Prose from Poetry Magazine

Annie Get Your Gun

Fifth in a series of eight manifestos.

by D. A. Powell
The thing about sardines when you buy them in a can: they are fairly uniform in size and in flavor; their individual identities have disappeared into the general fishiness of the soybean oil; their little bones have melted; their flesh has become a mass grave; they are fairly cheap and fairly consumable; and one forgets a sardine quickly after one has partaken of it.

But damn: don’t some people just love sardines? They’re convenient; they take no preparation time whatsoever; and, though a steady diet of them would probably be unhealthy in the long run, they are—in the short term—a pretty safe snack. They’re snacky. They aren’t lox, but they aren’t cat food. They are the middle of an ocean swimming with possibilities.

Sardines school. Yet, despite their defensive strategy of hiding behind one another, millions of them get eaten. All that schooling does them nary a whit of good. And yet, they still join, instinctually, each one believing that it’s some other poor pilchard who’ll be devoured.

I don’t know that artists and poets join schools for quite the same reason that sardines do. Sometimes there’s a true innovator in the bunch, sometimes they really do share some common misunderstandings about aesthetics, sometimes it just so happens that a bunch of really interesting people all shop at the same hat shop and they start to hang out and resemble one another and make little sandwiches. It can seem quite seductive to be associated with a school. Or to have a school from which one insistently distances oneself. Or even to found a school. But most of what makes a school truly interesting is what others say about it; not what it says about itself.

Is it the nature of beings to coalesce? I think sometimes that artists, like other lower forms of intelligence, want to “belong.” Or rather, that they want to not belong in some similar ways. They want to belong to the outside, and yet to be recognized by the inside. It’s a conundrum. Because, really, in order to belong to a school or a movement or a gang or a pod, you have to—whether you’re willing to think about it this way or not—move towards a “center.”

Maybe it’s peculiar to our time, in which actual schools (academies) proliferate and spawn, that we’re seeing so much centrism. What we need is more eccentrism. Who isn’t tired of the contemporary qua contemporary? Who isn’t bored by innovation for innovation’s sake? It has, sadly, become the mode du jour. Not even a school. A monocultural fish farm. An orchestra in which everyone is trying to solo at the same time. A tin of silvery bodies falling into place. I imagine that each of those fish must have thought it was going in a new direction. But all the other fishes got there at exactly the same time, and thus the great net encompassed them all.

Look, I like sardines. I probably like them better than most. But the time will come when all we have of the mighty oceans is canned fish. That’s the doomsayer in me. Shouldn’t there at least be a chance that I am wrong? Shouldn’t there be a greater variety of life, a greater variety of art, a greater variety of poetry than what gathers in the schools trying oh so hard to appear larger and more menacing than it is? Write a manifesto. Don’t you see that it’s too small to keep? Throw it back.
Originally Published: January 30, 2009

COMMENTS (13)

On February 2, 2009 at 3:08pm Just Kibbe wrote:
Morality is a simple human emotion. We use morality to justify our societal conventions, our natural deviations and evolutional shifts that we believe will best benefit our species. There is no objectivity – only instinct, derived from the same continuum as the knowledge that governs all animals. Humans are to nature as water is to ocean or wood to tree. If it were morally and legally acceptable, sex on the streets would be an everyday occurrence.

We restrain ourselves not because we mind objectification, or because we don’t want to, but because we have difficulty correlating our self-objectification with every other person’s objectification of us. Everyone is objectified; our instincts demand it, for sundry reasons.

The object studied is not representative of the creator, but of the personality that most fascinates them. We do not write who we are, but who we heroize.

On February 4, 2009 at 9:16am Derek Catermole wrote:
Yeah! I too am nothing like anyone else! Especially you! It doesn't matter at all what anyone else is doing, because I'm doing something different! I don't even care at all. If you were writing villanelles, I wouldn't even give a damn, because I'd be writing epodes. If you were wearing pretentious 40s hats, I wouldn't even notice, because I'd be wearing sweatbands and eyepatches.

