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tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

September 29, 2007

both the bottle, merle haggard, and poetry let me down

I grew up reading. Choose Your Own Adventure books, the Chronicles of Narnia, Hardy Boys, didn’t matter, I was always reading. I would read my sister’s set of Little House on the Prairie books. Girl books, boy books, I didn’t care.
I got older and discovered poetry. It appeals to people who believe in books. People who crave the order of our writing system but secretly cheer when an author is brave and breaks a rule like breaking an egg and something beautiful is revealed are the kind of people who love poetry. If you’ve ever bought a forty year old grammer text book because you love how a diagramed sentence looks, you probably have also stumbled across a few poems you enjoy.

I started reading poetry in my parent’s Yankee magazines. Yankee is published in Dublin, New Hampshire, a little town with maple trees turning pretty colors in autumn and that’s about it. They would feature articles about snow, moose, and lobster and publish poets who wrote in free verse. I loved the length of these poems. I think it was that shortness that drew me to them more than anything else. But also it was the strong sense of place these “local color” poems had. That whole magazine was a propaganda campaign designed to trick us into loving swampy bug infested land that blazed in the summer and froze in the winter.

In high school a red headed woman in her sixties who was still fit and wearing red frames for her reading glasses introduced me to the larger world of poetry. She wrote comments in swirling cursive that praised my ability to set a mood with the thunder storm, and my desire to understand other people and myself…

I was hooked. I felt like a craftsman, picking five or six words and looking at how many vowels they contained, how many letters they added up to, how many were derived from old french, and feeling like i truly understood those words, and could then arrange them into something with meaning. That was poetry for me: treating a single word as a physical thing with a dream inside it, and bending that word one way and then another so the dream changed shape as the word changed places with others. That was what I loved about it. Understanding that the physical relationship altered the meaning of things, and at 14 years old, a clumsy kid who twisted his ankle trying to stand on a skateboard, was afraid of the water and the sun and girls – I hadn’t found many physical things I could control and manipulate. So I started writing poetry.

I went to college to write poetry. To find an audience of other people who loved it and wouldn’t give a half frown and shake their head no if you asked them about poetry. It occurs to me that so many other poets were 14 when they began, and wanted that power because they were so weak everywhere else. Now we have a branch of the arts created by runts.

Let’s consider mature poetry.

There is so much you have to believe in before you believe in poetry. You have to believe first of all that books are very powerful. That hard covers house truths. That publishing houses are sending agents out across the land to find the very best spiritual leaders who have renounced city life and the internet and have gone back to the land to raise goats and write about the truths they discover. You have to believe that. That these book agents are renting bicycles and riding down dirt roads in Kansas because anyone who approaches the author in a motorized vehicle will not be given an audience. And this book agent rides the two and half miles through mudpuddles and shows up by the barn with his pants cuffs mudluscious and the poet continues to pull the goats teat while looking the book agent over, and finally says, “All right, I’ll give you some poems, but you gotta do it my way.”

If you don’t have that kind of background, then a book of poems isn’t gonna get you. You’ll have no reason to believe. You’ll remember back to the weakest kid ini high school and remember he was the one who wrote poetry, and you will equate all the 14 year old jon rolston’s and 14 year old girls, I don’t know their names because I didn’t talk to girls, but there were 14 year old girls writing poems, I’d find them in the halls, accidentally left on a desk after a class, you might have been one yourself. But we’ve grown up.

I don’t care about poetry as much as I used to. Is it because I bought myself a dog and boss it around? Is it because spiritual truths gleamed from midwestern goat farmers don’t speak to me? So I don’t read much poetry. Poetry and I have decided to see other people. I’m a modern man. I want moving images. Words were a stop gap story telling device until we could figure out how to get the visions in our head to come out alive. Words were middlemen. Now we have movies.

Writing is an elderly media. elderly, wheelchair bound, begging for a push from video. There is no reason to spend time reading when the vision can come quicker through video. Here I am writing about it, blogging about it, blogging, BLOGGING, when I should be Vlogging, i have all the equipment, but I’m old now too, and unsure of myself, confused about where the cable goes in, and how I get the sound adjusted. So I write. But I’d rather be making a movie.


  1. sometimes a love that you have held for so long wasn’t properly understood to begin with. the value of cinema is reported in words, the story that is acted is directed by words all pictures at some point before birth are conceived in word. words;accuse, indite, describe, punish, cajole, seduce, arouse, shame and comfort. their value is spoken, seen, heard, written. a picture is even worth thousand words but words are never quantified by pictures. words are how the imprisoned, illiterate and poor and rich and smart and dumb tell their stories before someone outside takes their picture. add to your love of words but don’t be so hasty as to walk away. paint pictures, picture lies, picture history but remember is it’s the first and last words that are celebrated in a person’s life.

    Comment by bare paws — September 29, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  2. even dirty words uttered in throws of passion pull a person toward a little death. and you can’t see dirty pictures with your eyes closed.

    Comment by bare boob — September 29, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  3. speaking of movies…I need your help shooting a stop action claymation version of one of my stageplays. IT would take many hours but I would do all the voices and there are only three or four sets. OR maybe just use plastic dolls dressed as day laborers and hookers.
    It’s either that or actually produce a stageplay with human beings which is crazy of course.
    Lit. agents ARE riding their bicycles searching for talent. Unfortunately they have all been run down by thieves in stolen cars.
    But let’s put it in perspective: 25 million televisions are discarded every year in the U.S. Over 100,000 computers become obsolete and are discarded EVERY DAY. That’s a lot of lead monitor screens at the dump. Virtually every living organism on Earth has been contaminated by polybrominated diphenyl ethers that are synthetic chemicals used as flame retardants in many products like plastics and furniture foam. It’s the strong chemical smell that comes free with your new car or computer. Take a good whiff. It’s absolutely toxic. But some of us are more resistant to it. Babies are the most vulnerable as the chemical loves to infect breast milk. Buy a new car in 1990, get your baby a heart transplant in 2008. Coincidence?

    My advice is if you see a Best Buy or Circuit City burning…don’t call anyone. Just walk away quickly and pray they never open up another one of these monstrosities again.

    And if you are ever in Sunnyvale or Cupertino or N. San Jose…do not drink the water. IN fact, don’t go to those communities at all. AT least not for the next 700 years when the Trichloroethylene contamination from the microchip fabrication plants finally leaves the groundwater. Silicon Valley has several Superfund sites, the worst contamination recognized by the inept EPA. They should not be inhabited but that would be like admitting something was wrong. Instead, IBM and Intel are cleaning up the mess they left behind. And you trust them…don’t you?

    Comment by oggy — September 29, 2007 @ 10:20 pm

  4. you both make some great and encouraging points. Oggy’s of course have no bearing on my particular post, but still it was very informative.

    Day labor dolls?

    Comment by Rolston — September 30, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  5. you have a dog?

    Comment by al — October 2, 2007 @ 6:18 pm

  6. oggy, did you submit your comment by pencil and paper? i’m proud of you.

    Comment by sea n — October 2, 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  7. You “bought” a dog? More on that, please.

    Comment by CooCooCaChoo — October 2, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

  8. I bought a dog in this story, to show that I could kick it and make myself feel better, but once the story was over, I didn’t have a dog any more.

    Comment by Rolston — October 3, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

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