03 November 2008

What's the occasion?

The world seems to deal with poets in this way, sometimes:

Oh, you're a poet?

Well then, why don't you write a poem about the new stadium on campus?

That's a silly example, but we are indeed called upon to write occasional poems sometimes. Right now I'd like to write a poem about getting strep throat the same weekend that a beloved cat dies. But my poetry machine just doesn't work that way. Or, it does, and the results will have nothing to do with streptococcal infection or pets.

How do you feel about occasional poems? Have you ever (successfully, or unsuccessfully) written a poem for someone's birthday, or wedding, or pet, or throat?

Conversely, if someone were to consider all of your extant works to be occasional poems of some sort, what would be the occasion?

I think that my poems could serve as reverse-occasional poems for:

a) Wild, naughty adolescent girls who like to hop in the back seats of Thunderbirds with strangers.

b) The parents of wild, naughty adolescent girls who like to hop in the back seats of Thunderbirds with strangers, unbeknownst to their parents.

c) Maybe some kind of council on urban blight in mid-sized rust belt cities. They could read my occasional poem out loud, and then decide to vote in favor of that community center after all.

d) People who just want to read something that isn't an occasional poem.

Any thoughts on this topic? Anybody want to write a poem about it?


Justin Evans said...

My friend Dave Lee has been commissioned to write poems for several organizations, but he refuses to write one for any group affiliated with government.

He was poet Laureate for the state of Utah and was asked buy the state legislature to write a poem and he flatly refused, explaining that that isn't how poetry works.

He won't write occasional poems. He will write a poem given some guidelines (e.g. a poem which could be adapted into a performance or a film, meaning a narrative poem) but he will not write a poem to mark the occasion of any event unless it is his own doing.

I like his thinking.

Stephanie King said...

I get those types of requests ALL THE TIME!

I have to be completely honest, it drives me absolutely crazy. I can't stand that everyone just assumes that because I am a poet I want to write a poem about Easter or retirement...

I cannot successfully write occassional poems. I've never been able to. So, when someone asks me to do these things, I turn them down. I always feel horrible to do that... I think that's why I hate it so much when I'm asked.

erieblue said...

The only successful occasional poem I've ever written was for my daughter's wedding. How can you refuse that?

Talia said...

I've been asked to "find" a poem for certain occassions at church, and when asked, I usually manage to find something, but it always makes the eyebrows raise...so they finally quit asking me.

julie platt said...

when I was a senior in high school, a girl in my class was killed in a car accident. our yearbook adviser asked me to write a poem in tribute to her. i barely knew this girl, and in all honesty the only thing i remembered about her was once hearing her make a racist comment during an after-school activity. but still, i agreed to write it because i felt like it was my duty--my teacher said i was the "poet laureate of woodland hills high school."

since then, i haven't been called to write another poem, but i was asked to write a eulogy for my grandmother. i've been told to be prepared to write another, as my surviving grandparent is 92.

the equation: funeral director's kid + one of the millions of americans who suffer from chronic depression + poet = death writer.

i don't really mind doing it. i would not really want to write a death tribute to dick cheney, but so far all those i've written for were loved by someone. if i can do something that is meaningful for those who grieve, that makes me feel like i did something right/good.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

I've written a number of occasional poems for things, but they tend to be light work (skippy heroic couplets or the like) and straightforward rather than something I'd ever try to publish elsewhere--the people who want those poems like them better that way, I can write them much faster, and I don't fret as much over little revisions.

Oliver de la Paz said...

Alberto Rios, one of my teachers in grad school, wrote occasional poems all the time. No, they weren't his best poems and he knows this.

Me, I've been asked to in the past, but I can't do it. . . I have read poems at weddings, but they were poems that I had already written, outside of the occasion.


Word Verification: calumbho

P. J. said...

I wrote an epithalamium for my sister's wedding. I can't even look at it. It makes me queasy, like eating to much cotton candy and salt water taffy at Cedar Point before riding the corkscrew.

John Gallaher said...

I consider all the poems I've ever written to be occasional poems, but I think I'm probably alone in thinking that.

Take on May

It's the first day of finals week and I already have that loopy off-my-routine feeling. Waiting for things to grade, and when those ...