On February 4, 2009 at 9:17am Neville Bile wrote:
Hey! You're not different. I'm different! You're the same and I'm not!

On February 4, 2009 at 9:18am Graniel Deen wrote:
Shutup! You're not different! You think you are, but you're the one who's the same! I'm different!

On February 4, 2009 at 9:20am Praniel Ditchard wrote:
You're all just trying to copy me, because I'm the one who is truly different. You can say as much as you like about how everyone is the same except you, but it won't work. I belong to a collective called the Different Collective and what's great about it is no-one else belongs to it except me, which is solid proof that I am different.

On February 4, 2009 at 12:02pm P. A. Dowell wrote:
I'm not different! I want to coalesce and belong. I want to be just like D. A. Powell.

On February 4, 2009 at 12:57pm Lynn Welch wrote:
Couldn't figure out where to request the April issue (free) online ... so am asking here. Please send to:

Lynn Welch

4016 Cedar Grove Lane

Eagan, MN 55122

Thanks!

On February 4, 2009 at 1:24pm A Sardine wrote:
I am different. I have composed a poem on the topic.

ME, by A. Sardine

The thing about me

when you buy me in a can:

I am fairly uniform in size and in flavor; my individual identity has disappeared into the general fishiness of the soybean oil;

my little bones have melted;

my flesh has become a mass grave;

I am fairly cheap and fairly consumable; and one forgets me quickly

after one has partaken of me.

But damn:

don’t some people just love me?

I'm convenient;

I take no preparation time whatsoever;

and, though a steady diet of me

would probably be unhealthy in the long run, I am—in the short term—a pretty safe snack. I'm snacky.

I'm no lox, but I'm not cat food.

I am the middle of an ocean swimming with possibilities.

On February 9, 2009 at 3:42am The Net wrote:
Here little fishies

I've come to take you all home

and put you in cans.

-Net, The

On February 9, 2009 at 3:52am Sean Smith wrote:
Being completely uncultured about how

other societies on this planet work, by

lack of means, not choice. I have this

hypothesis.

Considering the majority of Americans

attend public schools which adhere to a

pretty strict core curriculum and are the

spawn of other Americans who were in

the same system, albeit 12-50 years

afterward, it seems quite evident that

not only do we all get the same crappy

free education and hormone laced foods

and milk boxes, but we also get a

limited view of what the world has to

offer. Those of us and them who "test"

well or have high "IQ" or access to ADD

deflecting legal forms of speed excel.

Those who don't quickly form the line to

the burger and fries lunch and a long

arduous life as a "have not." Then we

have the rare chance that someone will

have a "life experience" that someone

snaps them out of the zombie shuffle

and moves them to produce something

that might be considered art. Then the

"haves" and the "have nots who are

faking it" judge this "art" based on "life

experiences" and decided whether or

not we will give this "artist" an all

expenses paid lifestyle with an infinite

supply of pens and paper, or paint, and

plenty of petty cash to have more "life

experiences."

Virgina Woolf's overtaught manifesto, "A

room of one's own" can be summed up

thusly:

All expenses paid,

and an infinite supply

of pens and paper.

Sorry for all the Haiku tonight, I failed to

make hamburger helper that was worthy

of digestion and promptly added two

cans of Ranch Style beans with

jalapenos, two teaspoons of cumin, and

a half a bottle of chili powder.

Do not repeat.

On February 18, 2009 at 6:03pm Fred Bear wrote:
I am unique, just like everybody else.

On February 24, 2009 at 12:07pm - wrote:
you can be different, just as long as

you're different like us, or learned how to

be different at Iowa Writer's Workshop.

On February 28, 2009 at 12:51pm Nathaniel Rosenthalis wrote:
I found the manifesto really interesting, and very true. My favorite line is the orchestra in which everyone is trying to solo. A great metaphor.

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MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This prose originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2009

Related

 D. A. Powell

Biography

Born in Albany, Georgia, D.A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and Cocktails was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His next two books were . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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