I like poems that tell you what to do. They satisfy my inclination to speak in the second person when I write poems, talking to a "you" that's always partly me. But I love poems that poke holes in what they're telling you to do.
Morgan Parker's "If You are Over Staying Woke" amazes me; it's one of my favorite poems I've read this year. It starts out with some pretty straightforward instructions and soon veers into telling you to do impossible things. Water, news, funerals: I love these irregular repeated patterns in it, the discomfort they create as they get grammatically irregular. I love the way its form resembles the bumps in a spine. I love that Parker abandons periods for the rest of the poem after "Be honest / when you're up to it." The poem seems to acknowledge this later with the line "Never punctuate". I love being told what to do with the sky. And the way the last several lines tumble into the ending, like a frozen waterfall of demands. "Turn / into water" and "Keep a song mind". Maybe I will, I think, maybe I am.
Because I love Morgan Parker's poems on the internet, I bought her book Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night, which won a contest for which Eileen Myles was the judge. "Edward the Confessor," the poem from which Eileen Myles' book Not Me gets its title, is another poem that I like for how it tells you what to do. This poem, like a lot of Myles' work, is mostly in the first person. It opens with:
I have a confession to make
I wish there were
some role in society
I could fulfill
I could be a confessor
I have a confession to make
This repetition, set off with a stanza break, suggests that this confessor is someone who confesses, not someone who takes confessions. This idea comes up again when the poem escapes, midway through, into a second-person moment of telling you what to do:
…I hope you accept
this tiny confession of what
I am currently going through.
And if you are experiencing
something of similar nature,
tell someone, not me,
but tell someone. It's the new
human program to be in.
I love how emphatically the poem turns on the confessor role in this moment. It's even in italics: not me. Telling someone what you're going through is a cool new human program, one the speaker might rather put in a poem than do with a person. I also enjoy thinking of the multiple senses of "program" for what a "human program" might be: a sequence of scheduled activities, or a TV show, or a computer program. Like we're enacting some kind of radical software upgrade on the world by sharing what's on our minds, listening to each other. And maybe that's true.
And I've written before about how much I love Eileen Myles' meditations, from her wonderful book Inferno, on poetry as an art of failure. That's true for me. And oddly encouraging.
What are you reading lately? What's it telling you to do? Tell someone, maybe me. It's the new human program to be in.