Monday, August 11, 2008

Now that you own a victrola

I had thought about writing a poem about my grandparents' Victrola. You know the one? It's really there in my mother's garage, rescued from Grandma Clark's basement when we moved her into the nursing home. It's wooden. I played with it as a kid. It plays music, yes indeed. The needle is heavy enough that you could use it as a weapon, or maybe a cooking implement. It would be the kind of poem that Billy Collins thinks we have enough of. In his famous essay "My Grandfather's Tackle-Box: The Limits of Memory Driven Poetry" Collins points out that:
"Up until the end of the eighteenth century, poetic decorum would remind the author that he must keep himself subordinate to his subject matter, which would be determined by his choice of genre. High matter for the epic, verbal coyness or plangent sincerity for the love lyric. For a poet to write of his own life— his discovery of daffodils in a field or his grandfather's tackle box in the attic — would be not only self-indulgent but of no value to an audience interested in its own edification, not in
the secrets of the poet's past."

Yet it's not because of Collins that I haven't written that object-fetishization poem about my grandparents' victrola. No. I read the advertisement copy from the original machine, and it was already a poem:

Now that you own a Victrola, the whole world of music is open to you. There is no kind of music that you may not hear, at will, for the greatest artists in the world record for the Victrola. Everything is yours, from the magnificent pagentry of the grand opera to the wild swing of the dance. The opera, the oratorio, the gospel hymn, the musical farce, the popular song, the war-song, the military march, the symphony — these come to you in your own home. There is no variety of personal taste and no condition of mind, to which Victor records will not minister.

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