The trajectory of this year's poetry bathing has taken me from total immersion to arid heave. Since moving two years ago, from the molten core of the globe's poetry universe to the rarefied air upstate of poema non grata...I've seen my lilliputian waveform flicker on life support. Watching benignly, like one of those marshmallow cherubs observing a maggot disguised as a scent, I only recently began to wonder if I should do something. Not that I was such a cultured being in the city, I just took the easily available readings for granted. By fact of being in the city, the exposure to the "distractions" of culture either satisfy or deplete your hunger.

A year ago, a poetry friend chided me with a palpably exhausted sense of wanderlust, "at least now you have an excuse for not going to all your friend's readings." Meaning...I could now concentrate on my work, uninterrupted by the barrage of events which accumulate each season.

So I wondered about the "distraction" of accumulated events. Realizing, after a life of urban sponge-sucking, that I had adapted my poetic antennae, like a city-bred-hyena-shinned amoeba growing another soul-patch, to catch the whims and vigor (w&v) of my friends, then to store newly acquired w&v in my hollowed-out-whitmanesque-cheeks for later vomitorium-feeding, all the while able to manipulate my remaining scrawn to complete the existing w&v I'd already begun...knowing...I could access that NEW w&v at a later feeding while maintaining previously unescapable drivel and dimension from previously unassailable w&v.

Only now I was sort of faced with not having any excuse. Did my two hour commute each way really contribute to my newfound valhalla of "no distractions?" Where was the by-product of this long experiment? For the sake of this report, I'll ignore the already monumental heft of two obstacles; my job and my three-year old boy's incredibly opportunistic distractions growing by leaps and bounds (l&b) every second...and concentrate on the writing dismemberment of my newly gifted "free time."

And so, I explored some impromptu formulas & charts, in an effort to find equations which might calculate the value of leaving one distraction for the other:

Let's say a poem comes to you twice as fast in the city because there's more inspiration (C1 x 2 = P2). However there's so much inspiration your brain may not know the poem has arrived (P2 - b = 0) bringing you back to square one (U + 0 = 1) but more tired because you missed out on something you thought you felt but are now just clogged about (1 + √2-bV %= Z > ?). Using this simple formula, a poem would have appeared to me 14,357 times last year but only 600 of them would have been caught. My ear-slash-heart formula, discerning feeling from worth (H-f ∞ w √v2 = P), would have tried to extract 300 of them out of this "raw" inspiration leaving me with 50 poems I would feel comfortable presenting at a reading.

Now let's say a poem comes to you in the country half as fast because there's less to look at (P - 1 = 0). However the notion of less in the country is more than it is in the city (C1 - C2 = +1&2) because there is less city distraction around you (C2 ÷ º) and more open space (x-2=+) to redirect the position of your inspiration (x^ > xv) slash distraction (xvVv√ = C) thereby inhibiting your initial response (U = ?) but heightening your newly acquired sensorial experience (1 + √1-bH∞ = E><¬~s0¡). Doing the math, the long words that convert nature into a sonnet would have penetrated my g-force follicles at a lesser rate of 9,750 times in the same period but this time, about 1,200 of them would have lodged in my brain...about triple the amount previously. Yet, using my cannonball-suck-filter™ I would have extracted content from worth and found about a quarter less poems I might show to my mother.

If you add to that, the rush hour reality of navigating through a sea of bodies in Times Square with a camera welded to your naval, capturing the oncoming herd...multiplied by the same amount of flowers being hurdled over during a spring rain...the answer is pretty obvious. The amount of work I've created when I could have been going to readings has more than doubled the amount of time spent losing all contact from my peers. Which brings us back to a simpler time, before speed became the distraction. Before the place you started from became the place you bounced off from. Landing on your favorite reader. Each bounce, another poem. Trite, mastiff, engorged.

Originally Published: December 21st, 2009

A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...

  1. December 22, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    A hoot.\r

    But on the contrary, there's more to look at in the country than in the city. Birds & stars vs. cars & bars.\r


  2. December 22, 2009
     Edwin Torres

    Yes, the stars mock my incoherent footwear every night.

  3. December 22, 2009

    Cars and bars do have their moments though. The watching of or listening to the eating of cars, for instance.

