25th Trillium Award

Parasite to Patron: I Can Haz Arts Grant?

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If you were following the news last month, chances are you read about the cat parasite, which induces in its hosts a variety of eccentric traits and symptoms helpful to cats and harmful to babies. (In women, these traits reportedly include a willingness to drink suspicious liquids and to adopt stray cats. Men are more likely to become anxious about leaving the house and to forego various aspects of personal hygiene.)

If you are a writer, especially of the cat-owning persuasion, chances are you recognized yourself in the description of symptoms. I would venture that nearly all members of the writing community are afflicted.

But, fellow writers, poets especially, let's not take the news of this parasite too hard. The flourishing of such an eccentric creature, whose perverse effects can only be described as a kind of Darwinian poetry, should be an inspiration to a group of people referred to by newspaper commenters as "artsie parasites bellying up to the public trough."

Poets, are you thinking what I'm thinking? Liam Eagle from The Grid thinks we're dead, while radio host Jian Ghomeshi says we are, at best, "very marginal." The time is ripe for us to infect some unsuspecting hosts (as always, pun intended).

Unsurprisingly, poet Christian Bok is ahead of the curve on this whole poetry/bacteria thing. He has been at his petri dish for several years already. But his project, which has so far involved a poetic call-and-response with E.coli DNA, and whose ultimate goal is to encode a poem into the DNA of the indestructible bacterium D.radiodurans, seems a little tame to me under the circumstances.

In light of the wild success of the cat parasite, I have a few modest suggestions for the improvement of the poetry bacterium. Christian, and others with lab access, please take note:

  • It should live in the intestinal tract, or possibly the inner ear, or possibly the wallet
  • It should be transmitted by eye contact
  • Ideally, it should infect everyone, but especially those who have large disposable incomes. It should trigger an irrepressible desire to use one's income in support of the poetic arts. The bodily ecology of poetry patron Scott Griffin may hold the key
  • It should elicit from its hosts a variety of sympathetic poetry tics, such as compulsive carriage returns in the middle of typed sentences, mild-to-moderate alcoholism, and the inability to use a microphone without causing feedback. This would not be especially useful, but it would decrease the patron-poet gulf
  • It should endow poets with the ability to eat rats when necessary. (A practical as well as badass skill.) In addition to sharing his recipes, notorious rodent-muncher Farley Mowat should volunteer his antibodies/stomach enzymes for further study
  • It should not cause its hosts to pet or fondle poets in any way. That would be creepy. But periodic, consensual grooming would be fine
  • It should give us all a better working theory of what, precisely, poet Michael Robbins means by the lines "That elk is such a dick. He?s a space tree/making a ski and a little foam chiropractor" in his infectious poem "Alien vs. Predator." It should encourage us to talk openly about these theories
  • It should cause people not to get so hung up on meaning. Making sense is overrated
  • It should take over the administration of arts grants. Bacteria are, after all, the only truly objective judges of art
  • It should cause coffee shop staff to give more free refills
  • It should make heritage minister James Moore speak with 5% fewer vowels at his disposal each time he makes a cut to arts funding
  • It should afflict cats as well as humans. Matthea Harvey would be the new catnip. Sylvia Legris would be the new tuna
  • It should cause people to let poets sleep in their hay lofts
  • It should cause more people to have hay lofts

This list is by no means complete. Please send in your suggestions throughout Poetry Month: [email protected]. I will consider them each in turn, as local felines and microbes permit.

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