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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

The Art of the State

"It is a position that has been held with pride by some of our greatest literary figures. But being Poet Laureate has not been an entirely positive experience for the current incumbent, Andrew Motion. He has revealed that the role has left him with a bad case of writer's block. And—to add insult to injury—his poetic offerings have failed to elicit any feedback from the Queen. 'The job has been incredibly difficult and entirely thankless,' Motion told an audience at the Ealing Arts Festival in West London."
—"The Laureate's Lament," Beth Hale, The Daily Mail,
September 9, 2008.


May 9

Hello, fellow citizens of our great state! I just want to kick off this blog—which I'm maintaining in fulfillment of Section Fourteen, Paragraph 9.6, of the generous and far-sighted legislation that created the post of Poet Laureate for our commonwealth—by saying how honored I am to have received this appointment. I never dared to hope that a lifetime of devotion to the Muse of Poetry would culminate in this high honor.

But nevertheless, as a little girl submitting my first verses to Jack & Jill magazine; as a teenager publishing sonnets in her school literary magazine, the Lignite Literary Lode (go, Tar and Brown teams!); as an assistant professor of Remedial English Composition at the Wankling County campus of our fine State University; as a frequent contributor to various poetry journals (including the prestigious Stuffed Owl Review); and finally, as the grateful daughter of State Senator Jay "Earmark" Hulkow, I never wavered in my belief in the power of poetry to uplift, enlighten, and entertain the Common Voter. So once more, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Please stick around at this blog. I don't think you'll be disappointed!

As John Greenleaf Whittier wrote (you can look it up in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, edited by Hazel Felleman, my favorite source of inspiration):

Linger in the sunset glow,
Our grateful hearts all bid thee
Bend hitherward and do not go.

May 12

The Governor has given me my first official task! He asked me to write a poem commemorating the opening of the new Arbogast River Fish Ladder, Spillway, and Irrigation Pipeline that will be capable of providing up to one hundred million gallons of water daily to the farms in Storch County, down in the southern portion of our good state, as well as helping the endangered Slootmacher shad to reproduce. I have the fact sheet before me now—it's kind of dry, pun intended!—but I expect inspiration to strike soon.

Maybe I should turn to a foreigner, the English poet William Blake, even though editor Hazel Felleman did not think enough of him to include any poems of his in her book. He wrote about the Thames River, and maybe my poem could go something like his.

I wander through each field of
Near where the chartered
Arbogast does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Happiness which to the Govenor
must go!
Well, that's a start! Check back later for more!


May 29

Well, the big christening of the Arbogast River Fish Ladder, Spillway, and Irrigation Pipeline came and went, and yours truly was present in my capacity as State Poet Laureate. I read my poem to the assembled dignitaries and average citizens, and you can find it reproduced on the website of the Swampscott Daily Intelligencer, under the headline, "Local Woman Offers Dedicatory Verses to Delay-plagued Public Works Project," and here's the link.

Reception to my ode, "Surge on Through Conduits of Gold, O Mighty Arbogast," was mixed. I suspect that the noise of the pumps, the barking of the Slootmacher shad (you'd never know they were endangered, they're so ugly and so numerous!), and a bit of impolite contending chatter from some of those seated on the grandstand with me all conspired to drown out my best lines.

But I have sent a printout of the poem—multicolored inks on cream stationery with my name and picture at the top—to the Governor, and I expect him to send an official thank-you note my way soon!


May 30

I just have to jump on the old blog today to say thanks to all my loyal readers. I can't count the number of comments that flooded in yesterday, in response to my pointing you toward my poem, and expressing my little bit of blues. There had to be literally hundreds of comments, the majority of them supporting Poet Hulkow in her mission to uplift the citizenry of our proud state.

I'm christening all of you "Hulkow's Heroes," and I just want you to know I'll never let you down!


June 15

Assignment Number Two has just dropped into my lap!

I did not actually get the commission from the Governor himself, as he's a very busy man (so busy in fact that he has yet to send me that thank-you note I alluded to hopefully a few weeks ago).

I found out about the new demand for my poem-crafting abilities through a Senate newsletter Dad happened to bring home from the capitol. One article told about the annual release of the nutria-hunting stamps which the state sells to those who wish to bag the little varmints legally. Clearly, this release qualifies for a celebratory poem, under Section 23, Paragraph 1.6, of my enabling Act: "The Poet Laureate shall be responsible for commemorating all State-sponsored actions that conduce toward the public good."

Now, I ask you, doesn't eliminating pestiferous rodents fall under that category?

