This is one of those weekends where POETS Day gets lost in the wash. The first week of March Madness is a triumph of unproductivity. It’s not that the NCAA Tournament is so compelling that even non-basketball fans get into the excitement. It’s that basketball fans get so excited by it that they think it perfectly natural that people who don’t otherwise like the game would suddenly get swept up by the spectacle and those who don’t care realize that by pretending to care as much as basketball fans think they should they get to half ass it at work, take long lunches, use the copy machine to print endless personal documents, call their friends whenever they feel the urge, watch T.V. (television) on their phones at their desk, openly gamble, and leave early to catch the late afternoon game just like everyone else. Their bracket, chosen solely on the basis of which mascot is cuter, is just as likely as the fans’ to win a couple of hundred bucks too. So go do whatever. I don’t even think you have to ask to leave early. Go take a nap, hike a bit, marvel at how uncrowded places without walls of televisions are. Just be ready to talk about a blown call or an amazing comeback in one of the games you were supposedly watching. People will put the important-for-conversation clips on Twitter. As always, don’t let the weekend go by without a little verse. Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday… even if everybody pissed off before Thursday’s tip off. If the basketball thing doesn’t spring you, there’s always St. Patrick’s Day to fall back on. Erin Roll Tide!
When Delmore Schwartz was twenty-five years old, he made a huge splash in New York intellectual circles with the publication of his first book, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. The book, a collection of short stories and poems, was well spoken of by two of the time’s giants in Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. He was fresh and talented and people predicted a great deal from him, which he delivered for a while. When he died, it was three days before anyone identified the body. Friends said they hadn’t seen him for nearly a year. Alcohol, drug addiction, and insanity wore him down.
[Ed. Note: This piece was originally posted at ordinary-times.com on 8/5/22 which was a Friday. You can look it up.]
I’ve spent a great deal of energy not checking Facebook. I’d go in once a month or so and see whose birthday I missed or who’s moving on to a different job. I’m kind of a hermit so I would otherwise miss out on such things. Two or three years ago, I ran into a friend in the grocery store and asked about her family and her husband and I managed to inquire a few weeks after their divorce was finalized. That was an embarrassing in depth conversation in the produce section and well documented on Facebook had I been watching. I recently missed something else that was happening, something important. Now I’m checking in to the site every other day.
What I’ve seen has got me thinking about all the myriad life changes I see reported on the site. How can Facebook be weaponized to plausibly give credence to the great goal of Fridays: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday?
There are all manner of minor emergencies reported on that site. People stuck with flat tires, a tree falls in the yard, a kid falls out of a tree so you get a smiling picture with a new cast. You can get creative and find a clever way to bend such posts to your purpose assuming there is one that pops up on a Friday afternoon, but the posts are tagged with a real person’s name and for all you know the boss is a friend or acquaintance or a committed bondage submissive of the person you claim to leave early to help. That can get messy. Make a fake account.
If you lived in France, you’d already be home by… actually you’d still be at work. Turns out that thirty-five hour work week we hear about is just something the French pretend to enjoy the way they pretend everybody in their family tree that’s old enough to be dead was part of La Resistance, stood up to Robespierre, or was Charlemagne (that last one’s true though.) They had me there. I thought those Gallic geniuses really had the four-day work week worked out, that they were the P.O.E.T.S. Day legends of song come alive. Their failure and subsequent fakery should not deter you. P.O.E.T.S. Day, like the war against the Axis, doesn’t require France to succeed. It’s still your time that’s being squandered in the waning hours of the workweek as organizational inertia forces you and your co-workers to go through the motions of production. Nobody’s getting anything done after lunchtime on Friday. It’s clock watching, text messaging, and paper shuffling until the whistle blows. Don’t be part of the farce. Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. Tell your boss whatever you have to. Dissemble, obfuscate, fudge the truth, whatever. Your presence at your place of employment on a Friday afternoon is in service of the lie that you aren’t already mentally at the bar or the ballpark, wandering through a pleasant park, or dropping by a special someone’s for a bit of reverence. It’s your weekend. Do with it as you will, but in homage to the mighty acronym may I suggest setting aside a moment for a little verse? It’s a particularly good way to pass time waiting on friends who may not run as roughshod over delicate pieties and so were not as successful as you were in engineering an early exit.
“It should be revised, Mr. Goodwin; wish it were better — I value your forbearance; — am encouraged that with all its faults you care to own it.”
Marianne Moore wrote that to Johnathan Goodwin on the front flyleaf of a first edition copy of her collection Poems, released in 1921. It sold for $3,824 at Christie’s in 2002. The inscription is dated July 7, 1962. I like that. It shows that she knows how to hold a grudge. The book was published behind her back without her permission by her former Bryn Mawr classmate, the poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle,) and her partner, the English novelist, Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman of the ship owning Ellermans if you must know, but we don’t put on airs around here.) Moore is said to have disapproved of the selection and layout but was not displeased by the cover.
