“On Watching ‘Makin’ Bacon Pancakes (10 Hour Version)'”: new poem in 300 Hours a Minute

In late September, a crowd of good-looking literati and the 6 sweaty weirdos converged on Reunion Island Coffee to celebrate the launch of Desert Pets Press‘s two inaugural chapbooks: the gorgeously designed poems from Still by E. Martin Nolan (you may know him as Ted); and the too-hip-to-be-square anthology 300 Hours a Minute: Poems about YouTube Videos.

poems from Still - E Martin Nolan

If you’re jealous of this cover…

300 Hours a Minute: Poems about YouTube Videos

…swipe right.

Thanks to Catriona Wright for (let’s say) commissioning my contribution to the anthology, “On Watching ‘Makin’ Bacon Pancakes (10 Hour Version).'” She may not remember insisting that YouTube poems are “the only kind of ekphrastic poem that counts,” but it was a pretty polemical pitch. Fastforward seven months: I was overtired and also ‘tired,’ so when I read “On Watching…” at the launch, I failed to read its title (yup), synopsize its source YouTube video, or explain its kid’s-table-seat at the venerable feast called durational art. But the Desert Pets Press website has gone live! And you can order this chapbook now! So here:

How to Write Your Own (10 Hour Version) YouTube Poem:

  1. Read the Vice interview with Benjamin Bennett, YouTube’s livestreaming meditation Lothario.
  2. Complete a statistically insignificant random sample of Bennett’s four-hour videos to determine that, yes, he’s sat motionless and smiling for a total of [updated as of posting] 596 hours.
  3. Stare at Tom Friedman’s “1,000 Hours of Staring” for 1 minute.
  4. Consider you’re staring at your screen, which has already suffered
  5. (calculate this quickly) some 10k hours of your eyeball beams.
  6. Read the comments section below the picture of Friedman’s sheet of paper, attending carefully to this apt deflation of literary criticism: “The fact that ‘art has no definition’ allows people to get obscene amounts of money and fame for staring at paper. Shameful.”
  7. Read the comments section below the KnowYourMeme entry on 10 hour videos to find one deemed the ___-est (e.g., an eleven-second clip of Adventure Time‘s Jake the Dog making excellent use of musical diegesis, not to mention bacon pancakes, looped 3273 times).
  8. Bid your live-in partner farewell / call in sick / file your living will.
  9. Watch for 10 hours straight, taking notes toward your poem.
  10. Confess. Confess.
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“Mr Crow,” Jack Davis

I’ve come across a few poems in the last weeks that have both prompted me to reconsider academic curricula’s singular esteem for Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and left me wishing there were a global poetry anthology titled Inkbrains: several hundred years of being weirded by corvids. I post this poem because it appears unavailable elsewhere online. It appears availably in Jack Davis’s 1977 collection Jagardoo: Poems from Aboriginal Australia.

Mr Crow, I have been occupied with the thought,
As to how and what I ought
To write of you for some considerable time.
You are detestably difficult to place into rhyme.
There's no symmetrics in your feathers
Or your white-rimmed eye,
Your croaks are akin to leather,
You are cowardly mean and sly.

But when Nature manufactured creatures,
Wise she thought of all the features.
Now if her realm should all be beauty,
Who then would master meaner duty
So when you cawed far back in time,
First struggled out of primeval slime,
Mother Nature paused and said:
From this moment I declare
You will fly and haunt the air
And help me desiccate the dead.

It reads perhaps too simply. But there’s a sonnetic construction (two quatrains and a sestet, with the addition of a terminal quatrain; the turn at “But”) that intersects nicely with the two stanzas’ parallel movements in rhyme (both transition from rhyming couplets to rhyming quatrains). The result, if you’ll make this leap with me, is two partial sonnets assembled into something more than one sonnet. And these two sonnetic conclusions sit juxtaposed without entering synthesis: Mr Crow, you’re ugly, and I’m trying to write a pretty thing; Mr Crow, you do Nature’s work, in which ugliness is necessary.

And the point? Davis’s collection deals with the legacy of colonialism in Australia (notably the early nineteenth-century British declaration that Australian Aboriginal peoples were ‘wards’ of the colonial state), so putting the ugly into a pretty thing without taking the ugliness out of the ugly would be of key concern to him. The social politics of racial stereotyping aren’t hidden far beneath Davis’s unflattering, essentializing, and dismissive description of the ‘crow’ (a common settlement-era Australian slur against Aboriginals), which is underwritten by the dominantly British medium of poetry and its conventions of beauty.

“Mother Nature,” which for those of us inheriting the British tradition has long been poetic cliche, then recuperates Mr Crow not as beautiful but as necessary. This puts me in a strange position as a critical reader: if Mr Crow is being raced as black, using familiar imperial rhetoric about ‘those natives,’ how content can we be with his relegation to custodianship of “the dead”? Or with the paradox that his recuperation-relegation is achieved through the very poetic medium that the Davis of the first stanza denies (however ironically)?

‘The problem is not that poetry can’t handle ugly things, but that poetry, as a discourse, makes things ugly’? That doesn’t seem far off the mark.

Two Poems in The Puritan: “Flyting the Honeybee” and “Hop, Skip, Jump”

The Puritan recently published the winning entries (one prose, one poetry) of the magnificently monikered Inaugural Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence. Congratulations to Nathan L. Pillman and Mark Sampson, respectively. The issue, number xix, contains some big old quivering slabs of quite interesting work.

So if you figure out how two of my poems got into the same issue, you let me know. Maybe they’re the hole that makes the doughnut.