Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Zur Laden Zum Gutenberg

Tomorrow is Earth Day and all I can think about is the printing press.  The little bit I know about Gutenberg didn't come for seeing Gutenberg! The Musical! (yes, there is a musical about the printing press) And if it is anything like Mama Mia! I don't want to see it. Musicals make me nervous. Perhaps the only musicals I have seen that didn't cause me to hide my head in my hands when the distant background music starts while someone's in conversation or thought is The Sound of Music and Dancer in the Dark. Perhaps it is the fact that neither of these two need exclamation marks in their titles, but I think it's because The Sound of Music is well, about music so it doesn't seem odd that Maria circles around on a Austrian mountain top with seven children in matching clothes made from curtains when all of them break into song. It seems like a different take on Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs. And Dancer in the Dark? It's an anti-musical musical. A postmodern version of life in America filmed in Denmark where the lead character is played by the Icelandic singer, Bjork. It somehow seems a bit more plausible than ABBA being sung my Meryl Streep in Greece for a young girl's wedding so she can be reunited with her three unknown fathers. Maybe I like Meryl Streep better in Africa with a Danish accent looking like a model for Banana Republic. Streep and Redford didn't need to break into song to prove their love. Maybe musicals aren't for every story.

Yet somehow, the story of the printing press has made it into a one-act musical played by two actors, Bud and Doug, who sing and act all the parts. I find it hard to connect the idea of a 15th century German epochal invention with a modern day score sung by two guys in baseball caps. But then again, Romeo and Juliet merged on the streets of 1950's New York for West Side Story. And Christ comes to life in Hamlet Two's "Rock me Sexy Jesus", so who am I to criticize a musical about a German man and his dream to print the Bible. What is known about this inventor and artist is mostly the Gutenberg Bible, yet what is interesting to note is that the first published document in 1439 was a poem. One could argue that a poem is short and a practical genre for a test run. Yet, I cannot imagine it was a German haiku. I cannot tell you the title or the author, but I find it interesting that he chose a poem to be the first printed text. 

Poetry has this beauty about how it looks on a page. No matter what language or from what era the poem is written or even if it is held up across the room, you know a poem when you see one. Its indention, its length, its shyness to go all the way to the right side of the page. Even in Arabic, you can identify a poem by it's appearance and if your eyes attempt to read it backwards. Poetry wants to be identified even it's by ee cummings. You recognize that it's a poem long before you read about the goatfoatedballoonman. Regardless of the eons that people have been writing poems on papyrus or stone, the shape has not been altered or changed much.

But what has changed is how a lot of poetry is now published. Now we are in D.A. the digital age, but does poetry translate on the screen? Does it have the same affect? Should we honor our Earth by not cutting down more trees for such small words to be printed on paper? Will something be lost if we stop the printing press? These are the questions I ask on this almost Earth Day. These are the questions I ask you, my now thirteen readers, about my dream that I cannot seem to let go of.

No, I don't have the private hope of writing a musical. Although I once worked at a French Restaurant where I would entertain my co-workers by threatening to write Chateaulin a bawdy play about a gay bartender named Lance who wants to leave Ashland, Oregon to become a performer in NYC. It just seemed too real and not enough flare for music. But what is real is my dream to have a book of poems published. I have stopped believing in the small press fairies that will someday visit me at night and leave a book under my pillow. I have sent out my manuscript, Recoil, so many times I am afraid to add up the amount I have spent on "reading fees" for first book contests. Sure, I know the stories of countless authors and their rejections. I am surprised there isn't a high school musical about J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye on how it was rejected hundreds of times before it was picked up by the New Yorker

Poetry is a bit different than fiction. First of all, few people read it, which means few publishers want to risk something that they already know won't make any money. Secondly, poetry isn't like basketball. There aren't any scouts out there looking for the next Magic Johnson, the next Shakespeare. Also, poetry (unlike musicals or basketball) doesn't have "try outs" it just has lots of small presses that have limited budgets and an even more limited readership. Yet despite all of these apparent obstacles, I still want to find a way to publish a book of poems.

This past week a book arrived in the mail which I have been waiting for The Dance Most of All by Jack Gilbert. I pre-ordered it over a month ago and have been anxiously awaiting its debut. I ordered it in hard cover and gently opened the box it came in and savored the first opening of the pages; its scent and the experience of opening the bound world in my hands. I gently ran the pages through my fingers and let the book open itself to the first poem it wanted me to read. This is truly something I could sing about. The act of holding a book, the private world that you feel as a reader, is something that I just cannot force myself to feel while sitting in front of a computer when I read something as intimate as a poem. Yet, here I am. I am sitting in front of you as I write this. I am going to be including a poem at the bottom which I hope you will read. Can I tell you that I didn't write this poem in front of the computer, but while pulling weeds and envisioning an herb garden? Can I ask you if you would read a book on poems on a computer or would you want to read it alone in your own comfortable chair, maybe under a window away from the mechanical glow of a screen?

I ask you these questions because my husband is trying to convince me to self-publish a book of poems. He has found a way to publish on-line but I am stubborn. Despite my earnest interest in this blog, this internet outreach program I have started, I still have dreams of a book. Please forgive my selfish need, Earth, to cut down trees to see my poems find a home in your own mailbox someday. But I am curious. I am eager to see my dream realized. Hell, isn't this the basic plot line of most musicals say Annie or Tommy? I just don't expect Daddy Warbucks to come knocking on my door or the Who to want to cover my life in song. So I ask you, my faithful readers: What do you think about publishing a book of poems on the internet? Any feedback is always welcomed thanks to the comment box. And if  I do get a book of poems published, I'll make certain Andrew Lloyd Weber doesn't get a hold of it. We all know what happened to Cats or is it Cats!.
Until then, enjoy a new poem. 


There's a shoe box in my closet filled with flowers,
photos of poppies and fields of Poland
springing away from grey block homes
and fenced gardens. Not one view of a person
or a room I once lived in, open petals
of a daisy I keep hidden. My private season.
I imagine even Chopin played sometimes
just for himself, his heart swollen as a bowl
of bulbs forced to bloom in a wintered kitchen.
All scent and snow. Nocturnes to play in the morning
or he'd walk the haunting streets of spring,
where a tulip boxed under a city window
could weep in public, instead of him. 


  1. ...his heart swollen as a bowl
    of bulbs forced to bloom in a wintered kitchen.

    lovely, emily.

  2. oh, and emily, I'd much prefer to read your poems while lying in my hammock, or aloud at presque. I'm willing to wait.

    *Don't tell your husband I poo-poo'd his idea.