Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Joe Heller"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

In honor of the fact that my Library of America collection of some of Kurt Vonnegut's major works finally arrived last week - 38 days after Amazon shipped it - and I do mean "shipped" - I though it might be fun to run a poem by the late and great Mr. Vonnegut.  Trouble is that while Vonnegut was a prolific novelist who wrote many short stories and even the occasional odd play, he really doesn't appear to have crafted much poetry.

I did find one Vonnegut poem that caught my attention, however, a tribute to another great American novelist:  Joseph Heller.   Not only does the following poem pay homage to Heller, it also contains a simple, yet scathing, attack on America's primary religion:  greed.

Joe Heller
by Kurt Vonnegut

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22′
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!

Bonus:  What follows are Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules for Writing Poetry:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.* 

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the poem themselves, should cockroaches eat the bottom of the page. 

*which is to say, create or resolve tension.

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