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Public Poetry :: Stand Naked and Risk Catching a Metaphor


April’s window has all but slammed shut and for those of you who didn’t know, this month is National Poetry Month (for lack of a more poetic title), and chances of being whisked away by a draft of poetry at this point are slim to nil.

Thanks to the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshops having taken root in Iowa City, poetry seeps from the city’s pores, fills the air and blows in the wind. Poetry is contagious and public officials warn Iowa City residents, who don’t want to catch a metaphor or come down with a case of consonance, to take the necessary precautions and avoid leaving the house naked.

Exposing yourself may lead to lascivious acts such as writing poetry for the city’s “Poetry in Public” project, which is completely condoned and subsidized by the city. Makes sense, given Iowa City was the third city in the world named a UNESCO City of Literature last November, rubbing elbows with the literary likes of Edinburgh, Scotland and the writers down under in Melbourne, Australia.

That said, there is a lot of pressure when it comes to establishing residency in Iowa City. In fact writing prose and/or poetry trumps paying property taxes, and not producing the former is the quickest path to being exiled from the community. To help ease the pressure, the city established the “Poetry in Public” project to help hack poets, such as myself, an opportunity to get a poem published (the only criteria: seven lines or less) alongside the work of published poets.

Knowing I was in the market for a house last year, I took a stab at the “Poetry in Public” project, hoping my submission would help plant the seeds of residency. Needless to say my poem, “What are You Staring At?” was chosen among hundreds of entries and was mounted in the downtown Recreation Center and in an Iowa City Transit Bus:

What are You Staring At?

Public exhibition has never been my forte:
Until now.
Naked I stand as passersby eyeball my verbiage
And undress my existence behind the plexiglass curtain.
Feeling exposed, I mask myself in punctuation.

I’ll have to admit that I was addicted to the attention and considered quitting both my jobs and running off to follow my newfound poetic muse. Fortunately these illusions of grandeur quickly subsided when I received my utilities bill from the city and realized they were not likely to forgive my bill as just compensation for the poem they published on the very same Web site that I pay my utilities and property taxes.

The thought of seeing me standing outside the Iowa City Civic Center, wielding a sign that read: “WILL WRITE POEMS FOR UTILITIES,” helped push my dream of becoming a professional poet to my mind’s backburner, where it simmered for a year – until this year’s “Poetry in Public” submission deadline.

Reignited, the dream inspired another 7-line poem, which somehow floated to the surface of 702 other entries and was chosen for public display.

Immortal Riff

Plucked from Sunday mornin’ news,
Strummin’ the Dead Man Walkin’ electric blues.
I sit on America’s front stoop pickin’ its soul,
Fingering an eye-for-an-eye –
The blind prophet crucified.
We have nothing left but everything to lose,
Strummin’ together the Dead Man Walkin’ electric blues.

Having exposed myself to the literary elements of Iowa City once again, my soul standing naked on a public bus and a downtown kiosk for all eyes to gaze upon, I think I may have come down with poetic fever. I’ve even gone so far as to begin penning another poem, but I imagine once the fever breaks, this work-in-progress will be relegated to the backburner as well, where it will sit until next April, waiting for me to add the final ingredients just before the submission deadline.

Hopefully this will be enough to stave off the locals from running me out of town.

::T.M. Lindsey also writes at Say Something Funny::

April 30, 2009 8:42 am

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