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Essay

by Don Taylor

##

I suppose I should start with my personal confession.
Long before I ever owned a computer— long before
'internet poetry' was ever two words, I was a 'curb-
poem' junkie.

Looking back, my addiction to curb-poetry seems in-
evitable— like most addictions, mine started in my late
teens. I was then living in New York City, in the borough
of Queens. Every Sunday, I would take a fairly lengthy
subway ride from Flushing into Manhattan, then switch
trains and continue downtown to the fifth block on De-
lancy Street— there strewn in the gutter all the way up
to the corner was the world's largest amalgamation of
junk curb-poetry ever assembled in one place.

In today's world of poem proliferation on the internet,
it probably seems not so amazing, but in the early 1970's
one could easily wear out a pair of platform shoes strol-
ling the curbs and gutters on Delancy Street, downtown.

Poems were everywhere! There were piles and piles of
poems! There were shopping carts from local grocery
stores full of poems, written on every color of paper
one can imagine— and chap books, too, by the tens of
thousands; flyers full of poems, notebooks full of poems,
poems in letters, poems in notes to secret loves— all in
their individual degree of spoil and tattered soaked mess,
some in the gutter, most grouped in that delightful place
where the horizontal concrete street, itself, gives way to
soft vertical and then to the rolling curve of the asphalt
curb.

The selection of poems was great, the variety amazing—
limited only by the poet's ability to write junk. My only
limitation was the physical feasibility of daily transport-
ing more than a couple of orange crates full of poems I
had shoveled up indiscriminately with my sweeping arms.

Over those early years I took home crate after crate full
of curb-poems, dumped them out in the attic over the ga-
rage and waited until the next week to head back to my
curb on Delancy Street— via subway and home again by
the same route.

In those days I scooped with reckless abandon. Kids
in candy stores felt no greater joy than I did when I
saw that several 'new' piles had been dumped overnight
by sanitation crews. I approached the heaps with such
palpitations that I always had to 'step back,' 'slow down'
and 'take it easy' when all I wanted to do was get down
on my knees and plunge right in to the very center of
those many mounds.

Nor was I ever discouraged by the grime, the soot, ve-
hicle tracings, tire marks, garbage, sand, rock salt, gut-
ter rain, liquids spilled or released by bladder action—
never discouraged by all the refuse that collected in,
around, and atop those poems.

Finally, there was precious little room available up in
the attic for more, for new acquisitions— but wasn't
there's always some way to squeeze in a few more
orange crates full of poems?

Wasn't there? Yes, there always was.

Time passed, and other responsibilities made it more
and more difficult to devote half a Sunday each week
to curb-poetry. But then something happened— I didn't
need to! The internet was invented and the rest, as they
say, is history.

After I bought my computer, I signed up for email po-
etry. Soon I was getting over 300 curb-poems a day
right in my email mailbox. I began to find poetry sites
full of the stuff— right at my fingertips. No more sub-
way rides to Delancy Street and no more carrying orange
crates through the turnstiles and into the subway cars,
no more trudging home through snow with my treasures.

I got offers to buy Chap Books— lots of them. Every
mailing list in the country had my name, probably with
a big star next to it indicating, "this guy collects curb-
poems— send him as much as you can write."

And that was a lot, I'll tell the world.

I collected curb-poetry like a drunken sailor collects
Dime-a-Dance Tickets on the Boardwalk of Atlantic
City. But, alas!— some of the email poems I had to
discard— some were actually quite decent. But I would
have no truck with the decent ones. Quickly I hit the
delete button on 'them' and cleared my email history—
no one would ever know.

Every week on a Monday I surfed over to a poetry site
called 'Canned,' a spin-off place hosted by Avatar Re-
view— one of those poetry magazines that sprang up in
the mid to late 1990's like Salt Lake locust on Brigham
Young and his horse. I could always download eight or
nine curb-poems from Canned. Other lodes at other re-
views were as richly veined.

My favorite mining spot was a board called 'Piffle'— not
only could I find plenty of curb-poems there, but I could
also find screen-loads of curb-critiques, curb-opinions
and curb-responses. My rule with Piffle was simple—
when I had ten pounds of piffling curb-stuff, stuff related
to poetry, I Glad-bagged and hauled the sacks up to the
attic.

Compulsive, perhaps, but there are worse things one can
do with one's time.

Two events occurred in the year 2000 that would turn
my life as a collector of curb-poetics upside down. The
first was that I left my 30-year-plus career in education
to open an independent curb-poemstore in rural Vermont.

The second was a fire that burned down the garage—
over which I had in storage all the early, the vintage, col-
lections and lots of the new internet stuff. The moving
van guys I hired to bring my attic-loads from Chicago
to my new store in Vermont were delayed by a washed-
out bridge in Peoria.

By my bad luck, the van was sent on a four-day and
night detour through the state of Indiana. On the sec-
ond day of that four-day delay, the garage caught fire
and burned down. All those curb-poems— up in smoke.

The implication of the first event is fairly obvious. The
second bears discussion. On the face of it, the aftermath
of the garage fire should not have been as bad as it was—
but it was. I was not able to insure my attic collection
against hazard as my State Farm agent, Gary Johnson,
said that people would be wise to take out insurance
against the many hazards threatened by the collection
itself.

Luckily, I was only a few months in post-fire despair. A
friend helped me realize that an endless supply of curb-po-
ems was written everyday in styles and manners that guaran-
teed eternal replenish— that curb-poetry was not like fossil
fuels.

I have a great curb-poemstore here in Vermont. It's
not that I intend someday to have in stock every curb-
poem ever written. Actually, I'm very choosy about
what curb-poems I want to keep on the shelves. I'm
partial to ones about sand and sea shores, forests,
cats, and other animals— and especially I like poems
about dissolving relationships, women moping around
because lovers are bastard cheats— poems like that—
and lots of 'staying awake at night' poems, and 'sweat'
poems. I'll put my 'sweat' collection up against any
other curb-poemstore in the country.

Once I had a lady in my shop whose primary interest
was chewing gum while writing poetry. She wanted to
know if I had any curb-poems by gum chewers, I said,
'Sure, I have quite a few. I know just what you're look-
ing for."

Lot of people come in my store just to browse. That's
ok because good ideas are here to get— ideas about
writing curb-poetry— and sooner or later those brow-
sers will write some— that's how I keep my store new
and fresh with the latest output.

I think I did the right thing, don't you?

##
Patrick Hall, Owner—
'Hall's Curb-Poemstore'
Richford, Vermont

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