Thursday, April 16, 2009

Unlikely literature

I am not much of a poetry reader. I like things and people that are straightforward and transparent. No trying to guess what they mean. No reading between the lines required. That's probably why I enjoy Wilma McDaniel's poetry. It hardy and down to earth, like life in Oklahoma.

Wilma McDaniel was born in Stroud, OK in the middle of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. That same pandemic took the life of my own great grandfather, incidentally. McDaniel migrated with her family, like characters in Grapes of Wrath, to California during the 1930s. It is said she wrote a poem a day, scribbling on any scrap of paper, and storing them in shoe boxes. She wasn't published until she was 50 years old. If you went to school in Oklahoma you probably read one of her poems in a textbook somewhere along the way. But she's new to me and I'm enjoying the sturdiness of her writing. Here's one for example:

"Burned in the Test" by Wilma McDaniel

I have wasted so much sunrise
scraping oatmeal
from a charred pot

I have often profaned
bright noon
into three pm
waiting by the phone
for a call that never came

Why can't I be satisfied
to soak a pot overnight
and be content with new shoestrings
when the old ones snap

I have spent a cat's lifetime
tying short pieces together

I have glued broken handles
on many cups
waited days to find out
they never hold
and been burned in the test

Or how about a poem by Ethan Coen, one of the famous Coen brothers responsible for Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Burn After Reading. He calls himself a recreational writer. I kind of like that title. I enjoyed his poem "The Drunken Driver Has The Right of Way". Here's an excerpt.

'The Drunken Driver Has the Right Of Way'
by Ethan Coen

The loudest have the final say,
The wanton win, the rash hold sway,
The realist's rules of order say
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The Kubla Khan can butt in line;
The biggest brute can take what's mine;
When heavyweights break wind, that's fine;
No matter what a judge might say,
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The guiltiest feel free of guilt;
Who care not, bloom; who worry, wilt;
Plans better laid are rarely built
For forethought seldom wins the day;
The drunken driver has the right of way.

Now that's the kind of poetry I can understand!

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