"Plumbers" by Norman Rockwell‘Advice to an Aspiring Careerist’ by Joseph S. Salemi The Society December 12, 2018 Culture, Humor, Poetry 22 Comments —from A Gallery of Ethopaths Schools are diploma mills that provide Credentials for people who have to hide In the small chinks of some corporation Or a bureaucracy’s minor station. Pay your tuition and get your paper And you’ll be ready for your next caper: Type up a résumé—if it’s phony No one will know that it’s pure baloney. Go to a tailor and buy a suit With shirts and silk ties that look really cute, Then visit some company that is vast; Brag that your energy’s unsurpassed. Tell them you feel that their star is rising And that you believe all their advertising. Curry their favor, respect, and trust— Date the receptionist if you must. If such initiative leaves you nervous Just take a test for the Civil Service. Those jobs are designed for the truly dense— All that you need is a bit of sense In order to pass and get on their list And thus be a fellow whom fortune’s kissed. Business or government, what’s the diff? Just avoid being a working stiff. Work is destructive of mind and health And never brought anyone massive wealth. Corporate structures and federal bureaus Are where you can gather up scads of Euros. Simply make sure that they take you on— Once that’s arranged, all your cares are gone. If you’re incompetent, or a dunce, People won’t learn of it all at once— As long as you’re hired and on the payroll You can go running around the Maypole Acting the part of a first-class worker Though really you’re only an idle shirker Going through motions that are complex, Faking it all and collecting checks. After a while you will fit right in— Then just sit back with a Cheshire grin. You now have a sinecure, uncontested, So count off the months till your pension’s vested. Once this is done, ignore the world. Sit home at night in your armchair curled Up with a book of absorbing matter And disregard all of the mindless chatter And noise of modernity’s futile ravings. Live off the interest of bonds and savings. Pour yourself brandy and smoke cigars; Smile and give thanks to your lucky stars That you’re not caught in the swirl and rush Of public existence. Just take a plush Seat in your private abode that’s graced With comfort, intelligence, and good taste. Now and then, certainly, you’ll be troubled By impudent meddlers who’ll make redoubled Efforts to capture your mind’s attention And shake your complacency with dissension. You’ll be addressed by compulsive teachers, Crusaders, reformers, and earnest preachers, Obsessional crackpots on moral benders, Activist weirdos with strange agendas, Whiners who’ll tell you “You ought to be Involved with humanity!”—they don’t see Why you’re absorbed in your petty self And rolling in comfort and excess pelf While poor homeless people are on the street Walking about in their stocking feet, Or why you eat filets mignons and veals When some other loser gets Meals on Wheels. There’s not much to say to these drooling nerds— I don’t see the purpose for mincing words. Pause for a moment, expel a yawn, Then open your eyes like a startled fawn, Clear your soft throat with a gentle cough And tell these complainers to bugger off. Once they have left and you’re all alone Repair to your living-room telephone. Call a girl over for drinks and dinner And finish the night as a carnal sinner. Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College. Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window) Related 22 Responses Joseph Charles MacKenzie December 12, 2018 The best satire reveals the often shallow pathos of the human condition reduced to a state of nature and deprived of supernatural redemption. Although unsettling, that mirror of truth, when held up to the face of society by a truly gifted hand, is all that I mean by the satiric. Joseph Salemi has raised this most necessary of arts to a level of perfection our Anglo-American poetry had not seen prior to the “Gallery of Ethopaths”—a breakthrough in the history of letters. Reply Joe Tessitore December 13, 2018 I not sure that a poem can be both unsettling and funny. I read this excerpt several times and find that I agree with you – unsettling indeed, rendered all the more so by the fact that it comes to us from a poet that teaches in two universities. I’m sure you’re correct in describing it as satire, but I find myself struggling with that description. Isn’t satire, as practiced, for example, by Mark Twain, supposed to leave some room for laughter? This was such a comprehensively negative portrait that even the obviously funny lines ( like dating the receptionist) lost their humor for me. Nonetheless a spectacular portrait and a tour d force of rhyme. Reply Joseph S. Salemi December 13, 2018 1. Satire and light verse are separate genres. 