Friday, April 23, 2004

How I Brought The Bad News About Poetry and Food

As Roseanne Rosannadanna was ever wont to say, "If it's not one thing, it's two things." And so it is. And sometimes more.
Case in point: American parents worrying about the fate of their coming-of-age sons and daughters as discussion about a possible reinstatement of the draft gains momentum, now have further cause for concern if their children show a predilection for rhyming couplets or a natural talent for iambic pentameter.
Poetry kills.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings - though really I’m just the messenger, sharing the facts stated in a report published in the most recent edition of The Journal of Death Studies; poets die young - younger than novelists, playwrights, or any other category of writers. The article goes on to suggest poets not worry unnecessarily, but notes (in a rather sinister fashion I thought) that they should perhaps look after their health…
I don't know about you, but when I hear a warning like that, the images that spring most nimbly to my mind bear a closer resemblance to Tony Soprano giving Ralphie a head's up before he gives him a… (well, if you haven’t seen the third season of the Sopranos far be it from me to spoil the surprise) than the latest report on the dangers of smoking, or the risk of not looking both ways when crossing the street.
I'd do a Haiku about it – something spare, yet deeply moving - but I refuse to tempt fate.
And if such thoughts were to create within me a desire for comfort in the form of food, according to the just released documentary, Supersize Me, I’d be literally taking my life in my own hands along with my McChicken sandwich. (Insight: death tastes better than it smells.)
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s multi-award winning Sundance Festival hit (opening today at Toronto’s Hot Doc’s Festival – heralds the worse-than-previously-thought fast food news. The documentary/cautionary tale began with a simple idea: eat nothing but McDonald’s food three times a day for a month and film the results. Taking on the 'Billions Served' Golden Arches might be seen by some as a foolhardy mission, but Spurlock bravely pressed forward, filming the story in much the same style, and with much the same sensibility as guerilla filmmaker and world class shit-disturber Michael Moore.
Spurlock’s daily film diary included few restrictions other than rules that set out trying everything on the menu at least once, and replying ‘yes’ to any query about ‘supersizing’. Checked regularly by his increasingly horrified doctors, the doc, which found its genesis in the news story some years ago, concerning an unsuccessful lawsuit against McDonald’s (brought by two overweight women who blamed the company for their condition) produced results that went far beyond the filmmaker’s original expectations. He didn’t just put on a little weight, break out in spots, or feel lethargic – he soon completely altered his body’s basic chemistry, craving evermore McFood as he felt evermore McSick, frightening his doctors as they tested him regularly and found (amongst a litany of icky changes) soaring cholesterol levels and signs of potentially fatal liver disease.
There’s more, but like The Sopranos, I’m not saying another word. Find out for yourself. (Me: with a medium sized popcorn – no ‘topping’ - and a small diet coke.)
It's death, death, death every which way you look these days. You daren’t hop a train, plane or automobile, eat at a fast food franchise or join the National Guard (the latter would have been bone stupid at almost any time in American history) for fear that your next mile, burger, or set of marching papers will be your last.
And now we're told the simple pleasures of ‘When We Were very Young’ or ‘Now We Are Six’ will be viewed as potentially risky reading, marking Winnie the Pooh – and all the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood – as troublemakers bent on destruction.
Sad really – that the following should have to come with a warning label, but I’m willing to take the gamble for poetry as exciting as this; though as you’ll see, it’s not just great poetry - it's also an object lesson in the inherent dangers of passing on the news. In fact, if you think about it, perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that its author Robert Browning is no longer with us.
Read at your own risk...

I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he:
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
"Good speed!" cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew;
"Speed" echoed the wall to us galloping through.
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.
Not a word to each other: we kept the great pace--
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.
'Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom a great yellow star came out to see;
At Dueffeld 'twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime--
So Joris broke silence with "Yet there is time!"
At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past;
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray;
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye's black intelligence,--ever that glance
O'er its white edge at me, its own master, askance;
And the thick heavy spume-flakes, which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upward in galloping on.
By Hasselt Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, "Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her;
We'll remember at Aix"--for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck, and the staggering knees
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.
So we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh;
'Neath our feet broke the brittle, bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And "Gallop" gasped Joris, "for Aix is in sight!"
"How they'll greet us!"--and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With her nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.
Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stoop up in the stirrups, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer--
Clapped my hands, laughed and sung, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is friends flocking round,
As I sate with his head 'twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.

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