I’m struggling with a decision that should be easily made. It isn’t a heady question of global importance. Nope. It’s much more mundane.
It’s a question of principle.sigh
I’ve also spent a bit of time writing poetry. I authored a collaborative chapbook (long since out of print) back when I wrote poetry in partnership with nursing home residents. My poems are published here and there for the six people who read tiny literary journals and the three people who buy small press poetry anthologies. And a collection of my poetry, Tending, has been published.
The engine fueling a non-fiction writer’s work is entirely different than the inspiration that sparks a poet’s poems into being. The non-fiction writer wants to get ideas across. The poet wants her words felt.
These two motivations probably shouldn’t tussle.
Today they are. That’s because this poet was asked something that made this non-fiction writer snort. A poem of mine, published last year in the Christian Science Monitor, has been selected for use in tens of thousands of high school assessment tests.
Yes, those same tests I rail against.
I don’t for a moment assume that my poem was selected on its merits. The piece happens to be riddled with imagery and metaphor, well suited to torture teenagers with questions designed to make them further detest poetry.
But I didn’t turn down the request right away. I’m not sure why (except that I’m a weak weak person to whom they’re offering $350 for the rights). The very concept violates my principles.
I also have the desire to let that poem stay alive. Poems live only while they’re read or when their lines are remembered. Most poems have a lifespan comparable to that of a mayfly. And yes, I have a ridiculous hope that one teen in the midst of a test might feel the poem.
I’ll probably send the official multipage form back with permission denied written where my signature should be. But I haven’t done it yet.
What would you do?
(And if you’re curious, here’s the poem.)
Why the Window Washer Reads Poetry
for Michael, who carried poems in his work shirt pocket
He lowers himself
on a seat they call a cradle, rocking
in harnesses strung long-armed
from the roof.
Swiping windows clean
he spends his day
outside looking in.
Mirrors refract light into his eyes
telescopes point down
photographs face away,
layers of dust
Tethered and counterbalanced
these sky janitors hang,
names stitched on blue shirts
for birds to read.
Squeegees in hand they
arc lightly back and forth across
the building’s eyes
descend a floor, dance again.
While the crew catches up
he pauses, takes a slim volume from his pocket
and balancing there,
36 stories above the street,
reads a poem or two
in which the reader is invariably placed
*Laura Grace Weldon