Gary Lehmann - Author

Author's Publications and Upcoming Appearances

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Case for Prose Poetry

For a long time now, 15, 20 years, I’ve been writing a mixture of tradition poetry about personal experiences and prose poetry about special moments in the lives of famous people. Nobody actually deputized me to write this way. It just emerged as the best way to tell the story of key moments in these people’s lives. I’m talking about the first time FDR’s polio caused him to fall down in public. Or when Sigmund Freud discovered that he had misunderstood his father when he was a boy.

Some editors have written back to say that what I have sent them is not real poetry. I never disagree. It’s poetry-like, but written in prose. It’s not strictly fictional since it’s based on facts related to a real person. It’s not prose non-fiction either. The language is tighter than prose narratives. The intent is to encircle a moment in time with some words that illuminate character, like an essay, but to do so in a very limited number of words. It has a poetic design in that it is short and pointed. It looks like poetry on the page.

Well, rather than try to define it, why don’t I just show you some of the poems I have been writing and let you decide what to call it.

Mother Love

Gary Lehmann

Her good friend, Harvey Bailey said Ma Barker couldn’t plan breakfast.
Yet, Ma Barker is known to history as an illustrious gun moll of the early thirties.
It is true that she was frequently around while her four sons planned bank robberies,
but when the day came, they sent their mother to the movies -- out of harm’s way.
No police station had her photo. No law enforcement agency got her fingerprints.
She never spent a day in jail. She was the notorious crime boss who never was.

Some say the fledgling FBI spread the rumor of Ma Barker’s criminal activities
after they inadvertently killed her in a raid on her son’s cabin on Lake Weir, Florida. After gunning her down, the G-Men took a picture of her with a Tommy gun.
The implication was clear enough. The press loved it. Mother and son shoot out.
Did she pick up the gun after the police started filling the cabin with flying lead?
Was she cowering in the corner the whole time? Does it really matter in the end?

Her sons were bad boys for sure. Highway robbery, auto theft, vagrancy, several bank robberies, killing a night watchman in a hospital, attempted burglary, a shootout with the police, several murders, suicide, burglary and killing a sheriff, killing their own attorney, killing a policeman and a innocent bystander, two police murders, kidnapping, payroll robbery, assassination, wounding a policeman during a traffic stop, killing a doctor and a gangster in Chicago, mail train robbery, and escaping from prison.

Surely she profited from the proceeds of crime, but that doesn’t get the death penalty. The litany of the gang’s criminal activity doesn’t offer her much of a defense, but her participation in the gang can be more easily explained by pure mother love. I think the FBI shot first and covered up later to draw attention away from their misdeed. She doesn’t exactly qualify as Public Enemy #1 -- except in the annals of FBI history. It’s hard to show love for your sons when they act up and cause trouble all the time.

The Dukinfield Connection

Gary Lehmann

He was born with the ridiculous name, William Claude Dukenfield.
So, he changed it to W. C. Fields. He claimed to be descended from
Lord Dukinfield of Cheshire, even though there is no evidence to prove
there ever was any such a noble personage. W. C. Fields a Lord?

In 1857, U.S. Immigration authorities listed his grandfather as a
comb maker. His father, James, appears in the 1860 census as
a baker, but by 1870 he claimed to make his living as a huckster,
someone who sells things in the street. That’s more like it.

His son, W. C., helped him in this trade until he was 11 when
he ran away to join a vaudeville company. He developed a
juggling act, but things went wrong. He kept dropping the balls.
So he turned to comedy, a natural enough transition considering.

I guess he found that if you have the right joke, you don’t really
need a product to make the sale. His humor was based on his
disrespect for authority and his dislike of the politically correct.
If W. C. Fields were alive today, he’d die of terminal propriety.

The Goat
dedicated to General George Armstrong Custer and Major General George Pickett

Gary Lehmann

At West Point, graduation was conducted by rank in class.
At the top, competition was extremely fierce, but a much more
subtle competition existed at the bottom of the class to graduate the Goat,
to have the honor of saying you graduated last in your class.

This achievement involved infinitely complex manipulation of the final reports.
To achieve your goal, you had to know the answers to the exam questions cold
so you could correctly answer just enough to pass, but not one more than
required. Otherwise, some other lucky fellow would sneak in on you.

As West Point faculty came to recognize over time, this takes intelligence,
strategy and verve of the sort required on real-life battlefields.
After all, anyone can win with a vastly superior force. The trick in life,
and in war, is to achieve a strategic goal with limited resources.

In the Frame

Gary Lehmann

The Indian chiefs were invited to Washington after the fighting was largely over
to sign treaties, define reservation boundaries, and settle terms of surrender.

They came by rail and dressed in white man’s clothes, visible signs of their defeat.
They were shown immense arsenals of weapons to convince them never to fight again.

They met in endless meetings and went home knowing concession was the only option.
Many joined the Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and became sideshow attractions.

The defeated chiefs were sent to the photo studio of Alexander Gardner where
their pictures were taken in miscellaneous Indian costumes, regardless of tribal customs.

