Imagine yourself in early 18th century London. You’re a domestic servant in some inn or other, and one of your duties is emptying the chamberpots. Where are you going to empty them? Into the streets, down the centers of which ran open gutters.
In 1710, Jonathan Swift published a poem — titled “A Description of a City Shower” — which describes the “Filth of all Hues and Odours” that rainwater running down a gutter carries with it: “Dung, Guts, and Blood, / Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud, / Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.”
As filthy as all this is — and it’s definitely filthy, and a paradise for infectious diseases of all sorts — it’s preferable to littering.
Shit, piss, vomit, blood, guts, kitchen scraps, dead animals: all of this is organic, part of the enormous and perpetual process of decay and growth that we call life. Shit in the open sewer is going to be eaten by whatever it is that eats shit, and eventually that shit is going to end up in some sort of plant, which will be eaten by some sort of animal, and at least some of it will — after a long and transformative journey — end up eaten by a human being.
(As an aside: anytime you smile while eating, you have a shit-eating grin on your face.)
Think about the litter you’ve seen recently: what was it? Piles of excrement, dead animals, discarded entrails? Probably not. Rather: beer cans, glass bottles, wrappers of various food-shaped substances, styrofoam, cigarette butts. Diapers. Pieces of tire on the highway. Plastic. Rusted metal. Things that aren’t food for anything.
The fact that we throw away so much that isn’t edible — so much that, being inedible, just accumulates — is only part of the problem with littering. I’m not sure I can go in to the rest of the problem, though, because — at least as I look at it — littering is a synecdoche for everything (or most things, anyway) that are wrong with this country.
Laziness. Apathy. Disrespect. Self-centeredness. Vapidity. Stupidity. Cupidity. A total lack of concern for one’s fellow humans, and — worse — a complete and fundamental failure to realize that there are things on this planet other than human beings that have as much right to live and thrive as we do. People who litter are the same people that kick puppies. People who litter urinate on babies. People who litter are like Stalin or Pol Pot, except worse. People who litter should be forced to eat the shit they throw on the ground, and then they should be forced to eat actual shit.
In all seriousness: I don’t like people who litter. I especially don’t like people who litter deliberately. They are bad people.
And, for the record, I did actually pick up some litter today, in addition to writing this tirade.
I am not so good at making poems. Remember this one?
That’s why I started on today’s task months ago, as soon as I’d gotten over the shock of Day 20: I wanted a good poem to leave in a public place, so that I could feel pride and not shame. So I surrounded myself with good poetry: Shakespeare’s sonnets, Paradise Lost, Donne, Blake, Eliot, Silverstein. I wrote, I re-wrote, I revised, I started over; I wrote until I looked like Pig:
I finally came up with something I was happy with: something moving, something deep and meaningful, but also something that would resonate with the people, that would embed itself into people’s minds and take root there.
It is a poem for our time, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that, centuries from now, it will still be read and taught. It is the best poem of the century, and I’m aware that we’re only eleven years in. My poem is easily better than anything you were forced to read in school.
This is not a poem I could staple to telephone poles and post on bulletin boards and leave on the windshields of cars, like it was a lost dog flyer. It needs a broader audience, a global audience. I had to get it on to the internet, obviously, and into the browsers of millions. But where do people go for poetry on the internet?
They don’t, of course, or not in the sorts of numbers my poem deserves. This was an obstacle, and I won’t deny that I lost sleep trying to figure out how to overcome it. It finally came to me when I was in the middle of something else — mowing the lawn, maybe, or urinating on my compost — make it a goddamned song.
So I set it to music. I found someone to sing it. I made a video. I posted it to YouTube four months ago, and since then, it’s been viewed over one hundred and sixty million times. That’s right: one hundred and sixty million times. Maybe you’ve seen it already, and didn’t realize I was behind it: I’ve tried to cover my tracks. Today, though, this second Friday in June, I’m ready to claim responsibility.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and rejoice.
Dear the Book: you have got to be fucking kidding me.
Rapping requires three things that I don’t have: an innate sense of rhythm, a profligate desire for rhyme, and – if one is delivering the lines, and not merely writing them for someone else – a brash, swaggering bravado.
I am not Kanye West: I do not have a nice flow.
If Jay-Z saw me brushing the dirt off my shoulders, he would laugh at me.
I am not fit to be stir-fried in Ad-Rock’s wok.
I can’t even keep up with the words to Wil Wheaton’s theme song mentally; there’s no way I could sing along with them.
I couldn’t write a fucking limerick to save the farm, and it wouldn’t be funny or clever if I managed to scribble one out, and I certainly couldn’t deliver it in the extremely unlikely event that I wrote one that was passably funny. I can’t even deliver limericks written by other people. How the hell am supposed to rap?
I’m not supposed to, of course: I’m supposed to try, and fail, and look ridiculous. If the Book had been written a few years later, it probably would have required me to post a video of my making-a-fool-of-myself to YouTube, so that total strangers could also laugh at me. The only upside to that would be if Keyboard Cat played me off, but he’s a busy cat, and the chances of that happening are slim.