Just when you thought it would never end, classical mechanics saves the day. We’ve spun through another week and that blessed moment when the whistle blows, it’s time to punch out, and traffic swells is almost upon us. Why wait? It’s P.O.E.T.S. Day. Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. There’s no reason to stick around when even the boss has mentally gone fishing. You’re not going to get anything done. At least not done well. Get out of there. Dissemble, obfuscate, ignore the niceties that lubricate the engine of society. There are mid-major basketball games to watch. Head on down to the bar a few hours before you’re “allowed” and have a happy hour beer. No one’s going to notice. Head to the park or the zoo. Browse a book store with a sleeved cup of that overpriced coffee they sell there. I wouldn’t go fishing because the boss might decide to slip out early too and that could get awkward, but hey, it’s your time. Take it. Do with it as you will. That said, may I suggest in homage to the mighty acronym, setting aside a moment for a little verse? It’s a particularly good way to pass time waiting on friends who may not run as roughshod over the niceties and were not as successful as you were in engineering an early exit.
This week’s poet is Hart Crane and his poetry can be a bit hard to grasp. That’s not just me being obtuse. Harrison Smith from the publishing house Harcourt, Brace wrote “I feel certain you are a genuine poet-and there are not many genuine poets lying around these days. . . . It really is the most perplexing kind of poetry. One reads it with a growing irritation, not at you but at himself, for the denseness of one’s own intellect.” The critic Edmund Wilson wrote he had “a style that is strikingly original—almost something like a great style, if there could be such a thing as a great style which was … not … applied to any subject at all.”
It was though. His style was applied to a great many things as he aptly explained to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry magazine in the 1920s, in a letter responding to her concerns about his submission, this week’s featured poem, “At Melville’s Tomb.” Previously Marianne Moore wrote to him, when rejecting an earlier poem for publication in Dial, “its multiform content accounts, I suppose, for what seems to us a lack of simplicity and cumulative force.” T.S. Eliot passed on the same poem for The Criterion. I imagine Crane jumped at the opportunity Monroe offered to explain his poetic choices, or his “rationale of metaphor,” to the editor of one of the more influential periodicals.
[Ed. Note: This piece was originally posted at ordinary-times.com on 4/8/22 which was a Friday. You can look it up.]
Apparently if you have scurvy your old scar tissue breaks down. That means that if you have an appendectomy at eighteen and then went sailing with a bunch of British pirates at age forty-eight, your surgically sewn up wound might re-open depending on the availability of citrus fruits.
That has nothing to do with this week’s column, but you come across things like that when you scan the internet for reasons to justify the theme of Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. I had one of those surgeries where they take out a bloated organ when I was eighteen and the pain was immense, until. I was curled up in misery. One shot of Demerol and I learned that I could never, ever, flirt with addictive drugs. I went from every nerve ending screaming out in torturous rage to blissful serenity in a needle prick of time. People throw their lives away for that kind of high and because of that hospital visit I know why. It was awesome. It was also an awesome warning. That said, siempra di no a las drogas (I got that phrase off a box of lettuce and I’m not really sure that it translates but please play along.)
This week you are Pissing Off Early, should you accept the mission, because of an abundance of monosodium urate monohydrate crystals deposition. That’s gout to you and me.
Happy POETS Day! Welcome one and all to the gateway. On the other side? Henry Fords greatest invention: The Weekend. This morning you got up as you always do and despite yourself, fell into wakefulness. After trying to tame your hair and doing whatever else is your habit to make yourself presentable you found yourself at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in your hand and burning desire not to look up at the clock because you knew what it would say. The sprint out the door left you with your hat on backwards as your arms tried to flap themselves into a coat and two blocks later, arms still flapping, you just avoided getting pinched by the bus doors and off you went. At work you wandered in and wandered out – a cigarette could help to clear your mind and make you more productive – and wandered back in and it began. Somebody from accounting started blathering on about a dinner receipt from last month and without preamble you found yourself in the cyclical nightmare and there’s nothing fair about that. No guidance counselor in high school used the word drudgery. Fie on their houses. You didn’t agree to this. Just two days a week to yourself? No. Take it back. Even if it’s just a symbolic few hours on a Friday afternoon. Take it back. End this life’s work aspirational garbage and see it as what it is: one of the thousands of potholes on the road to your happiness. Go see a show, grab a beer, meet some friends for a game, or just wander aimlessly around the park. It’s not the company’s time. It’s yours. Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. Do it quickly or you might forget you don’t always have to live by the rules.
This week’s featured poet is Hilaire Belloc. I wonder what he would call himself. He certainly was a poet but he was also a British MP, lecturer, debater, and apologist. As to the breadth of his non-poetic writings, allpoetry.com notes,
“His first book was a small volume of verse, published in 1896, and from then on a torrent of books, pamphlets, letters etc. poured from his pen. It astonishes, not only in its bulk but in its diversity; French and British history, military strategy, satire, comic and serious verse, literary criticism, topography and travel, translations, religious, social and political commentary, long-running controversies with such opponents as H.G. wells and Dr. G.G. Coulton, and hundreds of essays, fill over one hundred and fifty volumes. It is little wonder that A.P. Herbert described him as ‘the man who wrote a library’.”
