Anderson_APR poems January 2017

Two Poems by Scott Edward Anderson in The American Poetry Review

Ben Franklin was wrong. Only death is certain; taxes fluctuate — and some even get away without disclosing or paying them.

Last April, my friend the poet A.V. Christie died. It was not entirely a shock, she’d been battling stage 4 cancer for several years, but the fact that she was my age and we’d shared a stage together reading our poems meant it hit close to home.

Four and half months before that, another poet friend, David Simpson, died. I last saw David reading his poems in New York, his book had just come out. He was seriously ill, but celebrating. That was a lesson for me to choose abundance.

Add to that the myriad of more well-known and lesser known poets who die in any given year and it starts to add up: Heaney, Angelou, Kinnell, Waring, Batin, Knott, Strand, Levine, Ritvo, Harrison, Williams, Lux, Tolan, Walcott…the list goes on.

All this death — certain, inevitable death — and a growing number of memorial services and poetry reading “remembrances” over the past few years prompted me do two things: 1.) I started celebrating living poets by acknowledging their birthdays and sharing one of their poems on Facebook; and, 2.) I wrote a poem that tried to shed a little humor on this dark subject.

The poem is called “Deaths of the Poets,” turning on its head the famous Samuel Johnson title, “Lives of the Poets.” I see it as a tribute to the poets who have passed and a kind of companion piece to my poem, “The Poet Gene.”

This poem borrows a few lines from the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “Free Bird,” which I’ve always wished someone would shout out at one of my readings, as was done at concerts back in the 70s and 80s. (Imagine the lines read in “poet voice,” if you will.)

I threatened to shout for “Free Bird” if my friend the poet Alison Hawthorne Deming didn’t open a recent reading by singing a few bars of “Stairway to Heaven,” which is the title of her new book of poems. She did it brilliantly and I have photo evidence. Alas, no recording.

Here is my poem, “Deaths of the Poets,” which appeared in The American Poetry Review earlier this year:

Deaths of the Poets

Sweet sorrow then, when poets die,
as so many of them have this year.
Goodbye to them, as we linger
over their works, forgiving their deeds,
maleficent or magnanimous.
We remember their kind gestures,
wholesome smiles, constructive criticism,
and witty remarks over drinks or dinner.

We seldom recall what a bore they were at readings,
droning on about their poems or rushing through them,
or how they showed up ill-prepared,
rifling through papers trying to find
the exact poem they wanted to read next
or constantly looking at their watch
and asking the host or hostess,
“How much time do I have?”

Sometimes when I hear poets read in their “poet voice,”
I want to shout out “Free Bird,” like hecklers at old
rock concerts. “Play ‘Free Bird’!” ‘til they recite,
“If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?

For I must be traveling on, now
‘Cause there’s too many places
I’ve got to see.”

Sweet sorrow in their passing then,
poets gone this year and last and yet to come.
And in our mourning let us not forget
Seamus Heaney’s story about two Scottish poets
at a reading, one on the podium struggling
to find his poems and the other, seated in the front row,
saying, “When they said he was going to read,
I thought they meant read out loud…”

–Scott Edward Anderson

c) 2017 Scott Edward Anderson

First published in The American Poetry Review, Vol. 46, No. 01, January/February 2017

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Lateral meniscus located between femur (above)...
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I had knee surgery a couple of years ago; a minor clean-up of my medial meniscus.

When the doctor finished this fairly routine arthroscopic procedure, he said to me, “You’ll be back to playing a fool and not acting your age in a few weeks.”

He was right.   I was traipsing all over India in a few weeks and back to playing basketball again within a couple of months.

One night during my recuperation, I started thinking about the knee.

It’s a very flawed design, full of serious structural problems.  Almost I want to say the knee is a botched job.

Anyway, a poem started to form in my head and I did something uncharacteristic: I wrote it down.   Usually, I work on poems in my head for a while before putting them down on paper.

Then I did something else that was atypical: I included it in a batch of poems sent to the American Poetry Review, one of the most prestigious poetry publications in the country, which happens to be published here in Philadelphia.

Ordinarily, I wait for several drafts before sending my new poems anywhere, a process that can take months or even years.

A few months later, however, the poem was accepted by APR and it was published in that summer (July/August 2008 issue).  Perhaps I shouldn’t worry my poems so much and just let them be.  Truth be told, this one just seemed right. (I did tinker with it in a minor way before it appeared in APR and again after it was published, mostly some grammatical stuff with which I wasn’t happy.  I just can’t help myself…)

Here is my poem, “Intelligent Design”:

The knee is proof:

there’s no such thing

as “intelligent design.”

If there were, the knee

would be much improved,

rather than in need

of replacement.

The doctor tells me

they are doing

wonderful things

with technology these days,

have improved the joint

and bond—

Amazing, really, they

can take a sheep’s tendon

and attach it there and here

or remove ligaments

from one part of the body,

secure it by drilling holes

and plugging them up,

stretching until taut

with tension superior

to the original.

The new designs

are so much better

(“my better is better

than your better”)

it seems obvious

the Creator

took off the afternoon,

went to play a round

of golf with Beelzebub,

perhaps a foursome with

Methuselah and Lucifer,

left the joint between

thigh bone and shin

to an intern.

Isn’t it obvious?

I mean, 2 million years

of evolution haven’t

improved the knee one wit.

Nothing intelligent about it.

–Scott Edward Anderson, American Poetry Review, July/August 2008

Here is an Mp3 of my reading the poem at Kelly Writers House in September 2008: Scott Edward Anderson’s “Intelligent Design”

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John Timpane wrote about the Philadelphia Poetry Scene in the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend:

San Francisco is famous as a great poetry town. As it should be.

But move over, San Fran: Philadelphia should be as famous for poetry as it is for cheesesteak and Rocky. Philly is a bursting cauldron, a dizzying maelstrom, a chorusing kennel, yea, a mad laser light show of verse.

This area offers renowned journals such as the American Poetry Review and a whole raft of vibrant Web sites for poetry and literature, such as the Fox Chase Review and the Wild River Review. Besides its series of readings by the world-famous, the Free Library also offers Monday Poets, a reading series/open-mike (where all comers can read), on the first Monday of every month from October to April. It’s in the Skyline Room of the Central Library, which, says coordinator Amy Thatcher, “has got to have the best view of Center City” in town. For next year, she’s looking for good poets from all over the area.

Read the full article: Philadelphia Poetry Scene

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