NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.
Congratulations, she said, the editors have selected you to contribute a volume of essays on contemporary poetry to our prestigious annual book series The Empirical Poem. I’m sorry, he said, editors? At the university press, she said, the screening process is a highly competitive one each year; fierce, even, some might say. I think you have the wrong number, he said, or maybe you’re mistaking me for someone else; I’m an attorney, you see, not a poet. Ah, like Stevens, she said, both in your choice of vocation, I mean, and characteristic modesty; it’s quite charming. Thank you, he said, but seriously, I have never written a single poem in my entire life. This is a great honor, she said, and perhaps you misunderstood me—the book will be a volume of critical essays, not poems, goodness no. You know, I think the last poem I ever read, he said, was that business about the wheelbarrow and the wet chicken. Are you suggesting, she said, that the editors are just out here playing knuckleball? So much depends on, he said, something something. Do you think the editors are fucking around, she said, flinging around a career-making commission like this willy-nilly, for a book series that has included Pfliegman’s shrewd analysis of Dylan Thomas’s correlative capability, Schopenhauer’s award-winning study of Manxian praxis, and Rosenbaum’s astonishing discourse on the poetry of babies? Something something, wet chickens, he said, I always did like that one. You decline an accolade like this, you don’t just embarrass yourself, she said, you’re telling everyone who’s ever written a book for The Empirical Poem to go fuck themselves. I’m sorry, he said, it all sounds very fancy. The university is handing you a free meal, she said, and you’re shitting on the cutlery. It’s been a long day, he said, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’m offering you a goddamn tenure track to Sittingprettyville, and you’re forgetting that there’s a difference between the outward appearance of grandiosity, she said, and the truly grand; I mean, don’t lawyers fucking understand intuitively that in order to get sausage, you have to break a few eggs? Trust me, I know an egg from a spitball, he said, but where my head is at today is, if an independent pig farmer in Kentucky gets a tip to short the Chicago pork market from his growth hormone dealer, does that constitute insider trading? It would depend, she said, on whether you were talking about pork futures or pork hedge funds. See, he said, now we’re talking. That is, she said, just one woman’s opinion. Don’t be so modest, he said, I’ve got a proposition for you. Okay, she said, I think I smell what you’re cooking. So long as most of the essays, he said, will be about wheelbarrows and wet chickens. So long as most of my securities fraud work was in beef, she said. You know, he said, I’m an alumnus of the university. I was a litigator in Lubbock, she said, in another lifetime. Please convey my gratitude to the editors, he said, really, it’s an honor. It’s the curveballs, she said, that delight.