I’ll think of you and your clever and resourceful selves enjoying a three or four o’clock cocktail as I begin my marathon drive from Birmingham to Albuquerque with a quick diversion to Austin which will be anything but quick. I’ll be jealous of you and your freedom as I bounce my way along unevenly paved Mississippi highways, constantly under construction Louisiana bottlenecks, and the terrifying Texas roadways where they trick you by letting you drive at 75 mph but then send a jet black Mustang driven by a no nonsense cleanly shaven deputy with sharp creases on his sleeve to ticket you for going 76.
Since you get to be happy and I’m at the mercy of weather and whim and eating terrible fast food at places that thinks I’m kidding when I ask for no mustard, I’m going to do something awful to you. I’m going to give you William McGonagall.
I was in the shed pulling out all my POETS Day yard decorations in anticipation and I couldn’t help think but what a gosh darn special thing we got going here. I mean, golly. I know how much people hate those last few hours of work before the weekend because they make us the worst us we can be. There we are focusing on the crummy negative of being stuck in the ole grist mill when we should be pleased as punch that Henry Ford thought about us, the little guys, and invented the weekend so we can goof around with the fellas and have a few pops, go for a stroll in the park with our best girl (or guy,) or maybe take in a picture. I don’t want to be called a Holiday Harry, but that day is here again so I’ll say it: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. Staying at work doesn’t do anybody any good. Show your boss how productive you’ve been this week and promise to work even harder next week. Bosses aren’t such a bad sort. Then you can walk out a few hours before the usual time, free as a bird. Maybe send him (or her) a picture of all the fun you’re having instead of sitting around the office like a gloomy Gus. If you’re up for advice I’d spend some of my bonus time in thanks to that swell holiday acronym and read some verse. You’ll be glad for it!
Loudon Wainwright III has a great song called TSMNWA (They Spelled My Name Wrong Again) where he sings about the frustrations of having a weird name. I can’t help hearing his voice whenever I read about or meet someone who goes by something unusual even if it’s just mildly odd: “My parents should shoulder some blame/For calling their kid a strange name.” I’m sure that William Carlos Williams wanted to have a discussion with mom and dad. “You named me William Williams?” he would ask, not without cause, though I’ve read his parents brought him up in a rigid atmosphere so maybe he passed on demanding an explanation and settled in to a lifetime of long signatures. Considering some of the anachronistic tongue-stumbler family surnames that wind up some unsuspecting kids’ middle names, that “Carlos” to break things up must have seemed a godsend.
The wheel keeps on turning and turning and turning ‘round. Life’s disturbingly predictable if you let it continue unmolested. Shake things up. Break the expected routine. It’s POETS Day again (that “again” in no way indicates that POETS Day is included in the bourgeois and repetitive pattern of events alluded to in the metaphor of “the wheel” whose crushing lack of spontaneity are anathema to fun and apple pie just because weeks are cyclical and POETS Day arrives with weekly regularity) and that means it’s your time to be a disruptor. Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. Get out of that Hellespont you call a workplace before you drown. Your work is a vampire. It’s your weekend and you shouldn’t have to explain your motivation for leaving the job early to get a jump on the only time when the proper director (you) is on set. Dissemble, obfuscate, fudge the truth, and gleefully trespass the norms and delicate pieties that preserve our hopefully durable civilization. Nearly all means are justified by the urge to prematurely escape the bonds of employment and settle in at a friendly neighborhood joint for a happy hour priced beverage and a mid-major game, lay comfortably in the grass at a local park and people watch, or, God forbid, go for a light jog. Do what you will, but in homage to the mighty acronym may I suggest setting aside a moment for a little verse? It’s a particularly good way to pass time waiting on friends who may not run as roughshod over the delicate pieties and were not as successful as you were in engineering an early exit.
“He may have been mad, bad, and dangerous to know but Mary Shelley shut herself away for a weekend and wrote Frankenstein to avoid spending time with him. ‘I’m just going to go invent the whole genre of modern science fiction rather than have a conversation with that tedious jackass womanizer.’” – My wife
[Ed. Note: This piece was originally posted at ordinary-times.com on 4/14/22 which was a Friday, Good Friday as a matter of fact. You can look it up.]
It’s not just P.O.E.T.S. Day, it’s Good P.O.E.T.S. day. A holy day but nonetheless a day to enjoy some clever verse and in the great Scots’ (probably) tradition connive your way out of work, find a convivial barstool before the clock strikes three, and enjoy the happy hour prices in the full glory of a Spring day.
Getting out of work early is never easy but if you are a Christian with a blasphemous streak and a true believer in the power of the confessional or cleansing prayer1, Good Friday presents a unique option. In the morning start complaining about having to skip breakfast. As the day goes on mention that you feel a headache coming on as that’s a possible side effect of fasting. Later you need to feign lightheadedness. If someone suggests you eat a candy bar or just something small to keep you going don’t just say “No.” Snap at them with a “No! Dammit!” Mood changes and irritability are side effects too.
Every once in a while, sit with your elbows on your knees and rub your eyes. Step up the irritability with a touch of fatigue and eventually someone is going to suggest that you go home. Don’t blow it at the end by hopping in your car and driving off into the nowhere near sunset. Tell everyone you’re not up to driving and call an Uber.