So, sorry to disappoint, but I’m pulling a Brave-Sir-Robin on this one: packing it in, running away, buggering off, chickening out, &c, &c, &c. It worked for him, didn’t it? He may have been the laughingstock of Arthur’s knights, but he survived to the end of the film, didn’t he? Everyone else died or got arrested, but good ol’ brave Sir Robin ended his days comfortably at home, a good book in his lap, a pipe in his mouth, and a snifter of brandy in his hand.
Actually, no. No he didn’t. He died attempting to cross the bridge, because the stupid bastard didn’t know the capital of Assyria.
Anyway, the moral: if you try to rap despite a palpable and blatantly obvious lack of skills, you’ll be cast into a rocky chasm and plummet to your death. Or something like that.
I have a decent memory (sometimes and for some things) but I’m not particularly good at remembering the verbatim of things – which includes poetry, obviously.
I can fake my way through several Shel Silverstein poems from my childhood – “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too,” “The Dragon of Grindly Grun,” and “Always Sprinkle Pepper In Your Hair,” are a few examples – though my father, who read the poems to my brother and me, remembers more of them, and remembers them more accurately.
I can recite pieces of Eliot’s Four Quartets, and the first dozen or so lines of “Prufrock” – though I haven’t done so in a while, and it’s possible I remember less of it than I think I do. I remember bits of various Hardy poems: “The Darkling Thrush,” “In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations,'” “The Convergence of the Twain.” At one time, I knew the entirety of the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V – “Gentlemen in England now a-bed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, / And hold their manhoods cheap…” and all that – but these days the pun on the English “foot” and the French “foutre” seems more important (or more entertaining, anyway).
Verse is hard for me. I’m rhythmically-challenged, and so I have trouble grasping even the basics of one of the fundamental structural elements of poetry. Not understanding the intricacies of meter doesn’t prevent me from memorizing the words, of course – but it is part of what makes poetry difficult for me, and that difficulty means that I don’t read much poetry for pleasure – and I certainly don’t re-visit individual poems with the frequency and semi-regularity that would facilitate committing them to memory.
It’s something I ought to make the time for; at the very least, being able to toss off Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” would make me a hit at parties. The problem – which is the problem today’s task presented me with – is choosing a poem to start with: even limiting myself to the relatively-easy-to-memorize sonnet, there are still too many for an indecisive guy like me to choose from.
I’m going to avoid spending fruitless hours trying to make that choice. Instead, I’m going to bring forth from my memory a poem I already know, and share it with all of you. It doesn’t have a title, and its authorship is uncertain. You may find it challenging, or offensive, or nonsensical – but I have always found it a source of comfort and inspiration:
it be friday slob
i am messhe yes
Today’s task is another of those that requires the participation of multiple individuals: “everyone is to send in a line to create the world’s longest poem.” The first line was given.
Of course, because I’m years behind the times, the version of the Book’s website to which these lines were to be sent no longer
exists works. I dealt with this difficulty by making myself the compiler, rather than a contributor. Where was I to get lines, though? I thought about mining twitter’s public timeline – but, really, that’s something that needs to be experienced unfiltered. I needed content generated by (relatively) normal folks that was also in coherent English, and I found it on Wikipedia, using the random article feature. I left the phrases that I took out of context intact, though I did modify punctuation.
The resulting poem – and I use the term loosely – is not the world’s longest, nor is it in iambic pentameter, and so I’ve fallen short of the Book’s dictates on those points. It is, however, essentially unreadable, which I think was the primary goal.
Mercy, cried the popinjay to the Pope,
The passage on the top cone is secured by ropes!
The “respectable” society is murderous,
The manipulated data structures are in some ways too simple,
Medicine Hat won their first Memorial Cup!
Having decided upon the adoption of certain proposals,
The recorded incantation unleashes an evil force;
After dropping her charge at Charleston,
The medications will do more harm than good!
“The proclamation was codified–”
She lies to a nun on the bus:
“It may be deleted at any time!”
All the parts of the stand are loosened,
The defending champions qualified automatically;
The short release is quite a bit of fun—
It is the sister station—
The component particles will vary in size—
They can be drunk throughout the day,
The nutmeg snails!
Creating a scenic surroundings around it,
The “crimson demon of war”
Was subsequently arrested and held in prison;
This enzyme belongs to the family of oxidoreductases,
He was candidate for Sejm three times;
Draw or paint a duck realistically,
Burn a new scout association,
Modify the area covered by an existing property,
You will have lipstick for dinner!
It is endemic to Seychelles,
A bouncy rock track with classic Deacon Blue slice-of-life lyrics;
He broadcasts weekly for youth.
This article is an orphan,
An indie tribute album by a variety of artists;
The capital of Russia was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg,
It consists of a little red wooden building with a tower!
Opera omnia, exegetica, didacteca, et polemica,
He worked as a delivery truck driver—
Most of the Huguenots who immigrated to the colony
Are prone to flooding, especially in spring and during the typhoon season!
In 1988 she was decommissioned,
And contains no incorporated settlements;
Land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra,
But he was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection.
The mutineers were completely defeated!
He succeeded his father in the earldom!
The larvae bore the stems of Scirpus lacustris!
The grassy ridge of Black Balsam Knob!