Making the Case for Maine Prose
Maine inaugurated a new governor this week, amid much less pomp and circumstance than usual. While there was music – some martial pieces and, for reasons no one can explain, an a cappella group singing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young songs. There were testimonials and recognitions of the state’s Indian tribes. And there was an inaugural address by Gov. Paul LePage.
What there wasn’t was any poetry.
For some odd reason, this omission caused great distress among poets. I mean, LePage also cancelled the traditional inaugural ball, but I’m unaware of any boycotts staged by ballroom dancers. The governor didn’t have a big, fancy dinner, but the state Society of Overpriced Caterers didn’t picket the event. Fireworks? No, but nobody heard any angry words from spokespersons for the pyrotechnics industry.
Poets, however, went all dithyrambic.
There was a letter to the editor.
There was a protest in Portland’s Longfellow Square.
There was a limerick contest.
Some really awful haikus, too.
Inaugural planners were unmoved. The event was, with the exception of the CSN&Y numbers, conducted entirely in prose. And that seems entirely appropriate. Recent fictional findings from the U.S. Census show that more than 99 percent of Mainers speak either in prose or in an Allen’s Coffee Brandy-induced mumble that closely mirrors prose structure, except for the coherence part.
Also, most of the limericks were awful. This is one of the best, from a posting on the As Maine Goes Web site:
“We won't have the access we oughta,
The S. O. B. hired his daughter,
to guard the front door,
and give Repub's the floor.
For forty one grand he just bought her!”
And that letter to the editor from Joshua Bodwell, executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, argued the case for poetry based in part on Portland native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s falsified version of history:
“When ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ came out in 1860,” Bodwell wrote, “that Boston silversmith, rebel, and American hero was largely forgotten – today, Revere’s patriotism is ingrained in our nation’s very sense of self.”
He was forgotten because he never completed his ride, having been captured by the British. Later, he was one of the leaders of a disastrous military failure. Being ignored by history was probably a kindness.
Poets, as LePage undoubtedly realized, are frequently subject to outbreaks of fabrication and hyperbole. An inauguration, by its very nature, already has plenty of both.
The governor got strong support for his decision from a newly formed group, Mainers Organized For Official Plain Unvarnished Speaking Styles (MOFOPUSS). At an Augusta rally, the organization’s founders stood in front of a huge portrait of Stephen King (“He writes good,” one of them explained) urging the governor to issue an executive order requiring all state functions to be conducted in prose (“And no big words, either,” another anti-poet proclaimed).
This effort met with immediate opposition not only from poets, but also from most of the major state agencies and departments. As one unnamed source told me, “We don’t want the public meddling in what we do, so we usually conduct our business in verse, often in Latin.”
MOFOPUSS isn’t limiting its activities to state government. The group is also taking aim at the business community, particularly the film industry (“How many times have you seen the phrase, ‘Based on actual events’ at the beginning of a movie?” said one activist. “Well, ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ is based on actual events, and it’s mostly false”), the pharmaceutical industry (“Side effects were mostly mild and included death, dismemberment, rectal bleeding and dithyrambic exhortations”) and the Maine banking industry, which recently launched a state-supported effort to reach a demographic group it characterizes as “the unbanked.”
Apparently, “the unbanked” are the people who used to be referred to as “poor.” They didn’t need banks because they didn’t have any money, and banks didn’t want them because they might infect the expensive furniture in the president’s office with bedbugs. But times are a lot more desperate than they used to be, and bankers have decided they can’t afford to write off an entire class of potential consumers, even ones that are nearly penniless because they work as poets or Paul Revere apologists or a cappella singers with an extensive repertoire of CSN&Y tunes.
So financial institutions are offering deals to the “unbanked” as well as the “unhoused,” the “unfed” and the “unwashed” in hopes that the new governor will stimulate the economy, thereby creating jobs for these folks, whereupon they’ll start savings accounts or buy certificates of deposit or use their debit cards to open locked doors and steal stuff.
MOFOPUSS officials say they’re not opposed to banks reaching out to low-income people, but they want the savings institutions to be honest and straightforward about it. Instead of calling these potential customers the “unbanked,” the group says they should refer to them as “helpless suckers.”
For further evidence that words do matter, let us turn to the news of a recent drug bust in the town of Dexter.
The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (motto: Drop the OxyContin, Grandma, And Assume The Position) arrested two people who run a business called, no kidding, the Trippy Hippy Co.
I’m no lawyer, but I’d guess that the name alone constitutes probable cause.
Still, it rhymes, so I suppose this is another government assault on poetry.
To date, however, the cops have not come charging through the doors of the Maine company that invented a toy called Flickin’ Chicken.
Instead, the game, which involves throwing rubber chickens at a target shaped suspiciously like a poet, has been nominated for a prestigious award: the Nobel Prize.
Uh, sorry. Toys are not eligible for the Nobel, particularly toys that disparage poetry. Instead, Flickin’ Chicken is up for the honor of being named outdoor toy of the year by the Toy Industry Association.
If it wins, it will really put Maine on the rubber-chicken map. We’ll have factories to manufacture game parts, executives to oversee the marketing campaign (“Available at the Trippy Hippy in Dexter and other fine stores”) and lots of jobs for the “unbanked.”
As Gov. LePage would, no doubt, put it, that sounds like sheer poetry.
Al Diamon has completed his set.
It’s time for him to wrap up and get.
If you’ve got something to say,
Or you object in some way,