idol season ten | week 21 | 1035 words
Why it started in the first place was a mystery, but it did. After just a few weeks, it became the law.
One stray limerick or even a haiku could cost you big. The message was clear: poetry was not for amateurs. It had nothing to do with talent, either. It was about regulation and control.
Or maybe it was about someone who had heard one Dr. Seuss parody too many.
It brought out the rebellious streak in some people, which was never the answer. They would infiltrate shopping malls and kick out random piece of hipster trash—mostly for the attention:
Sick, baby, sick,
You love to cry and cry and cry.
Your love is thick like a brick,
Makes me so high I wanna die.
Sick, baby, sick,
You love the pain, you love the hurt.
You want the slick of my di—
"All right, that's enough!" and boom—the cops would be all over them. "License, please."
"I don't need a license for art!"
"That wasn't art, and we don't make the laws—we just enforce them. So either you show us some credentials, or you pay the fine."
Just like that, the rebels and their greenbacks would be parted once again.
The restrictions did not apply to original poetry alone. The number of citations for unauthorized renderings of Auden's Funeral Blues could have funded several small nations, and preschools were going bankrupt over the use of nursery rhymes in books, games, and décor.
The people who did have licenses were often smug. They might commandeer a street corner, or even a stage:
We have known the good, the bad,
And come through it together.
Shoulder to shoulder we will stand
Today, tomorrow, forever.
I'll always have your back.
The cheers and groans from the crowd would compete as certain onlookers grumbled that the poet was a worthless hack.
"He's licensed, and he works for Hallmark!" someone would be sure to point out.
"So what? He has the soul of an accountant!"
Frustrated baristas and dog-walkers who didn't earn enough money to buy their way into the system tried to keep their artistry under wraps. They muttered free verse into their phones when they thought no one was listening, or wrote secret longhand odes in loose-leaf notebooks while hiding in closets.
Poetry circles cropped up in basements, protected by locked doors and ever-changing passwords. Would-be squealers knew they'd lose any hope of a free audience or helpful artistic discussion if they ratted out one of the groups, but it still happened:
—know the sins of ghosts
Who bear our faces.
And in those distant mornings
There are stories
Formed of broken words
And the lies of long-dead men.
They are the cruelest,
The hardest to forget.
"All right, hands up everyone, stay right where you are! We're the government, and this is a raid!"
The poets all had the same question about the laws, the fines, the arrests: "Who is unregulated poetry hurting?"
"That's not for us to say," the police would reply. "You don't like the law, talk to your council members."
Those who did were rarely satisfied with the answers. "Oh, I don't know," Councilman Buzz Haxell said. "Seems like a pretty good idea to me. Have you heard some of the crap people try to pass off as poetry?"
Before long, almost everyone had.
Some would-be poets talked about moving to other areas, where they could release their inner bard.
Several mayors of neighboring counties and states suggested such a move might tempt them to release their inner thug. "I don't want that kind of thing going on in my jurisdiction," one said, under condition of anonymity. "You let that kind of thing start up, and pretty soon you've got candle shops and goats' milk vendors on every corner."
"I don't get what the big deal is," another one said. "I mean, say you don't let all those Shakespeare-sniffing stiffs pen their little rhymes whenever the mood takes 'em, so what? Is all of that 'artistry' gonna back up inside 'em until they blow a gasket or something? I don't think so…"
A few unlicensed poets thought that was exactly what might happen, but what could they do? Pen a satirical ode to a friend for his birthday, and you might spend the next three years on a watch list. A few were forced to pick up extra work after-hours so they could afford to buy a license. It was definitely better than going crazy.
The licensing fad spread to other states and other countries. After a couple of years, worrisome side-effects became evident.
"Hey, that thing I just heard—"
"The one with Roses are red, Violets are blue?"
"Yeah, that one. Was it any good, or was it terrible?"
"I thought it was okay. Say, have you seen the latest from Morrie Moneymaker, the Greeting Card guy?"
"Oh, he's good!"
"The best. I totally 'get' his work, you know?"
"Yep. It's like what you meant to say, only better."
"Exactly! Say, can you change the radio to the Easy-Listening station? That one's my favorite."
Soon, real poetry went the way of classical music and ballet. Fading away into obscurity, it went too quickly for the general public to notice or mourn.
"So, like, my teacher wanted us to read these, like, sonnets or something, from like, a million years ago? I couldn't even. I mean, like, what was the guy trying to say? It was all so pretentious, and like, totally long. Ugh."
"Well, pumpkin, I guess it was a good idea to cut down on that stuff by licensing it. Who did all those people think they were, anyway?"
"I know, right? We got a homework assignment to write some of our own under the school's license, but that's okay. I’m ready."
"Really? That's amazing, Mindy! I didn't know you had that kind of talent."
"Oh, yeah, and it's not even that hard. Everyone makes such a big deal out of it."
"Well, of course, honey. It's art!"
"Yeah, art, right. Whatevs, Mom, it's cool. Just give me about ten minutes, you'll see—I've got this killer limerick forming in my head!"
One of the side-effects of aging eyes is misreading things, especially when just glancing at them. On the other hand, the results are often more entertaining than the actual version! The inspiration for this week's entry came from misreading the online headline for this news story and parsing it the same wrong way three different times. And yes, this was definitely more fun than the real point of that article. :D
Voting this week is a Gatekeeper round, so no poll. But all of the entries are posted here in the comments. Lots to read and enjoy. :)