Poetry-in-place

Poetry on a stick. Photo by Marco Verch (via Flickr)
Jason Cassidy

Read aloud the poem below, yelling the word “Corndog!” every time it appears:

CORNDOG!
Corndog!
amber brown
Corndog!
perfect core
Corndog!
what are we eating?
Corndog!
what are we rooting for?
Corndog!
got a bad taste in your mouth?
Corndog!
you know what will get it out
Corndog!
down to the stick
Corndog!
out of the fryer
Corndog!
burns your tongue but is it not worth it?
Corndog!
grill it break it deep fry!
Corndog!
but then it is all gone
down to the stick
I want another
Corndog!

“CORNDOG” is a 5th-grader’s contribution to a The Talk-Yell Poem lesson, one of 30 poet-created workshops that the California Poets in the Schools organization has posted on a special Online Poetry Workshop for Youth webpage. The Talk-Yell lesson was created by Claire Blotter, a Marin poetry teacher, and it strikes a chord with Arts DEVO, mostly because it helps break the boredom of being cooped up at home by getting loud. (Also because the Corndog Kid is onto something: Eating one to get a bad taste out of your mouth? Brilliant!)

All of the lessons look super fun, and they offer an engaging option for those schooling at home—kids, teachers and parents—during this COVID-19 pandemic.

April is National Poetry Month, and of all the arts, writing is probably most immune to being significantly impacted by the shelter-in-place order that will last for the duration of the celebration. We can all still write and read poetry, and as a bonus both of those activities are helpful at times like these. On its poets.org website—which features a wide range of virtual activities and resources—the Academy of American Poetry addresses the current circumstances in its introduction to National Poetry Month: “More and more people are turning to poetry at this moment, because poetry and inspiring language can help bring solace and needed strength.”

I know that I’ve turned to poetry—both on the page and in the music—for comfort and to escape in recent weeks. Old favorites by Antonio Machado, Will Oldham, Leonard Cohen and Derek Wolcott have provided solace.

The words and melodies that have moved through me the most (just as they have for many of you) over the past week have been those of John Prine. A poet of the highest order, the great American songwriter died on April 7 from COVID-19 at the age of 73.

As much as I love his compact poetry, storytelling, sense of melody, playfulness, fearlessness and clever wordplay, it’s the tender heart at the center of his songs that destroys me, especially now. Prine’s music can get a person through a lot, but processing the end of his life through the man’s songs is rough on (yet ultimately comforting for) my own tender heart.

A buddy of mine, former Chico State English instructor and one-time CN&R contributor Steve Metzger, chose Prine’s “When I Get to Heaven” for a recent “Poem for the day” Facebook post, and since it’s the perfect choice, I’ll do the same. [Note: Stay tuned for more verse. The winners of the CN&R’s annual Poetry 99 contest go online tomorrow (April 10).]

When I Get to Heaven (John Prine)

When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock ’n’ roll band
Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the Tilt-A-Whirl
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town

Then as God is my witness, I’m gettin’ back into show business
I’m gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness”
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, I might even invite a few choice critics, those syphilitic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint of Smithwick’s and smother ’em with my charm

‘Cause then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the Tilt-A-Whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

Yeah when I get to heaven, I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time after you’ve bought the farm?
And them I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, “Buddy, when you’re dead, you’re a dead pecker-head”
I hope to prove him wrong, that is, when I get to heaven

‘Cause I’m gonna have a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the Tilt-A-Whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town


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