Blank Verse

JUST AS WE were going to press this month, after the “regular” legislative session had drawn to its glorious close, Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have blessed the state bureaucracy with a poet laureate. Had Pawlenty signed the measure—which was passed enthusiastically by the legislature—the unpaid Poet in Chief would have been given the task of composing heroic couplets and such for “appropriate ceremonies and celebrations” of the state. The upcoming sesquicentennial was mentioned as a for-instance. O muses who breathe in my pate, / Give me words to encompass the state! / I can handle the walleyes and the streams running free, / But the thought of writing about flour milling simply fills me with ennui.

If you’re a poet, you don’t want this gig, especially if there’s no pay attached. At the same time, if you’re a poet or a person who values poetry, you’re more or less duty-bound to lament the veto, because, well, the governor is dissing the arts, right? Pawlenty even invoked a slippery-slope argument, saying that if he allowed a poet into Minnesota officialdom, he could soon face “requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer, or potter.” Personally, I think a lot of people would love to see a mime at all official state functions. It’s hard to imagine better metaphors for government and politics than the three shticks every mime must master: walking against the wind, being trapped in a box, and playing tug-of-war.

Whether Pawlenty’s poetry put-down was a pffft to the arts or a punch to the pols, or both, is a matter to be parsed by pundits more pugnacious than I. But I do believe the governor ought to flip-flop on his slippery-slope fears. Our state already has an official bird, butterfly, fish, flower, photo, muffin, and mushroom. We need more sanctioned state stuff, and there’s no reason to limit the candidates to people, places, and things. How about an official state political lightning rod (public funding for sports stadiums)? Or an official state emotional mode (passive-aggressiveness)? Or an official state gesture (the well-meaning shrug)?

The possibilities, clearly, are endless, and the revenue upside, as with any truly nonpartisan proposal, is incalculable. And when we do get back around to the arts—after the poet, mime, dancer, and potter have been confirmed—I have a strong candidate for official state death-metal band. It’s a trio called Lütefisk Soüp, and we’ll be ready to play the Governor’s Mansion just as soon as I find a drummer and bass player who can rehearse on Wednesday nights.

KUDOS DEPARTMENT: MNMO art director Brian Johnson was named a Merit Winner in the prestigious national competition sponsored by the Society of Publication Designers. His winning design for “Hellboy,” a profile of Hell’s Kitchen owner Mitch Omer, appeared in our November 2004 issue. And beloved Twin Cities super-foodie Sue Zelickson, whose “Sue Z Says” column appears each month in our dining section, won a much-coveted 2005 James Beard Foundation Award—Best Local Radio Food Show—for her work at WCCO. Big bravos to both.

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