2. Mark Twain was not a satirist. Mark Twain was a humorist. There’s a difference. 3. A Gallery of Ethopaths is Juvenalian satire. Such satire is cold, harsh, and unforgiving. 4. It’s not always the job of poetry to make people happy. 5. The truth is not uniformly pleasant, child-friendly, upbeat,and Smiley-Faced. That’s a peculiarly North American misconception. Joseph Tessitore December 13, 2018 I did not say that Twain was a satirist – I said that he practiced it. Neither did I say that it is always the job of poetry to make people happy. Evan has rejected poetry from me that he felt was too dark: Epitaph Snow flies The willow cries A nation dies Joseph Tessitore December 13, 2018 Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps our most beloved poet and certainly one of mine. He was far from child-friendly, upbeat, and Smiley-Faced. Joseph S. Salemi December 13, 2018 Dear Joseph– Thank you for your kind words. They are deeply appreciated. I have wanted to revitalize the art of satire, in strict Juvenalian style, for many years. Whether I shall have succeeded in the eyes of posterity is something none of us can determine now. But the fact that a certain tedious and posturing lame-brain who posts comments here regularly has taken the occasion to insult you in this thread is unfortunate, though perhaps not unexpected. It’s an act of charity to ignore him. Reply Joseph S. Salemi December 13, 2018 My post above is directed to Joseph MacKenzie. Sally Cook December 12, 2018 Accurate, piercing, and so much fun! Thanks again, Joseph, for once more reminding us of our wandering human ways. Reply David Paul Behrens December 12, 2018 A masterful and humorous description of life in our world. However, before one asks the receptionist for a date, I recommend checking with the Human Resources department to inquire about their sexual harassment policy. Reply James A. Tweedie December 12, 2018 No doubt Mr. Salemi has seen more than his share of morally vacuous future career apparatchiks pass through his classroom at Hunter College looking for an easy “A” and threatening a lawsuit when they don’t get one! Insofar as poets tend to find their inspiration close at hand, Mr. Salemi is most fortunate indeed, since there are few places more vulnerable to satire than a college campus! Reply C.B. Anderson December 12, 2018 And so we pass, composed and cool, Good students in a charter school. Reply Wic E. Ruse Blade December 12, 2018 Though at moments, in Mr. Salemi’s “Advice to an Aspiring Careerist” from A Gallery of Ethopaths, I am reminded of Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Mr. Salemi is not as careful in his meter as the Middle English poet; in fact, I would say his tetrametres are downright clumsy at times. But they are interesting. A typical line runs two dactyls followed by two trochees (with or without the final unaccented syllable), as in the following couplet: “Type up a résumé—if it’s a phony No one will know that it’s pure baloney.” At times the final trochee becomes a spondee, “As long as you’re hired and on the payroll You can go running around the Maypole.” [Note the Byronic rhyme play, but also the natural two-syllable pronunciation of hired!] or even earlier, and almost iambic’lly, as in “Then just sit back with a Cheshire grin.” Though I am equally guilty of it, I really don’t like a run-on past a couplet’s rhyme, as in “That you’re not caught in the swirl and rush Of public existence. Just take a plush Seat in your private abode that’s graced With comfort, intelligence, and good taste.” That being said, Mr. Salemi’s diction is rich, and as Ms. Cook has pointed out…”fun”. He also comes close, at times, to that Chaucerlike ability to be both satirical and cordial. This is a rarety that even the greatest satirist in the English language—Swift—could not carry off. However, I must vociferously disagree with Mr. MacKenzie when he states that Mr. Salemi has “raised this most necessary of arts to a level of perfection our Anglo-American poetry had not seen prior to the “Gallery of Ethopaths”—a breakthrough in the history of letters.” Though Mr. MacKenzie may be unaware of it—that quote is positively hilarious, and I couldn’t stop laughing