The Intoxication of Poetry

Scorpions On The Face - Again

Two-time Poet Laureate, Howard Nemerov, and celebrated photographer, Diane Arbus, had a great deal in common. This talented brother and sister act shared what I would call an emotionally brittle nature, and a lifelong battle with depression. Arbus, famously, lost that battle at a young age. Her suicide was no desperate plea for help; she intended to go through with it.

It was 1969; I was a 19-year old freshman punk living la vida loca at Haverford College. My father, Ian, was almost at the zenith of his celebrity, turning up with tiresome regularity in every conceivable media outlet, doing his mad-as-a-March hare environmental activist with a thick Scottish brogue shtick. His base of operations was The Department of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning at The University of Pennsylvania – a department he founded and chaired for decades.

The Professor was completely devoid of parenting skills, but – having written, and published, my first poem at age 6 – even he knew I was an incipient wordflinger. He taught a course entitled Man & Environment. Do not be misled by the apparent hubris of this title; since he did in fact know everything about everything the all-inclusive subject matter posed no problem. Plus, he invited a long string of tweed-jacket wearing, pipe-smoking, degree-wielding intellectual heavy-hitters to help.

In a rare moment of familial camaraderie he called to say Nemerov was giving a guest lecture and if I wanted to meet him I should show up at his office about 11:30.

So here we are, three guys in my father’s office at the U of P. Nemerov is pacing and twitching like a crack addict in a rehab. Finally he says, “Ian, I have got to have a martini.” My dad, enjoying this opportunity to swagger, tells one of his students to go to the bistro across the street, get a pitcher of martinis, and come back. The student points out that this is illegal and impossible for many reasons and my dad starts screaming at him. The terrified student races away – and is back in minutes with a stainless steel pitcher sweating chilly droplets. Nemerov’s eyes twinkle.

So I’m thinking – this is pretty cool – I am going to have a martini with one of the nation’s greatest poets. As this idea is simmering in my mind – Nemerov puts the pitcher to his lips and slowly, easily, drains the entire thing. My father and I look on in wonder, exchanging stunned glances. I will never forget what happened next. Nemerov stopped pacing, talking, twitching, fidgeting, glancing about erratically, and went perfectly calm. I had never seen a veteran, all-in alcoholic in action before; it was hypnotic.

The three of us walked down the corridor and into the lecture hall. Nemerov read his poetry for an hour; he was note-perfect. I doubt there were more than 50 people in the room, and he was a teacher, giving lectures was his bread and butter. It wasn’t about being nervous. Alcoholics get to the point where they need the toxin to be normal.

Sick Girls Await Mentally Ill Barbie

Barbie - The Tragic End

Since her 1959 debut, Barbie has attracted controversy the way bloated state senators attract illegal campaign contributions. Little girls admire her for what she is, but whiners, complainers, gadflies, malcontents, rabble-rousers, muckrakers, agents provocateurs, professional cynics, babies, wimps, liberals, thought policemen, and college professors are more interested in what she is not.

These self-appointed custodians of political correctness, who live to improve the human character against its will right up to the point where it ceases to exist at all, consider Barbie to be the sharp edge of the social engineering ax, mercilessly slicing through the hapless human outliers whose creation, causation, and construction do not coincide with qualities and criteria considered desirable by society.

These TED Talk habitués condemn Barbie with sweeping statements steeped in supercilious sanctimony, Barbie, they say, is not morbidly obese enough; she is too Christian, not gay-enough, ethnic enough, or undocumented enough. To them, Barbie is the hood ornament of an exclusionary, self-satisfied society built upon deeply disturbed values, racism, and questionable fashion choices.

Mattel, makers of Barbie, has been slow to respond to what they refer to, with characteristic insouciance, as, “the cacophonous blather of tweed-clad Prius drivers.” But a storied track record of insensitivity and arrogance will soon be coming to an end as Mattel courts disturbed Americans with “Mentally Ill Barbie”, which it intends to roll out in time for Christmas.

Marketing of Mentally Ill Barbie shows, yet again, why Mattel continues to be an industry juggernaut. You and I have been taught that judging mental illness by physical appearance is highly inappropriate, inaccurate, and mean-spirited. But Mattel, determined to honor the complete palette of emotional and psychological maladies without the added expense inherent in producing multiple molds landed on a brilliant solution as plain as the nose-ring on your face; madness in fashion!

That’s right! With Mentally Ill Barbie, madness is always in fashion and can be easily modified simply by changing outfit and setting! How does it work? – you ask – in that cooperative way of yours. It’s easy; let’s meet a few right now.

Narcissistic Barbie – Executives at Mattel have explained that every Barbie made from 1959 on is Narcissistic Barbie.

Anorexic Barbie – Executives at Mattel have explained that every Barbie made from 1959 on is also Anorexic Barbie.

Compulsive Shopper Barbie – Executives at Mattel have explained that every Barbie made from 1959 on is also Compulsive Shopper Barbie.

Bipolar Barbie – Alternate between tying her to the blade of a ceiling fan and stuffing her under the cushions of a couch and, voila!

Munchausen By Proxy Barbie – Even though Munchausen by Proxy Barbie is very similar to Narcissistic Barbie, she is sold separately.

And that’s just the beginning! This Christmas season, keep an eye out for:

Alcoholic Barbie
Compulsive Gambler Barbie
Tourette’s Syndrome Barbie
Trskaidekaphobia Barbie 
Sex Addict Barbie

And so, gentle reader, the walls of stigma gradually erode as even Barbie admits, “Madness is always in fashion.”