November 2007

The landfill poet

By David Feela

As election season draws near, I want to announce my candidacy, to put my own name forward, to nominate myself for a prestigious title: Poet Laureate of the Montezuma County Landfill.

The truth of the matter is this: There are only three driveways located closer to the landfill gates than my own, and none of these neighbors writes poetry. I think I’m the most qualified for the position.

During the entire history of literature I don’t think there has ever been a landfill poet. And no wonder. At the landfill, Americans spend their energy getting rid of things, not memorializing them. Poetry, however, is written to capture intense moments in words and, like nuclear waste, preserve them for what feels like a million years. Somebody responsible needs to be in charge. Poetry’s half-life demands an attentive ear.

I know people will ask, “What’s the point of designating a landfill poet?” I would answer this fair question by encouraging non-readers to pick up a book of poetry once in awhile, not just the trash. My campaign motto is this: Choose what thinks, not what stinks.

As a grassroots advocate, I would remedy our county’s confusion concerning poetic expression. La Plata County residents only respect the word “meter,” because it’s enforced when it comes to parking tickets, not Wordsworth or Keats. I want something more for Montezuma County, to be able to recognize beauty, even at the point of absurdity.

Another question to surface during my nomination process no doubt will have to do with the awkwardness of associating poetry with a landfill. Why do I want to bring poetry, a form of literature with a reputation for grace and sophistication, into a collision with trash-compacting and sewage? And once again, my reply is simple: Poetry must be recognized as language distilled, condensed, trimmed, and uncluttered – composted, for lack of a better word. What better place to celebrate poetry’s power than at the location where our lives are compounded with the dust?

Of course, not everyone has positive feelings about poetry. Voters have despaired because some poets bury their poetic sensibilities so deeply, the point of what they’ve written can’t be excavated. I promise, if I receive this nomination, to make poetry an uplifting experience. If it’s legal and I can manage it without having to pay an additional dumping fee, I’ll distribute copies of local handpicked poems at the landfill gate, or have them printed on the back of landfill receipts. I say, it’s about time we feel illumination, not just elimination.

Now that I’ve gone public, I suppose there’ll be a barge full of candidates vying for my position. So be it. There’s nothing better for politics than a healthy debate over ideals, philosophies, and ethics. What better way to challenge anyone than a public forum for those who would dare to sit quietly in a room full of poets.

Let me close with a small contribution from my apocrypha, a ditty that prompted me to consider running for this position. Readers, if you can hold in your minds the rhythms of the William Tell Overture, you will hear not just a poem but an anthem.

To the dump,
To the dump,
To the dump dump dump,

In my truck,
In my truck,
In my truck truck truck,

With my junk,
With my junk,
With my junk junk junk,

And I pray
It won’t take all day.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.