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Ethan Gilsdorf

NEW YORK, NEW YORK-In an effort to prevent the proliferation of what it calls unoriginal verse, a literary watchdog group released its annual report on the state of American poetry writing.

In its report, Poets Against the Hackneyfication of Similes, or PATHOS, denounced the continued use of received ideas, repetitive language and below par versification in general by individuals published in obscure and popular periodicals and collections.

"We're tired of these poets continuing to reuse the same situations over and over again," said Roger Grel, public information director of PATHOS. "You've got your poets walking along beaches, looking at paintings and standing on wind-swept hilltops. Quite frankly, too many are also wandering rain-slicked streets, musing about suicide, jazz and childhood pets. We're concerned not only for their careers, but also for their safety. Wet sidewalks can be slippery!"

"Don't get me wrong," Grel continued. "Like most poets, we support the idea of recycling. But if I read another poem about the metaphorical and ethical implications of a car hitting a deer or raccoon, I'm going to howl." To help reverse the downward spiral, the report suggested that poets consider themes other than those demonstrating a connection with trees, a fondness for sunsets, or the fact that it's not too much fun to be alone.

When asked what subjects poets could pursue, Mr. Grel had plenty of suggestions.

"How about the Tony Awards? Or string cheese? Or the idea that the speed of light may have changed?" Grel said. "I don't think I've ever seen a poem written from the perspective of a hedge. Or a hedgehog."

"Dead leaves used to be popular. Now dead mothers are hot," said Janet Iambison, author No More Daddies: New Ideas for Poems. "Rusting cars, Italian villages and, strangely, Polynesian restaurants are also popping up everywhere."

PATHOS cited certain words that it said were employed too frequently in contemporary poetry, and placed a five-year moratorium on their use: blood, stone, bone, sibilant, swaying, malaise, mayonnaise, light, dust, sorrow, distant, desire and dappled. 'Moist,' 'arabesque' and 'ointment' were placed on a warning list.

"Only after the five year trial period should these words be re-introduced into the pool of language available to poets," warned Iambison, who also serves on PATHOS's advisory board. "It must be done cautiously, and usage must be carefully monitored."

Last year, successful lobbying by PATHOS produced legislation pending in both the New York and North Dakota state legislatures that outlaws poems that begin with the phrase "When I was [a child, in Monet's garden, taking anti-depressants, etc.]..."

Sociologists worry that the malaise in poem crafting has already spread too deeply throughout the culture. Many experts believe it may be too late to save the art of innovative yet memorable poetry in the United States.

"A whole generation of writers has been brought up on poets who use no punctuation, abuse their TAB key and insert random words in foreign languages, without providing English translation," said Fiona McGuffin, professor of pre-post-modern studies at New Hampshire State University for Internet Commuters. "How do we unteach years of exposure to coming-of-age poems? Baffling enjambment? Lowercase typefaces? There's a wide-spread feeling that we just don't yet have the technology."

Poets were also chided for including their own poems in literary magazines and anthologies they edited, and for ending their poems with semicolons. PATHOS's report concluded by noting the abundance of poems about the process of writing poems.

"Hey, you don't see too many operas about opera-writing, or ballets about dance rehearsals," concluded Grel. "It's time for poets to get original."


Ethan Gilsdorf lives in Paris, where he is managing editor of Frank, film and restaurant critic for Time Out's Paris office, and a regular contributor to Poet and Writers, Literary Review of Canada, and Paris Notes. He has also written for the Boston Globe Magazine, American Bookseller, Get Lost and Paris Voice. As a poet, he is the winner of the Hobblestock Peace Poetry Competition and the Esmé Bradberry Contemporary Poets Prize, and is the recipient of grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Studio Center. His poems can be seen in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Poetry London, among other publications.

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