Wednesday, June 25, 2008

RomanHans Hears the Mermaids Singing

Somebody intelligent once said, "Poetry is truth hidden in beauty." I think it's more like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, hidden deep inside a pile of bullshit, but then again what do I know? Try as I might, I can't write the crazy stuff.

When I saw ads in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times for the National Library of Poetry's $24,000 contest, though, I knew I had to enter. The Library was "founded in 1982 to promote the artistic accomplishments of contemporary poets. . . . 'We're especially looking for poems from new or unpublished poets,' indicated Howard Ely, spokesperson for The National Library of Poetry, 'we [sic] have a ten year history of awarding large prizes to talented poets who have never before won any type of writing competition.'"

Why, I thought, that describes me to a tee, as long as you ignore the "talented" part. So I sent one of my favorite poems to the Library and a month or so later received this response:

"It is my pleasure to inform you that after reading and discussing your poem, our Selection Committee has certified your poem as a semi-finalist in our . . . North American Open Poetry Contest. . . . [Y]ou have an excellent chance of winning one of 70 cash or gift prizes. . . . And Poet, in view of your talent, we also wish to publish your poem in our forthcoming anthology . . . 'Beneath the Harvest Moon.'"

"'Beneath the Harvest Moon' promises to be one of the most widely read and highly acclaimed additions to the pool of poetic literature. . . . [O]ther poets will appreciate the chance to read your artistry. . . . We're very excited to be able to bring your artistry to the attention of the media and the public through this hardbound edition." With my personal biographical data included, "the media and public can gain a greater awareness about your personal and family history . . . as well as your own personal or philosophical statement."

I held the letter in shaking hands: my dream had finally come true! I'd never been bound in leather, unless you count that weekend with Fergus the Stock Clerk from Stockholm. I was so excited I barely noticed the offer to sell me the "heirloom quality publication" for a mere $49.95, or the $20 fee to include my biographical profile. (Although I did come up with an opening line: "Poet, aesthete, plumber, fop . . . I am a man of all seasons.")

The letter told me to await the publisher's proof, which arrived a few weeks later:

"I'm pleased to inform you that the initial typesetting of your poem for 'Beneath the Harvest Moon' has been completed. The enclosed publisher's proof represents your poem as it is now scheduled to appear in print." And there it was, typeset, with the notation "Wonderful verse!" at the top printed almost like a live person had written it in marker.

But the words "money grubbing" came to mind when I noticed two more offers: they could mount the poem on a "walnut-finished" plaque (clearly different from a walnut plaque) for $38, and they could send me a cassette of "nationally renowned speaker, Ira Westreich" reading the poem to music for $29.95.

There was just one catch: I had to sign a release certifying that I wrote the poem.

What could I do? I was clearly on the brink of international renown and enormous financial gain. But like I said, I'm no Elizabeth Barrett Whoever, so I didn't actually write the poem I submitted. Instead, I sent them a verse I learned as a child. It was so long ago I couldn't remember many of the words, so most of our poem consisted of the words "Tra la la, la la la la."

But I'll never forget how the Banana Splits -- Fleagle, Snork, Drooper and Bingo -- romped and danced while they sang.

In the end I didn't sign the release, because of my mixed feelings about prison. So the poem probably won't be printed. I'll never get that media attention I so deserve. I'll never get the chance to reach other poets of similar artistry. I'll never be bound in leather, or see my work on a "walnut-finished" plaque.

But worst of all, I'll never get to hear the "wonderfully expressive quality" Ira Westreich would give to "One banana two banana three banana four."

Regrets, I have a few.

You may quote me.

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