What The Hell Is A Not-Poem?

A few years ago, I was invited to participate in the CBC Poetry Faceoff. This is a national event in which poets from each province complete locally and then nationally for literary fame and glory. But I’m not really a poet, though, I’ve written the occasional poem, and I’ve even managed to trick a few magazine and anthology editors into publishing some of them.

Where I really excel is in writing not-poems. In fact, it was my not-poetry and my status as a not-poet that attracted the attention of the folks at the Poetry Faceoff. They said, “How can this be?” and offered me money to write a not-poem and do a live not-poem reading.

Now, I’m not sure what profession you’re in, but in the arts world, money for your work is something akin to panning for gold in the Gobi Desert (having said that, gold will now be discovered in the Gobi desert…in an underground river).

Astounded by the prospect of payment for my art, I agreed and headed off to the Second Cup Coffee Shop (I also write at Reads Coffee Shop…where I’m sitting at the moment, writing) to write a not-poem on the topic of flight.

When the live reading came around, I was asked to define “not-poetry.” Unfortunately, my beer-muddled mind failed to reach into my memory to extract an intelligent, precise and clear definition. This happens to me often, and I’m beginning to suspect that people wait until my brain is beer-sodden before asking me questions. Which is fine with me. Questions invoke thought and, as we all know, thinking hurts. Beer helps to assuage the pain of thinking, albeit at the expense of clarity and accuracy. So I’m in a good place most of the time. But not now. Now, I will attempt (without the medicinal aid of beer) to define what the hell a not-poem is.

First and most important, it’s a rant. OK, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Biff Mitchell…ranting?” Especially those of you who know me through Facebook. But, yes, I sometimes rant, especially when I’m writing a not-poem. Or confronting Windows 8. Or thinking out loud about browser hijackers.

Not-poems are the ideal medium for ranting.

Consider the characteristics of a rant: angry, incoherent, irrational, boisterous, uncontrolled, et al. These just happen to be the stuff of a well-writing not-poem. However, the rant must be directed, the target of direction being the Twenty-first Century. There’s damned little poetry in the Twenty-first Century. We live in prose times.

The attitude of a not-poem is one of disillusionment, dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration and anger over where we’ve landed ourselves as a species. I won’t comment on this, for fear of tearing off into a rant and turning this into a not-post. I’ll just get on to the next point: Not poems are written mindlessly, without planning, plot or structure. You just let your feelings burst up as a spontaneous overflow of sour emotions, like puking words onto the page. Think: Splatter. And then push everything to the right margin. You’d be surprised at how much innate order emerges when you push things to the right margin.

In terms of physical appearance, a not-poem looks at one time like poetry, and at another time like prose. The prose visual tends to be one long sentence of poor grammatical construction, similar to the poetry visual, but blockier and dense.

Here’s how a not-poem looks:

Driving to the End of the World

Disgusted with my bloodless life
I packed it into my Buick

I packed my iPad and my Kindle
I packed my 64 gig memory stick and my 5 gallon red retro microwave
I packed my 20 mega-pixel digital camera and my 1000 watt surround sound high definition home entertainment system
into the trunk of my Buick

I packed my expired library card and my Air Miles rewards card
I packed my maxed out credit cards and my noisy next-door neighbors
into the passenger seat of my Buick

I packed my holy umbrella
I packed my dirty little secrets
I packed my broken dreams and my Christmas bash list
into the glove compartment of my Buick

When my Buick was fully packed
I drove it to the end of the world

It was farther than I thought

I drove my Buick across the never-ending Plains of Extended Credit and into the Horizons of Limited Warranties and through the Valley of the Shadow of Foreclosure right where it intersects with the Avenue of 41 Market-Tested Flavors

I drove my Buick into the night
and into the day and under the Bridge of Last Warnings and into the Clear Blue Sky and into the Deep Green Sea right up Poseidon’s seaweed ass

But I wasn’t there yet

I had dreams on my way to the end of the world
I dreamed about waking up some day and finding everything was OK and death didn’t really take away my parents and my hamster Sunflower and I dreamed about flying upwards into the sky without wings like jumping off the Trampoline of the World and into the clouds and that was just fine with me
with the view and all
and the geese
silly-like in the wake of a jet stream and it wasn’t so safe up there after all
and I should have been wearing some special apparatus for the trip down
which began to worry me at just about the moment I started downwards and it wasn’t a helluva lotta fun anymore and it was almost like driving to the end of the world as I waved to Mom and Dad and the hamster while they smiled and waved back from behind a cloud that didn’t exist

I saw things on my way to the end of the world

Things like a man standing on a sidewalk and shaking hands with all the dogs and cats in the neighborhood and saying vote for me I’m your only hope and making promises to all the dogs and cats like
a human baby for breakfast every day
and there were shadows and shades of gray all around the man as he shook and promised and there were things like a mall the size of a quarter flattened to cover the entire world as a steady stream of people with television-heads marched into the mall with their SUVs and sedans following them and the mall’s extremities stretched and groaned and bulged with the unrelenting flow of 49 dollar a month pure bred dogs with terribly white teeth barking from the windows of every second Minivan until the building burst along the seams of another damned mall-wide buy one get one half price sale and exploded all Velcro and pre-washed into the value-added night while strange sounds drifted from the ridge of another moonlit billboard with the flames of a homeless cook fire sending Morse Code messages through the scaffolding slats straight into the hearts of passersby who
never did
and never will
give a fuck

I heard music on my way to the end of the world

It went something like hoochie coochie baby curl up and forget the world in my tootsie roll arms and legs and little smoochie shimmy shakes on the patio of my bam boom lovin’ room my ha cha cha traveler on your way to the end of the world

And I felt things I’d never felt before as I drove to the end of the world

I felt the lightness of my years evaporating into the heaviness of a thousand regrets for not having jumped into the not-knowing that time when I was young but turning into who I would be and the time I should have said hi instead of darting my eyes away from her a split second before she began to smile and the time I hung onto that fucking quarter as I walked past the old woman dressed in rags and grief and I felt the joy of the first time I buried my head between a woman’s legs and forgot about my dick for a few minutes and I felt the wonder of the time I first dove off a high dive into a pool of chlorinated water which ended up in a painful belly flop but I survived and all I really remember is the quiet air surrounding my head as I drove to the end of the world

I drove my Buick
foot to the floor to the end of the world
I drove my Buick
windows wide open to the end of the world
I drove my Buick
windshield wipers blazing and head lights glaring and horn blaring straight past the sign of no return on the way to the end of the world screaming
hallelujah I’m finally free screaming
goodbye to the complication and the veneer
screaming into the simple life at the end of the world
goodbye to all the shit in my Buick
withering into husk dust
fuck you

And that’s when my Buick turned into a magnificent chariot with fiery wings and dark horses and I throbbed in the womb of life and drove
screaming and screaming
to the end of the world

Now, you try it. Sit straight, think uptight thoughts, tense your muscles, breath erratically, blink a lot and spew onto the page.

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