My poem, “The Poet Gene,”  received honorable mention in the 2011 ESRC Genomics Forum Poetry Competition announced this weekend.

The competition was co-sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Genomics Network and the Scottish Poetry Library of Edinburgh.   The judges for the competition were Pippa Goldschmidt, Professor Steve Yearley, director of the ESRC Genomics Forum, Peggy Hughes, the communications officer at the Scottish Poetry Library, and poet Kona Macphee.

Writing about my poem, the judges said, “Understandably, most of the poems were serious, and so we particularly enjoyed the humour in one of the runners up, “Improving the Human: ‘The Poet Gene’,” a nicely self-referential poem which imagines the perhaps negative impact of genetic engineering upon poetry itself.”

Here is my poem

“The Poet Gene”

The gene for “poet” has likely been isolated,
somewhere in a lab in southern California.
And I wonder how close it is to the gene
that makes you crave potato chips
or the “coffee-drinker” gene, perhaps,
or the one that causes procrastination.
If they have the poet gene cornered
in a Petri dish, will they admonish it
for all the bad poems ever written,
however unwittingly?
Would it improve the human
to have the poet gene spliced
into fruit or beef – or even bacon?
Poetry-enhanced bacon. Now that’s
genetic modification one can get behind!
Perhaps it can be modified by the reader gene,
increasing the number of poetry readers.
Oh, but what if it went “aft agley”?
What if this innocent experiment turned wicked?
Think of it, more bad poems by more bad poets—
(Increased productivity isn’t always a good thing.)
Perhaps this poem is, in fact, one of them,
a mutated, altered, monster poem
waiting to grab you by the throat and…Ahem.
Think of the sheer volume of bad poetry
overtaking the world, smothering us;
entire forests decimated for paper
upon which these poems are printed
or hundreds of iPhone apps built
to accommodate a staggering number of poems
cranked out by “GMPs” (genetically modified poets)
careering and MFAing all over the place.
Undoubtedly, someone will decide to splice
the poet gene from one poet into another. Then what?
Talk about trouble: one side striving for simplicity;
the other deliberately obtuse and indirect.
No, best leave the poet gene out of even this poem;
rather, focus on how to make potato chip consumption
actually slimming to the human figure, especially
when consumed with large quantities of your favorite ale
and generous servings of bacon.

–Scott Edward Anderson

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Rimbaud Carjat

Arthur Rimbaud

Poet William Stafford was a quiet and gentle force in poetry. He liked it that way; at least that’s what he told The Paris Review in 1989.  (I think it was published in 1993, the year he died.)

As William Young, the interviewer, wrote in his introduction,

The intimacy of William Stafford’s poetry would seem to belie the enormous popularity the poet’s work has enjoyed, but in fact it is a product of Stafford’s keen ability to discern poetic language in everyday speech and appropriate it for his own work.

Stafford, whose first volume of poetry was not published until 1960 when he was forty-six, was born in the small town of Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914 and died in Portland, Oregon, on August 28, 1993 at the age of seventy-nine.

He came to my high school when I was a freshman and read poetry to us.  I had been reading the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, in the Louise Varese translation published by New Directions, and was all hopped up about the poet as visionary and seer, about the power of poetic vision on the soul.

So, when it came to the Q&A, I raised my hand and asked, “Mr. Stafford, do you agree with Rimbaud that the the poet must be a visionary?”

It was a brilliant question.  I stood there while the entire audience turned around to admire my brilliance.

Then I saw their faces.  One classmate in particular, one of the drama students, looked at me incredulously and mouthed something that appeared to be “Rim-bod?!”

Then I realized what I had done.  Despite being in my fourth year of French lessons, I had badly butchered Rimbaud’s name, and rather than sounding like “Rambo,” I had made it sound like “Rim-bod.”

My face went red.  I sank down into my seat.  Humiliated.

Stafford, for his part, very calmly looked at me and answered, “No. I think the poet needs to be able to see the world he or she lives in, but not necessarily be visionary. Paying attention goes a lot longer than vision.”

You can read many of William Stafford’s poems at Selected William Stafford Poetry.

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