems were awful. The realization sometimes provokes cringing embarrassment and secretive literary bonfires. In my case, I don’t know where they are. If I did, I would carefully press them into a scrapbook to prove I was once young. I would also pull them out when I needed a good laugh. We’re talking bad – very bad. My poetry was maudlin, giddy, wistful, angry, lovesick, sentimental and jaded – sometimes all of that in just one line. Bad. Very bad.
The overriding charm of magnetic poetry is the end result isn’t supposed to be good as much as it’s supposed to be quirky. Moreover, unlike writing “real poetry”, composition is fun precisely because one doesn’t have 59 million words to sift through in search of the exact perfect word to capture the thought. Even for me, 59 million magnetic pieces is way too much to embrace. (The OED Magnetic Poetry Kit? Can you imagine? Do you think the publishers considered such a beast? Should they? Personally, I’m having a ball imagining the size of that refrigerator. Scaffolding to retrieve the ice cream?)
There’s also the Mmmmm Factor of selecting a few pieces at random and finding a word combination that doesn’t exist in nature, but should. Is that not one of the features of great poetry?
At times, times like today, I find myself wanting to sit down and write. During some of those times, including today, I find that desire be damned, I can’t render a single thought to put down on paper or in pixels. When such occurs, I dip into the Chinese tin and pull out 13 words. I don’t know why I select 13, but I do.
Today’s 13 are:
Would you laugh at the question?
When tomorrow knows
yesterday’s tango love
must trust the universe
not to change the tempo
to the sharp, sticky staccato
of jack and coke.
Spurred two-step missteps
impaling tender cherries
on a midnight plastic pick.
Sweet strawberries wafting
at the bottom of a hollow flute.
Waiting for violins.
Not knowing there’s
a shot glass for every state,
a rhythm for every beat,
a crystal ice bucket littered with
souvenir corks of The Widow.
Dance with me?
And now you know why I gave up poetry. Leonard Cohen, however, is very good at what he does.