for at least two minutes and thirty-four seconds after I read it. Though the statement is ludicrous, it does show Mr. MacKenzie’s flair for words…à la Molière. I do hope our Secretary of Noughtiness, Mr. Besmirch, is taking notes. Reply Joseph Tessitore December 13, 2018 “our Secretary of Noughtiness…” – a truly remarkable line that begs the question, but far be it from me to ask! Reply Rajendra Singh Baisthakur December 14, 2018 A good poem with a simple theme expressed in a lucid manner. Reflecting a piece of life. Reply Michael Dashiell December 14, 2018 Witty and sardonic with enough variation in words and shaping that the stream of couplets isn’t monotonous. Reply Mark Stone December 15, 2018 Dr. Salemi, Hello. 1. I agree with Wic E. Ruse Blade’s general point about the meter of the poem. I read the first four words of the poem (“Schools are diploma mills”) and concluded that the poem would be in trimeter, since the first two metrical feet are dactyls. Then I read through the poem, expecting it to be in trimeter, and it seemed that nearly every line was short by one syllable. To illustrate, I have taken the first 12 lines of the poem and added one syllable to each line (except for line 10, which did not require any changes). I have made a few other revisions so that all lines are in trimeter, dactylic meter to be specific. The words I have added are in full caps. Here goes: Schools are diploma mills that JUST provide SO-CALLED credentials for people who’ll hide In the small chinks of some BIG corporation Or a bureaucracy’s LOWER GRADE station. Pay your tuition BILL and get your paper And you’ll be SET for your UPCOMING caper: Type up a résumé—if it IS phony No one will know that it’s pureLY baloney. Go to a tailor and buy a NEW suit With shirts and silk ties that look really cute, Then YOU WILL visit A FIRM that is vast; Brag that your energy IS unsurpassed. In short, I am not familiar with the meter of the poem. I do think that if you chose to put it into trimeter, it would flow smoothly, like a trimaran sailing elegantly through the prosodic seas. 2. For me at least, reading an 80-line poem that is all in one stanza is like trying to put all of my dinner into my mouth at once and then swallow it, without having any time to chew (or enjoy the taste and texture). I may be a lightweight, but it’s just too much for me. If you put the poem into quatrains, I would be able take my time and savor each morsel. 3. Regarding content, I would say that the poem is creative, clever, funny and wise, and that it reflects an understanding of the way the world is (in many cases), as opposed to the way it should be. Reply Joseph S. Salemi December 16, 2018 I’m sorry to say this, but both you and Mr. Wise are sadly deficient in the understanding of English meter. My poem (which is a short section of a 5000-line epic, by the way) is written in IAMBIC TETRAMETER. Your notion that it was supposed to be in trimeter, and Mr. Wise’s even more bizarre idea that it could be compared to the iambic pentameter of Chaucer’s prologue to the Canterbury Tales, are blunders that do your critical reputations no good. Iambic verse can be varied by substitutions. In fact ANY formal line of verse can be so varied. An iambic tetrameter line need not read “da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM.” Trochees and spondees and even dactyls can be substituted, as long as the line has four stresses. It is a schoolboy mistake of young formalists to think that a formal line of verse has to show absolute and perfect adherence to the ideal pattern. Have you read Shakespeare’s sonnets? Have you noted where the stresses fall? Are they always in an unvaried pattern? Here is the proper scansion of my first four lines: / u u / u u / u / u / u u / u u / u / / u u / u u / u / u / u u / u u / u / u This particular section of A Gallery of Ethopaths had more substitutions than usual, and might have thrown an inexperienced reader off. Here’s a small and more digestible chunk from another part of the poem, where anyone can see that the poem is in iambic tetrameter: The literary sense has died And we’re left with the putrefied Golems from miasmic mists Who fill up college reading lists. Reply Mark Stone December 16, 2018 Dr. Salemi, Your feedback is valuable to me, since you are an experienced and successful poet. Your comment is educational. Anything that can help me improve my skills as a commentator I am fully in favor of. Thank you. Joseph Charles MacKenzie December 16, 2018 I find is simply