Crazy Horse was the only major chief to refuse to succumb to white authority.
He tried to surrender with the rest, but his spirit could not be conquered.

He fought until the end and when he was finally arrested at Fort Robinson, Nebraska,
he broke away and fought to the death. No one ever took his picture for framing.

The Death Ray

Gary Lehmann

Nikola Tesla worked for Edison and Westinghouse
to be part of electrifying America. He was dark and gaunt,
every film maker’s model of a mad scientist.

As early as 1908, he planned and with the help and money
of J. Pierpont Morgan, built a giant magnifying transformer
in Shoreham, Long Island called the Death Ray.

It had something to do with particle beams and terrestrial stationary waves.
The idea was to concentrate electrical energy into a thin beam
so intense that it would travel large distances without dissipating.

When he fired it over the North Pole, it was unclear whether
the device was working until an owl flew threw in to the beam a bird
and flew out a fluff of feathers. Then reports came in from Siberia.

A 15-megaton blast appeared, probably a comet, causing
a giant fire ball which destroyed half a million acres of land.
It was the largest explosion in human history.

See! Tesla cried gloating intolerably.
Immediately after his death in a New York hotel room,
the plans for the Death Ray mysteriously disappeared.

People say the Germans stole them, but
it could have been the Russians or even the US Army.
Tesla was gone, so what did it matter?

Like Ice on a Hot Skillet

Gary Lehmann

Every city in the world has at least one museum dedicated to the best of art,
MOBA is the only museum dedicated entirely to collecting and showing the worst.

The Museum of Bad Art in suburban Boston celebrates the enthusiastic work
of artists with limited talent, abysmal judgment, and little sense of color balance.

It’s a sort of touchstone or foil for every other art museum in the world.
We’re here to celebrate the right to fail, explained permanent interim director.

Nine out of ten pieces don't get in because they're simply not bad enough.
What an artist considers to be bad doesn't always meet our low standards.

The MOBA has a firm policy of not paying more than $6.50 for a new acquisition,
though noteworthy exceptions have been made for particularly squalid attempts.

One painting in the permanent collection has a big knife slash through it.
We like to think this represents a moment of epiphany on the part of the artist.

We were more or less forced to rotate our exhibits, he explains apologetically.
Take a look around for yourself. The public can only stand so much.

The Big Meeting

Gary Lehmann

In 1991, Bill Gates’ mother tried to get him to meet Warren Buffet.
Fortune Magazine listed them as two of the richest men in the world.
Gates was against it. Why bother? he said. What will we talk about?

But powerful men don’t resist the wishes of their mothers for very long
and eventually they did meet, and they found they had a lot to talk about.
IBM, for example, and why information technology is a good investment.

They talked about the special obligation big money imparts on the wealthy,
but, they both agreed, it was hard to be philanthropic in a way that does good.
Buffet encouraged Gates to read the World Bank Report on the causes of poverty.

Gates encouraged Buffet to think about the method he uses at the Gates Foundation
to screen potential fields of philanthropy before even inviting grant applications.
Buffet was impressed with Gate’s integrity and dedication to giving money away.

They both agreed that it was a lot harder than earning big money in the first place.
More talk ensued. Pretty soon Gate’s people were sharing ideas with Buffet’s people
and Buffet’s people were sharing some realistic numbers with Gates and his people.

It was all very different for everyone. What they ended up contemplating is one
of the biggest mergers of fortunes the world has ever known for the good of mankind.
Mother was right, and who knows what good she has done for the world?

Rodin tries to catch the wind

Gary Lehmann

In 1851, the sculptor Auguste Rodin accepted a commission
from a Parisian writers’ group to produce a sculpture
of the famous French author Honore de Balzac,
but things did not go well in Rodin’s drafty studio.
Cold weather froze his brain and the real Balzac evaded him.

Balzac was self-conscious. Few images were taken of him in life.
Besides, he died 40 years earlier. Few remembered exact details.
Of his personality, they remembered plenty.
He was physically large and overbearing in his mannerisms.
In his opinions, he was powerful, controversial, sexy.

How to convey all these contradictions in bronze?
The metal seemed harder than ever.
Rodin tried a nude Balzac, but the corpulent Balzac looked flabby.
The statue failed to convey Balzac’s immense sexual power.
Only the face reflected his strong will and powerful beliefs.

So, Rodin tried an athletic Balzac, much slimmer
than he appeared in life, his hands only partially concealing
a half erect penis. The public reacted with shock.
It didn’t even look like Balzac. The pose was lewd.
The failure was a great humiliation, but Rodin did not give up.

Finally, Rodin settled on an expressive face
with the rest of the body covered in a flowing dramatic cape
meant to convey his potency and brooding romanticism.
The public ridiculed this version as well. They called it,
Balzac’s head stuck on a tree trunk.

Exhausted after years of effort, Rodin retired from the field,
sent the commission back to his patrons and reclaimed his work.
Even in defeat, the modern world reveres his failed sculptures,
as a testament to the futile effort to capture real life in bronze,
the hopeless quivering toil of every artist to capture the wind.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read the article. Thanks for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more soon.

10:38 AM  
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