Reading: Paper People by Harry Baker

Harry Baker (b. 1992) is a slam poetry champion who used to study math. An enticing combination that makes for some interesting slam poetry. Today I read “paper people”, a lovely allegory for society culminating in a touching personal reminder. I quote the entire poem here with his kind permission (how #twitter makes our life easier):

Paper People
I like people.
I’d like some paper people.
They’d be purple paper people. Maybe pop-up purple paper people.
Proper pop-up purple paper people.
“How do you prop up pop-up purple paper people?”
I hear you cry. Well I …
I’d probably prop up proper pop-up purple paper people
With a proper pop-up purple people paperclip,
But I’d pre-prepare appropriate adhesives as alternatives,
A cheeky pack of Blu Tack just in case the paper slipped.
Because I could build a pop-up metropolis.
But I wouldn’t wanna deal with all the paper people politics.
Paper politicians with their paper-thin policies,
Broken promises without appropriate apologies.
There’d be a little paper me. And a little paper you.
And we could watch paper TV and it would all be pay-per-view.
We’d see the poppy paper rappers rap about their paper package
Or watch paper people carriers get stuck in paper traffic on the A4. Paper.
There’d be a paper princess Kate but we’d all stare at paper Pippa,
And then we’d all live in fear of killer Jack the Paper-Ripper,
Because the paper propaganda propagates the people’s prejudices,
Papers printing pictures of the photogenic terrorists.
A little paper me. And a little paper you.
And in a pop-up population people’s problems pop up too.
There’d be a pompous paper parliament who remained out of touch,
And who ignored the people’s protests about all the paper cuts,
Then the peaceful paper protests would get blown to paper pieces,
By the confetti cannons manned by pre-emptive police.
And yes there’d still be paper money, so there’d still be paper greed,
And the paper piggy bankers pocketing more than they need,
Purchasing the potpourri to pepper their paper properties,
Others live in poverty and ain’t acknowledged properly.
A proper poor economy where so many are proper poor,
But while their needs are ignored the money goes to big wars.
Origami armies unfold plans for paper planes
And we remain imprisoned in our own paper chains,
But the greater shame is that it always seems to stay the same,
What changes is who’s in power choosing how to lay the blame,
They’re naming names, forgetting these are names of people,
Because in the end it all comes down to people.
I like people.
’Cause even when the situation’s dire,
It is only ever people who are able to inspire,
And on paper, it’s hard to see how we all cope.
But in the bottom of Pandora’s box there’s still hope,
And I still hope ’cause I believe in people.
People like my grandparents.
Who every single day since I was born, have taken time out of their morning to pray for me.
That’s 7892 days straight of someone checking I’m okay, and that’s amazing.
People like my aunt who puts on plays with prisoners.
People who are capable of genuine forgiveness.
People like the persecuted Palestinians.
People who go out of their way to make your life better, and expect nothing in return.
You see, people have potential to be powerful.
Just because the people in power tend to pretend to be victims
We don’t need to succumb to that system.
And a paper population is no different.
There’s a little paper me. And a little paper you.
And in a pop-up population people’s problems pop up too,
But even if the whole world fell apart then we’d still make it through.
Because we’re people.

First off, this is (ironically) poetry for performance not paper, so listen to Harry performing this poem, along with some others, during a TEDx-presentation.

Rhythm and rhyme are done with gusto and intelligence. For example, pay-per-view and A4. paper made me smile.

But there is more to this poetry than word play. It’s not just profligate word posturing, prosodic perambulations of a proper prodigy playing with plosives. The paper world in the poem is interesting once we see “paper” as a metaphor for the routine of shallowness we are subjected to on social media. Issues become paper thin on twitter, and you are supposed to take a side that is crudely defined by a vicious group dynamic that is hostile to nuance.

The observation that what matters in the end is people may seem trivial, but read the line “And a paper population it’s no different” with care. Even in the worst bureaucracy where people seem no more than paperwork and replaceable stacks of pop-up figures, being human always means there is greed and corruption, but also hope.

 

Reading: Paper People by Harry Baker was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Writing a résumé by Wisława Szymborska

Fellow Dutch poet Martijn Benders mentioned a poem by the famous Wisława Szymborska that I didn’t know yet. I like it so here it is.

Writing a résumé
What needs to be done?
Fill out the application
and enclose a résumé.

Regardless of the length of life
a résumé is best kept short.

Concise, well-chosen facts are de rigueur.
Landscapes are replaced by addresses,
shaky memories give way to unshakable dates.

Of all your loves mention only the marriage,
of all your children only those who were born.

Who knows you counts more than who you know.
Trips only if taken abroad.

Memberships in what but without why.
Honors, but not how they were earned.
Write as if you’d never talked to yourself
and always kept yourself at arm’s length.

Pass over in silence your dogs, cats, birds,
dusty keepsakes, friends, and dreams.

Price, not worth,
and title, not what’s inside.
His shoe size, not where he’s off to,
that one you pass yourself off as.

In addition, a photograph with one ear showing.
What matters is its shape, not what it hears.

What is there to hear, anyway?
The clatter of paper shredders.

The dread of having to reduce yourself to a résumé. Especially the replacement of landscapes by addresses, of lived experience by dead facts, is a perfect poetic capture of the culture of bureaucracy. Intuitively, I would like to say that this is caused by a lack of meaningful community.

We can read this poem as a definition of such a meaningful community: It is where your pets and dusty keepsakes, your dreams and friends count rather than your de rigueur facts, diplomas and certificates.

What are the paper shredders shredding? Résumés. Modernity is a factory for everybody’s fifteen minutes of fame. When your résumé has been processed it says with a sterile and monotonous voice: “Next”.

I am so familiar with the sentiment herein described that I may not be the ideal person to interpret this poem. As a person who has freed himself from the need of writing and sending in résumés (although I have one for fun) this reminds me of how I can still meet very new people from the start and we get to know each other without reference to certificates and accomplishments.

Reading: Writing a résumé by Wisława Szymborska was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: River by Sharon Black

In the depths of the Internet I found a poetry competition called “Poetry on the lake” that published last year’s winning poems. I am impressed enough to read one here.

River

To enter naked is to feel no shock, no swift laceration –

more a swallowing of the self, a softening

of edges by metallic tang and green.

It’s not to lose oneself but to find

one’s breasts, buttocks, sex

attentive and alive, each slow stroke upstream

a gift of walking to the part of us that’s lame,

a gift of sight to the part of us that’s blind.

The depiction of the entrance into the living river (the “metallic tang” and green signify the algae) is well done. The water is not too cold it seems: no laceration of the nerves but a friendly gobbling up of the body. In interpret the softening of the edges as the disappearance of the boundary between inside and outside.

You don’t lose yourself in the fresh water, but get in touch with your body, more precisely a woman gets in touch with the more pleasurable and intimate parts of her body, that she was taught to hide. The liven up and become attentive in the absence of a prudish culture.

So she starts swimming upstream (it takes some effort to reconnect with the true being of your body). She conquers the “part of her that’s lame” when she is swimming, free from the gravity of societal norms. This also means that she regains sight, in the sense that she becomes aware of the truth conceiled by these norms.

Such a reading is not satisfactory, but I think we can read the final line not as “seeing the light” of some metaphysical truth, but seeing in a certain way that is made possible by the river swimming. Thus the ‘softening of edges’ eventually leads to the reappearnce of these edges in almost Hegelian fashion, as the sharp sight from the vantage point of someone who has “worked through” the immersion experience. Do you, dear reader, think this poem references baptism?

Reading: River by Sharon Black was originally published on Meandering home