Nobody puts poetry in a corner
Except us. In a good way.
Sacramento’s a poetry town.
How come nobody told me? Coming from Iowa, I thought Iowa City was a poetry town (there’s the famous writers’ workshop, the Prairie Lights bookstore); then, during graduate school at the University of Missouri, I thought Columbia was a poetry town (the weekly readings by grad students, the visiting writers, the couple of small presses). But it wasn’t until I landed here in the Big Tomato that I learned what it really means to be a poetry town.
I had no idea that tenure-seeking MFA’d academic poets, survivors (and wannabes) of the Beat movement, bilingual and code-switching escritores, streetwise outlaw poets, traditional formalists, genre-busting literary collagists, old-school rhymers and new-school rappers could all share the same spaces with respect and affection. I had no idea that every third guy had a Xerox machine (or even an old mimeo) and would put out a chapbook—to say nothing of the really good chapbooks, like the ones Kathy Kieth makes.
Yes, Sacramento surprised me. This place really is one-of-a-kind when it comes to the finest of literary arts.
So when one of SN&R’s former editors offered me a corner for poetry in our pages (in lieu of a raise—I, too, suffer for art), I knew it was just the thing this poetry town needed. As far as I know, SN&R is the only alternative weekly in the country that regularly publishes poetry. So it should be: Editors come and go; poetry is forever.
And I think we’ve got a “Sacramento school” of poetry as well. Oh, it’s not about a similarity in form or content—there’s a lot of variation there. But there’s a certain tone common to Sacramento poems that makes them, well, Sacramento poems. I’ve described it on occasion as elegiac, by which I mean less an ode to what has passed than a longing to inscribe the passing moment with some permanence.
It’s a note of momentary feeling fused to the knowledge of how temporary it all is; I’ve felt it in poems as diverse as Tom Goff’s linguistically lush ode to a big band and David Vaszko’s tribute to the “Ban Roll-on Building.” It’s in Thomas Miner’s zenlike meditations on nature and love, it’s in Arionô-jôvan Labú’s lanky narratives, and it’s certainly in Robert M. Stanley’s poems, especially those about his war experiences.
And if there’s a Sacramento poem, there’s certainly an SN&R poem. It’s the one that takes a turn near the end toward self-irony. It’s aware, smart, a little funny, and it doesn’t take itself too damn seriously.
Just like Sacramento.
Here are a few of my favorites from the last five years. Keep ’em coming.
Under the goose-down coverlet,
We slide against each other slow
While the children at our feet
Churn in uneasy sleep.
For their sake, since we love them so,
We curb our natural warbling.
April 4, 2004
The Whole Truth
“Americans … need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” —Ari Fleisher, former White House press secretary; September 26, 2001
I say this: You will not corral me,
Shear my words or dock my tongue. I
Will not cut it out. My mouth is holy.
I am the human form divine. I
Promise that my broken feet
Will trample through your dreams.
I will lick your neck, your body
Politic, keep you awake. I will
Trouble your dark sleep
As you’ve troubled mine. I do not
Fear the wild beasts for I am
Blessed. Black sheep, nightmare, wooly dis-
Invitation—I am the little lamb of God
Damn. God damn.
January 13, 2005
U.S. troops die in roadside ambush
May the peace of our soldiers
Be as perfect
As the quiet
Of this golden afternoon.
—Robert M. Stanley
February 3, 2005
RT Fare Increase
We are also this city. We ride
because wheelchair can’t equal housebound.
Paratransit downhoists us outside RT HQ.
We sit-in, patient; though our feet be bent, our grins
run straight. In solidarity, everybody rattle
your pillboxes. Our headrests are lambswool,
our lives crocodile. RT staffers must think
“public access” means propping up a MegaVox
on top of a stamp dispenser. This crackles,
burbles from inside to us pavement-struck:
I need this service … badly … versus Here …
some sample comparative fare structures … I think
I’ll just wait some more; read my Max Brand oater.
When you say comparative fare structure—smile!
July 28, 2005
A Tomato Fell
’Tis the season, red
and ripe tomatoes overflow
the truck’s gondola,
festooning the freeway
onramp’s curve with riches.
Equally red guts
ribbon across the median,
wheels dodge splintered
wood, a green hula-hoop,
a smashed deck chair. What else
didn’t bounce? A bird,
a cat, a rat, a dog?
Be mindful of the
minefield as merrily
we roll along.
November 3, 2005
Another year of heartbreak;
I lust over winter oranges,
Peaceful and promising in the fog.
March 16, 2006
she hates the name,
tells me they should call it
says “It isn’t
what it is,
I would help
—William S. Gainer
March 30, 2006