The Onion? America’s Finest News Source? Yes, that Onion, the parody news media outlet. Like so many of the articles and essays I have found about Poetry, I don’t remember exactly how I first stumbled across the story. But what does The Onion have to do with Poetry?
In June and July of 2016, I was taking a course called MCW640B Advanced Workshop in Poetry II through National University. At some point during the course, I found an article entitled: “Shadows Meet The Clouds, Gray On Gray, Like Dusty Charcoal On An Ashen Brow, Nation’s Poets Report.” What could be better than that? Poets as meteorologists, not so much predicting the weather, but describing it as only poets can. Of course the article is a parody, my favorite form of sarcastic writing. The article begins: “NEW YORK — According to a growing consensus of U.S. poets, shadows—inky sharp as a raven’s beak—meet the sullen bloat of clouds, their hues a pallid loam, each a dancer, each alone, like dusty charcoal on an ashen brow.” The sentences are poetic, though tongue-in-cheek, pieced together somewhat haphazardly, and hilarious! I don’t know if The Onion has any poets on staff, but they write some funny stuff, especially when they are making fun of my true passion. As poets and as humans we have to be able to laugh at ourselves.
I went back to The Onion‘s website recently to see if there were more. In a search for “poem,” “poet,” and “poetry” I found a total of 22 parody articles. There are seven full-length articles, and 14 short paragraph-length articles, and one obituaryesque death announcement. Additionally, there are a few brief “radio broadcast” news stories between two and five minutes each. Aside from the article mentioned above, the other six full-length articles are: “Bush Regales Dinner Guests With Impromptu Oratory On Virgil,” “I Could Write A Better Rubaiyat Than That Khayyam Dipsh*t,” “Maya Angelou Honored For Courage, Blackness,” “Nation Afraid To Admit 9-Year-Old Disabled Poet Really Bad,” “National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction Of $1.3 Billion Poem,” and “Sappho Delights Crowds With Poetry.”
The death announcement from May 28, 2014 is “Maya Angelou, Poet, Author, Civil Rights Activist, And—Holy Cow—Tony Award–Nominated Actress, College Professor, Magazine Editor, Streetcar Conductor—Really? Streetcar Conductor? Wow—Calypso Singer, Nightclub Performer, And Foreign Journalist, Dead At 86”.
At times, the articles push the boundaries of propriety as in the death announcement of Maya Angelou. While May 28, 2014 was indeed the day Angelou passed and the announcement was intended to be humorous, maybe that wasn’t the best way to honor her. There is also the parallel between Luke Petrowski’s Hopeweavings and Mattie J. T. Stepanek’s Heartsongs. The former is the fictitious 9-year-old in an Onion article while the latter is the real-life poet who died at the age of 13 from dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. Not to make light of DMM, I think there may have been a better way to find humor in the situation. Perhaps The Onion could have selected a different subject, one that didn’t so closely resemble a real-life tragedy. Think about it, is there true artistic merit in the creations we praise, or are we too quick to praise art because of the tragic condition of the artist?
Keep writing and don’t ever take yourself too seriously!