I immediately called the Governor's office and managed to speak to one of his under-secretaries, who assured me that the Department of Wildlife would be proud to have me read my poem at the unveiling of the nutria-stamp artwork next week.


June 24

I know that all of "Hulkow's Heroes" are waiting to hear my side of the "Great Nutria-Stamp Riot." After all, even the Swampscott Daily Intelligencer has its media biases, and can't be relied on to report every little detail, even if such details are essential to my self-defense. In a nutshell, the whole affair goes like this.

When I wrote my poem, "White Hunter's Burden," I had no idea that the artist for the nutria stamps, Mr. J. V. W. Prasad, was of Hindu extraction. (Apparently, down in East Laurelmead there's a sizable Hindu population that has something to do with a software firm in that district.) Even when I came face to face with him at the ceremony, his nationality was not apparent. (I thought all people from India were much darker than that.)

So naturally, when it came time I launched right into my poem, which was based on one by Rudyard Kipling, an author highly sanctioned by Hazel Felleman, but one who apparently is received with mixed feelings in certain foreign climes.

Take up the White Hunter's
burden —
Before those rats can breed —
Go buy your son a twenty-two
To slay nutria 'midst the reeds;
You'll wait in squelchy marshes,
Once you've purchased all your
stamps —
Or maybe launch your Evinrude,
Down the Grant Park boating
Well, before I got even halfway through my poem, Mr. Prasad was up on his feet and shouting out something about insults and racial prejudice and what a disgrace. And then members of the audience started chiming in, and officials started yelling, and the State Police were called —

I find I can't go on. It's all too depressing.

I'm sending a copy of my poem to the Governor, but I am not holding out for a thank-you note this time.


June 25

I just had a call from the Governor himself, telling me that I am no longer the Poet Laureate.

This is the lowest day of my life. For the first time since I was a little girl, I no longer feel the call from the Muse. Creating poetry seems the farthest thing from my mind.

But I can still enjoy reading it. And so I turn to the inspirational words of Maltbie D. Babcock:

Be strong!
We are not here to play, to dream,
to drift,
We have hard work to do, and
loads to lift.
Shun not the struggle; face it.
'Tis God's gift.

June 30

I can't let myself down!

I can't let "Hulkow's Heroes" down! (Thousands of positive comments to my last post! Thanks again!)

And most importantly, I can't let Poetry down!

In the words of the great Walter Malone:

Wail not for precious chances
passed away!
Weep not for golden ages on the
Each night I burn the records of
the day —
At sunrise every soul is born
I've examined the legislation that created my post, and determined with Dad's help that there is no clause that would allow the Governor to terminate my position before the year is up. Therefore, I am going to continue to recite my compositions at every public function I can find.

But my one theme from this day hence will be the recall of the Governor!

We still have a month to get such an initiative on the November ballot, and I know that with your help, we can!

I'll be posting a list of my appearances on this blog, and expect to see you all there to sign the recall petition.


July 27

The recall proposition made the ballot, thanks to all of you!

And maybe thanks to such poems as "Elegy for a Ratfink" and "When Liars Last in the State House Loomed."

Now we just need to find a write-in candidate for Governor.


August 1

This is a calling I never sought, but one which I can't turn away from, lest I disappoint all my fans.

So, yes, I will stand for Governor!

On to the campaign, with the Warrior Maiden Poetry at our side!


November 8

There's so much happening in my life, and so many chores to attend to in the wake of the triumphant election, that I fear I won't be posting much anymore—at least until I settle into office.

One very intriguing matter I need to look into is a project that has come to my attention down in the East Laurelmead "Silicon Valley" region. One company there specializes in something called "artificial intelligence," and I hear they've created a poetry-writing robot!

Now, I don't want to disparage good old flesh-and-blood humans, but if we could fill my vacant laureate post with a machine—well, there'd be all sorts of budgetary savings that we could apply to some of my other dream projects, such as "Poetry for the Homeless" and "Poetry for the Medically Uninsured."

But whoever—or whatever—fills my old shoes, I did want to mention that, in accordance with your wishes, my inaugural speech will incorporate a quote from I. J. Bartlett's offering in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, a book you've all adopted as your Bible.

There's a town called Don't-
On the banks of River Smile;
Where the Cheer-Up and Be-
Blossom sweetly all the while.
Where the Never-Crumble
Blooms beside the fragrant Try,
And the Ne'er-Give-Up and
Point their faces to the sky.
—Dedicated to the memory of Tom Disch

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