Although according to its ancient Greek etymology, the word “poetry” means “to do” or “to make,” some poets do not intend for their writing to have an immediate effect; rather, the words are certain to eventually affect something or somebody, as long as they are read. At least half of the population learned that the epic poets were itinerant. According to Plato’s Republic and Laws, it was in part because their words competed with the rule of the king.
Perhaps the more circuitous way of doing and making is why so many poets these days are also college professors, like Dan Chelotti, who teaches at Elms. They teach and they write, meaning that they do and undo, by reading and evaluating so that some of their students might live better than some of their contemporaries have.
Historians used to say that the Puritans did not have any time for the liberal arts because they were busy working for sustenance in the New World. These days America has an abundance of poets and college professors. Some of them want to do things that have never been done before; others excel at playing jokes; and still others work as hard as they can at loafing.
Take for instance the throbbing and murky poetry world of Manhattan, New York. Dan Chelotti gave a public reading from his book X last September in the basement of the McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street with Kathleen Ossip and Cathy Park Hong. X is the title, just X. He discussed the meaning of it with Jasmine Dreame Wagner in The Conversant sometime later. Hong and Ossip are both somewhat better established than Chelotti, and rightly so, since they have been at it for longer. They read from Engine Empire and The Cold War. Ossip is a poetry professor at the New School University.
Just after they did it, I asked Chelotti if he thought poets would be able to stop climate change and global warming.
“Back when the Deep Horizon Oil spill happened, there was this great website that a friend of mine started called Poets for Living Waters. Hundreds of poets started to send their poems in and I did too,” Chelotti said. The site was run by Amy King, Heidi Lynn Staples and Wendy Babiak, who tried to raise awareness about the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico which lasted for almost three months.
One of my favorite poems by Chelotti is published on the websiteiO Poetry. It has a wonderful and permanent youthfulness to it. “The Job Market” is about a person who plays chicken in the street and kills a motorcyclist.
“The second car drives over you,
but you are between the wheels.
And then the third, the third is a motorcycle,
and you are like yes! A motorcycle.
My chances are good but the biker
lines you up and runs over one of your
feet, and breaks it. And as you howl
in pain, the motorcycle man flips off
his bike and into a brick wall” (Lns. 5 – 9).
Kent Shaw, a professor at West Virginia State, says Chelotti’s new book X is political. He wrote in The Rumpus, that the poet is advocating for a different form of government, one perhaps akin to oligarchy.
The difference between capitalism and Chelotti’s ideal government is that his would offer a greater variety of products, some of which were produced by environmentally responsible companies. The point is that products only last so long. But if a company can keep making products, even if they are cheap junk, they can be great while they last.