Though now the act is almost commonplace,
to ask relief from strangers courts disgrace;
but done by scholars, poets, and artistes
who worship galleries instead of priests,
it has an almost moral virtue when
it keeps the breathless arts in oxygen.
Arranged around your table, round or square,
the poems can’t make coffee, carve a pear,
or hammer carpet tacks through concrete blocks.
They’ll never open combination locks.
Great Fannie Mae has ruled: no banker shall
accept a sonnet as collateral,
and in revenge, perhaps, for which give thanks,
the poet never reads his work in banks.
Rude politicians think it rather funny
a poet has a hard time earning money,
or if he earns a bit, and then relaxes,
the IRS will seize his sons for taxes.
Biographers are wont then to distort
impedimenta of the common sort,
for poets, like their neighbors, cannot pass
for saints, or martyrs, when they mow the grass.
Though verse be undercooked or overdone
it is unread by all and bought by none,
and so within the democratic state
a poet has a democratic fate.
Because he asks foundations for largesse
who once to kings had ventured in distress,
the poet may be tempted to complain
and soothe with quarrel his distempered brain,
or play the miser, who having priced his words
reduced his speech by half, and then two-thirds.
In time it may be judged by your committee
an artist’s cast reserve just masks self-pity,
or that for those compression makes obscure
a weekend on the rack’s the only cure.
Most honourable sirs, you must remain
as cold as snow, unprejudiced as rain,
but spend compassionate amounts on those
whose lives were better spent in writing prose.
As you divide the odder from the oddest,
look last on this request, which is immodest:
with your award, I’d ask leave to explore
the rundown harbors of a foreign shore
and for a year there rent a terrace house
unfrequented by Time or Mickey Mouse.
Like Novocaine, loud supplications numb
an eleemosynary institution.
If scrupulous, a poet will refine
the silence at the end of every line
and thus, in this as elsewhere, rather throw
his voice toward silence than fortissimo.
Good sirs, I ask approval of this grant.
With kind regards, your humble applicant,
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 3 Number 8, on page 45
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