astonishing that those who most pretend to an understanding of metrics on this and other threads are entirely ignorant how meter functions in our English prosody. The metrical form of Dr. Salemi’s poem could not more perfectly espouse the poem’s sense. If this is not completely obvious to the self-styled and shamefully untutored experts in this discussion, then they are truly without hope and might reconsider their pathetic quest to denigrate works infinitely superior to their own, notoriously shabby productions. Reply Wic E. Ruse Blade December 16, 2018 Mr. Salemi has accurately scanned his first four lines presented here; but call them what he may, under no stretch of the imagination are they iambic tetrametres. I have noticed for some time that Mr. Salemi demands excellence in others that he does not demand from himself [cf. Oscar Wilde]. But speaking of irregularity, from what I have read so far, his “Gallery of Ethopaths” seems closer to a mock-heroic poem than an epic. I must admit I prefer Pound’s wretched “Cantos” as a more serious attempt at epic [though a failure] than Mr. Salemi’s ethopathic “iambic tetrametres”. Still, despite his pompous claim, there are excellencies in his verses. I certainly did not bring Chaucer up, because of Mr. Salemi’s meter. Chaucer’s meter is frankly much more regular. I brought Chaucer up because of the kind of satire Mr. Salemi was exercising in this section of his “epic”. In retrospect, I think I may have been wrong to attribute such subtlety to Mr. Salemi’s verses. Reply Joseph S. Salemi December 16, 2018 Where to begin? Wise hasn’t even read the entire Gallery of Ethopaths, but he decides that it’s a “mock-epic.” Really? Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is a mock-epic. Homer’s “The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice” is a mock-epic. Butler’s “Hudibras” is a mock-epic. “The Adventures of Doctor Syntax” is a mock-epic. These are comic frivolities, not based on serious subjects. Does Wise have any idea what he’s talking about? If Wise didn’t bring up Chaucer’s work because of any metrical issue, then he must have brought it up as an example of “satire.” Again, WTF? The Canterbury Tales are not satiric. They are a connected series of verse stories illustrating every kind of short medieval genre: the moral exemplum, the fabliau, the saint’s life, the Breton lay, the chivalric romance, the laudatio uxoris, and mixed forms. These aren’t “satires,” Bruce — they are individual tales linked by the narrative framework of a pilgrimage, and which serve as a speculum mundi in the medieval sense. Just because there are funny parts of Chaucer that make you laugh does NOT mean that he is writing satire. If you don’t know what satire is (REAL satire, of the sort produced by Juvenal, Horace, Catullus, Martial, Luxorius, and early Greeks like Archilocus), then why are you criticizing my work? Every poet has the right to make substitutions in a line of verse. It is the hopelessly amateur poets who insist on composing da-DUM, da-Dum, da DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM. In tetrameter verse, which is close to the core of the original Anglo-Saxon line, all that is crucial are the four solid, recognized beats. Reply Aedile Cwerbus December 16, 2018 The Ancient Poet There are those who judge me ferociously; one goes beyond the limits of good taste conceded to the genre’s pond; and others do maintain that all I write lacks nerve and strength, and verses similar to mine can be produced at length— ten thousand in a day. My God, perhaps I need to stop. I should not write another line, and let my poor muse drop. The problem is, if I do that, I will not sleep at night. Perhaps I need to grease myself and swim the Tiber thrice, or irrigate my restless body with the likes of wine and summon up the courage to show rulers aren’t divine. Alas, I lack the strength. Not everyone can speak of those brave Frenchmen dying or Iranians killed by their foes. If I could write of justice, as Lucilius once did, or like Horatius could do, when the occasion bid; then, if one heeds my words, which rarely happens in this place, I’d likely rub him wrong, and he’d respond with little grace. Buffoons and wastrels hover round with envy, hate and dread. What can I do? Start dancing when the wine-fumes hit my head? See double moons, like Mr. Flood? or box with Pollox’ myth? I’ll take my pleasure fitting words, like L— and H— and kith. Note: for me an epic is heroic. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.