CAMBRIDGE, Mass. elena gotchko is the editor-in-chief of plangent voices (“upper-case free since 2003!”), a literary quarterly whose mission is to bring difficult, even impenetrable verse to its readers, but she’s tearing her hair out today for reasons other than the torments of artistic creation. “let the whining begin,” she says as she hits the “Send” button to deliver rejection notices to hundreds of female writers whose poems have been turned down for the spring issue.
One of the lucky ones.
Within seconds, the anguished replies start to fly in, like birds scurrying for cover from a storm. “You don’t know how much this hurts, elena,” writes Elizabet Virgule, whose “Seagulls at the Town Dump,” a six haiku cycle about the tragedy of summer vacationers who don’t recycle, was dinged with a form rejection. “I was a charter subscriber, AND I bought the coffee mug, sweatshirt and mouse pad from the plangent voices website gift shop!”
You two are going to have to fight it out, womano a womano.
But Gotchko doesn’t back down. “elizabet, your poems still lack the tragic sense of life that i find in the verse of contemporaries of yours such as marta huinguis, whose ‘ode to ian’ dives deeper into the brackish hell of the human condition than your little ditties.”
But with an eye on the bottom line, which currently–as always–shows a deficit, gotchko throws a life preserver Virgule’s way. “if you act now, you can join the dead boyfriend club for the incredibly low price of only $109.95, not including shipping and sales tax.”
“If you can’t afford the dead boyfriend club, I’m willing to get sick over a three-day weekend for $49.95.”
The Dead Boyfriend Club is gotchko’s innovation to bring necessary misery into the lives of poetesses whose work shimmers on the surface but has no depth. “Until you’ve suffered some grievous loss, you’re just tossing a word salad,” says Professor Ewing Carter, Jr. of Emory University. “Some of these women go from editor of their high school literary magazine to English major to MFA without suffering anything worse than a campus parking ticket.”
For a one-time setup charge, the Dead Boyfriend Club provides members with a fictional deceased boyfriend they can mourn through poetry, including a facsimile birth certificate, childhood pictures, and bad juvenile doggerel that the poet himself tried to suppress, but which the surviving spouse/girlfriend either honors or criticizes for the false impression of her that it gave to a miniscule reading public.
“Double suicide? Okay, you go first.”
A monthly maintenance fee adds details that can either further infuriate the writer–an affair with a fictional creative writing instructor–or hasten a downward spiral of mourning. “When I found out that my ‘Mark’ was going to give me a festschrift for my thirtieth birthday before his life was cut short by an errant Frisbee, I finally found the voice I needed to channel everyday bitchiness into the universality of great art,” says Huinguis, who plunked down $450 for a lifetime membership.
After a bit of back-and-forth with gotchko, Virgule signs up for a trial membership, which she can cancel within 30 days if she doesn’t like the dead boyfriend gotchko hooks her up with. She downloads the software and, after reading through the bio of “Wystan Huber,” a promising young poet whose fictional life came to a premature end when his skinny necktie was caught in the automatic feed of a photocopier, is on the verge of tears. The on-line options presented to her are “Pleasant memories” and “Painful memories,”and she clicks on the latter to discover that “Wystan” made a practice of selling her classical CDs at a used record shop to support his addiction to “healthy” snack foods. Her cheeks flush with color, and for the first time in months the words that flow from her pen are alive with emotion and not just manufactured outrage over environmental issues. I rage, she writes,
the words on the page that
limn a life led with lies.
She pauses for a moment to collect herself.
and so is my Britten,
all so you could feed
and neglect MY needs.
Such chutzpah–how brazen!
That you would sell my music
for a bag of yogurt-covered raisins!
Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”