  4. December 24, 2009

    I enjoyed reading this post, though once or twice when I worked through your equations my result differed from the answer given. Oh, well, personal axioms should differ, I suppose.\r

    I was wondering what you call those "graphs"? I like them. Something you call them other than charts? Maybe Ch+arts.\r

    I spent most of my life on a dairy farm (sometimes I hurriedyly type it incorrectly and people say I was raised on a "diary" farm; I've never kept a diary, or even found the opportunity to read anyone else's diary). Never even milked a "diary" cow. Imagine all the nonsense filling the bulk tank.\r

    I wonder, do you live in the country, or just in a non-city? There's a distinction to be made. For example, if you live in the country, you will see one or no automobiles other than your own on a given day (discounting the rural mail carrier). If you live just in the non-city, you will see several dozen cars each day, and other people too?\r

    If you live in the non-city rural enviroment, people will wave with their full hand, or lift a finger from the staring wheel in greeting, when two cars meet on a road. If you live in the country, when two cars meet, they pull over and the people get out of their cars to survey whoever's land they happen to have stopped in front of, unless it is mildly raining. If it's a blizzard or a wild storm, you still stop to chat (but may stay in your car), to find out which roads are passable (since you're both coming from the direction the other is now heading).\r

    I certainly don't idealize or romanticize the country. Sometimes people are shocked when I begin describing what it's really like living in the country and working on a farm. Still, there's certainly plenty to write about, especially during the "uninterrupted...barrage of events which accumulate each season."\r

    I like cities, but even when I live in them I find most polis citizens distracted, which makes sense. The amount of stimulii combined with the need to be where others need you to be often results in scurrying about, with sensory inputs jammed in your ears (to avoid communicating with strangers) and eyeballs full of sidewalk (unless you're a tourist, in which case your eyeball is full of whatever your camera has framed).\r

    Right now I live in a small city, which is a fair compromise between isolation and urban chaos.\r

    So, I wonder, do you have an equation or axiom for a sincere conversation with a stranger at the town hardware store vs. millions of strangers briskly marching and ignoring one another as best as possible. \r

    Could be city and country are just two forms of isolation. One requires you to drive or ride miles to see another person. The other requires you to walk miles surrounded by people who refuse to see you. One isolation is real, imposed by homestead distance and geography. The other is an accepted social standard.\r

    Still, separation from ones peers can be painful. Maybe you could start an annual two day gathering at your place in the country and invite your peers. At first, maybe few will come, but if it's cool, word will spread and soon they'll be caravans of your peers, and your little son will hold a clipboard to make sure their names are "on the list."\r

    Another idea, for inspiration at establishing a sense of physical community, which most folks need, writers and artists included...Is there a reading series in your area?\r

    I've curated a monthly reading series at a regional arts center in this small city on the Mississippi for years. At first, I made phone calls "gently begging" poets and authors to read. Now, no more begging, and we have a large audience every third Thursday of the month. Writers are generous people, I've found. Some really established writers and some emerging younger writers have driven quite some distance round trip, for little more than sincere appreciation, fifty bucks, a hotel room, and a good meal and companionable drinks. Sure, the authors sell books, but there's more to it than that.\r

    Maybe you'd be surpised to discover there's some talent in your area, folks who've never known the peer communion that you're now missing, or poets and artists who were almost famous once who live a half hour down the road from you. \r

    No matter my questions or comments. I enjoyed your post. I've been really busy lately and haven't gotten to Harriet in months. I was glad to encounter your post, glad your blogging here.\r

    I wish you success in finding congruency between your new environment, inspiration, and the need for communion with your peers.\r

    Now to dig out my car from this impressive snow storm. Time, as St. Paul of Liverpool once wrote, "to get back to where you once belonged."\r

    It won't be long until I'm sitting with my folks in a rural church with six pews. Talk about celebrating the season. After midnight mass, we'll all drink cheap brandy in the rectory. A good time. A good life.\r

    Now where's m' shovel? \r
    Happy Holidays, Harriet.

  5. December 24, 2009

    this post is great.\r

    wanted to say:\r
    to leave NYC for Portland Oregon and experience a quiet and marked decrease in stimuli so profound you can hear the traffic lights change is a beautiful thing. how fruitful it is to live in a place offering the best of both worlds (noise + quiet) at whatever moment one requires new perspective...

  6. December 26, 2009

    I am currently in a smallish city down south visiting the folks for holiday. email scarce, will send proper reply when I get back home...whatever proper means. maybe sense of community really is where you find it, where you let your perspective in. i know there's a snow shovel waiting for me back home...santa wearing shorts down here.\r

    Many things about your response I relate to. I like the idea of ch+arts and will devise a few to answer your equations. Also didn't want to seem I was picking one over the and country have their own chaos. Each one as vital as the next.\r

    But more later, I return my keyboard to the neighbor's teenager emo-goth-genius from alpha-blue suburbia who plays guitar while babysitting my boy.\r


  7. December 31, 2009
     Matty Byloos

    Awesome post. I always thought Math was just a complicated form of English. Or maybe I always thought the opposite. One of the two, though.

  8. December 31, 2009
     Gail White

    I lived in a metropolis (New Orleans) for 17 years and now\r
    live in a small town (Breaux Bridge). I traded the big city for the bayou and have no regrets. I connect with my poet friends via Eratosphere. As for poetry readings -- hey, most poets can't read for beans. You're not missing anything.

  9. January 10, 2010

    There's some great tips there, just blogged about it too!