This poem by RJ Ellman is constructed as advice to an aspiring poet, perhaps to the author himself, but it is deliciously double-edged. Go and write your poetry, it will be surely marvellous, but stop getting in the way of those of us who have to deal with the real world. It does indeed remind me of people I have known.
R. J. Ellmann
To A Frustrated Poet
This is to say
You wish you were in the woods,
Living the poet’s life,
Not here at a formica topped table
In a meeting about perceived inequalities in the benefits and allowances offered to
employees of this college,
And I too wish you were in the woods,
Because it’s no fun having a frustrated poet
In the Dept. of Human Resources, believe me.
In the poems of yours that I’ve read, you seem ever intelligent and decent and patient in a way
Not evident to us in this office,
And so, knowing how poets can make a feast out of trouble,
Raising flowers in a bed of drunkenness, divorce, despair,
I give you this check representing two weeks’ wages
And ask you to clean out your desk today
And go home
And write a poem
With a real frog in it
And plums from the refrigerator,
So sweet and so cold.
So the scene is set in a business meeting of some Human Resources Department, discussing budgets and benefits policies. The voice is that of the manager or supervisor, who finally is driven to speak out to the person at the table who is endlessly distracted, day-dreaming and not contributing to the business and priorities of the department. The message is clear – if you want to daydream, write poetry, create beauty, go and do it on your own time, and don’t get in the way of pursuing the real day’s work. There is a double sense of admiration for the talent and potential of the poet in the meeting, and of frustration brimming over at his lack of contribution to the work in hand. Presumably the guaranteed outcome is that he gets fired, while the aspired outcome is that he does indeed go away and create a work of beauty – that’s probably a 50/50 shot, at best.
The Poetry Dude