Sep. 6, 2004

To a Frustrated Poet

by R. J. Ellmann

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Poem: "To A Frustrated Poet," by R.J. Ellmann, used by permission of the poet.

To A Frustrated Poet

This is to say
I know
You wish you were in the woods,
Living the poet life,
Not here at a formica topped table
In a meeting about perceived inequalities in the benefits and allowances offered to
employees of this college,
And I too wish you were in the woods,
Because it's no fun having a frustrated poet
In the Dept. of Human Resources, believe me.
In the poems of yours that I've read, you seem ever intelligent and decent and patient in a way
Not evident to us in this office,
And so, knowing how poets can make a feast out of trouble,
Raising flowers in a bed of drunkenness, divorce, despair,
I give you this check representing two weeks' wages
And ask you to clean out your desk today
And go home
And write a poem
With a real frog in it
And plums from the refrigerator,
So sweet and so cold.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Irish poet Christopher Nolan, born in Mullingar, Ireland (1965). He suffered a serious brain injury at birth which left him paralyzed and speechless until the age of eleven, when a powerful new drug allowed him to type using a stick strapped to his forehead. He began to write stories and poems that were published as Dam-Burst of Dreams in 1981. His next book was an autobiography, Under the Eye of the Clock: The Life Story of Christopher Nolan (1987), which won the prestigious Whitbread Prize in England. He wrote: "Wearing a pointer attached to a band around my head I had to fight a rebellious, spasm-ridden body for expression through the typing of every single letter. My mind was alive with creativity, but sadly the vessel had no outlet. Imagine then the absolute joy of discovering a leak through which I could slowly squeeze out a sample of my poetic musings."

It's the birthday of writer Robert M. Pirsig, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1928). He became famous with the publication of his first book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), an exploration of metaphysics wrapped up in an account of a motorcycle trip from Minneapolis to the West Coast. He said: "A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself."

It's the birthday of American sculptor Horatio Greenough, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1805). He studied art in Italy before returning to the United States, where he attracted the attention of a wealthy patron whose support helped him become the first American artist to devote himself entirely to sculpture. In 1832, he was commissioned by Congress to create a sculpture of George Washington to stand in the Capitol Rotunda. The sculpture he created was based on the statue of Zeus at Olympia, by the ancient Greek sculptor Pheidias. Greenough's Washington wore sandals, held a sword, and was bare-chested. This semi-nudity was so scandalous that Congress opted to put the statue in the Smithsonian Institution instead of displaying it more publicly in the Capitol Rotunda.

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