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Tony Gruenewald

New Jersey's Problem Poets

"New Jersey Walks a Tightrope In Handling Its Poet Problem"
               --The New York Times June 28, 2003

"The only way to deal with the deer problem is to reduce the size of the herd."
               --Tom Poole, Chairman, Princeton Deer Problem
                     Evaluation Committee.

The theory goes: The aroma of
coffee brewing in big box book stores
attracted them; those who'd
thought Walt Whitman a bridge and
never knew the distinction of
simile and metaphor were
exposed to the virus, propagating till
all considered themselves poets.

At first it was considered commendable;
poetry's contemplation flowering
from the cracks of an instant access culture.
Migrating from venue to venue,
they swarmed the lists of
local open mikes, spreading
epidemics of raggedy
rhythm and messy meter.

Soon enough, the once few
who'd kept the candle so hidden that
the flame'd been considered
eternally doused wondered,
"What to do about those
faulty footed free-versers
and rough rhyming rappers
waxing universal,
overrunning our neatly
enjambed, self-referential

What to do?

What to do?

©2003 by Tony Gruenewald

Tony Gruenewald earns his keep as an Assistant Studio Director and Communications Coordinator for the New Jersey Unit of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. In previous lives he has worked in radio journalism and advertising and, if all else fails, still has his Teamsters card. His work has been seen in The New York Times, The Edison Literary Review, Caffeine, U.S. 1, Adbusters, Slow Trains and other mostly defunct publications.

Poet's note:

The New York Times headline is from an article about the New Jersey legislature's nearly year long struggle to decide the fate of the position of state poet laureate. The position had been so far below the radar screen that most poets didn't even know it existed. That changed in September 2002 when Amirii Baraka, who had recently been named to the post, read a poem titled "Somebody Blew Up America" at the Dodge Poetry Festival in northern New Jersey. The performance piece included a stanza implying that the Israeli government had advance knowledge of the September 11th attacks. Within days, Governor James McGreevey was calling for Baraka's resignation, and many state legislators were drafting legislation to remove Baraka. The governor and the legislators found that the law creating the post had no provision to fire the poet laureate. Baraka refused to resign, and threatened lawsuits should he be fired. For a time the national press, including CNN and Fox News, had their fun with it. By July 2003, when the headline was written, the issue still had not been resolved. The legislature, facing a monstrous budget crisis, major educational issues, and other pressing problems, seemed to be spending a disproportionate amount of time dealing with the poet laureate "problem." They eventually decided to eliminate the position. Baraka is suing.

The deer epigraph is from a story about how Princeton, New Jersey (where I work) was dealing with its exploding deer population. With new home and business construction sprawling over much of New Jersey's vast farmland and wilderness, the deer population is being concentrated. (And if your vision of New Jersey is the opening credits of The Sopranos, there is a reason it's known as The Garden State. If you've enjoyed cranberries or eggplant recently, they were probably grown in Jersey.) The sprawl has even further displaced the natural predators of the deer. Princeton has mulled and employed many approaches including hunts, traps and sterilization. There is a similar Canadian Goose controversy. The geese no longer migrate and live here year round. The population is booming. Recently a park in Union County herded hundreds of geese into a mobile goose gas chamber.

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