Friday, June 10, 2005

Project Poetry Workshop, or Poetry Idol

bitchin' stitchers

Bravo's Project Runway was *by far* our favorite of the latest batch of reality shows. With the exception of American Idol, we'd almost always choose candid reality shows ( a la Newlyweds) over those cheesy competition shows, including those ooey-gooey dating ones. But Project Runway sucked us in immediately. Mostly because it is really really fun to watch people with really good hair make stuff. And when is it not fun to watch sassy and talented young designers have their work critiqued by snarky "professional" or "celebrity" judges?

And Project Runway's illumination of the creative process is really fascinating. Unlike AI or America's Next Top Model, the artists on Project Runway are really more "behind the scenes" artists than they are "performance" artists. We know, we know. Everyone on TV is performing in some way, and of course the clothes "performed" in the weekly runway contest, but what we mean is that a majority of the show took place in the sewing room where the contestants designed and constructed their outfits. And making clothes is really interesting -- the imagination, the technique, the presentation -- and the pressure! In between shots of the designers cutting and sewing and pinning, there were close-ups of the clock and the pointed recording of sidelong glances among the contestants. Interestingly, these designers who must -- by virtue of their vocation -- be intimately famililar with the body in order to outfit it, often communicated as much in theirown body language as they did spoken words. In fact its this aspect of reality show editing that most interests us -- the collaging of glances, gestures, frowns, and self-satisfied grins.

And the show really did showcase the various designers individual "visions." The winner, Jay McCarroll, was by far the most imaginative of the contestants, and well, it was just nice to see imagination rewarded. Certainly more interesting than seeing joe cheddar propose to susie creamcheese. And more interesting than the usual "survival of the fittest" mentality that informs most of these reality tv competitions. In fact, when Runway contestant Wendy Pepper tried to use the tactics that contestants on Big Brother might employ, she sort of ended up the biggest loser of all. Even sweet Jay, who was kind and generous with just about everybody, confessed that he "hated Wendy Pepper."

But we digress again.

beautiful "writer at work" artwork from

Our idea is to use the Project Runway format, only instead of fashion designers, the contestants could be poets. Each week would be a different poetry "challenge" -- i.e. write a poem only using words that you can find in a supermarket, write a "get well" poem for your favorite ill celebrity, write a birthday poem for George Bush without using the phrase "fuck you." Of course the challenges could also be stuff like "write a sonnet" or "write a dramatic monologue" or "write a poem in ten minutes while sitting in central park." And there would be "celebrity" judges " of course. Jorie Graham could be the host (she's got the hair), and Cole Swenson and W.S. Merwin could be recurring judges. To add some spark and create conflict, one of the judges would have to be an editor or a critic; someone like Helen Vendler or Camille Paglia or Marjorie Perloff or Harold Bloom. We know, you're thinking that these ivory tower folks would never want to be in a reality show, and that may be true. But those people are as vain and narcissistic as everybody else. And they love to hear themselves talk. They'd probably give it a shot.

Instead of a sewing room, the show would have a writing room. Throughout the week, the contestants would gather to workshop the poems in progresss. If you've never been in a workshop, or if you can't imagine what that might be like, you might want to recall that scene in Mean Girls when sweet little Cady compares the kids in her high school cafeteria to wild animals at the water hole. We KNOW -- it may not be the *best* way to create good literature, but it would be pretty entertaining, and it would also help raise poetry's profile (remember -- poetry is the new kabbalah). And the musty old establishment could use a good shake, or at least a satirical exercise.

The prize would be the publication of the winning contenstant's first book. And the fact that all of this is happening on screen would keep this contest clean (no foetry watchdogs needed here) . Then there could be a book tour, and appearances on late night talk shows, and podcasts of the poet reading her/his work.

If you don't think this could work, consider all the press that Novel has received. Look at all the so-called "poet bloggers" (check out the blog roll on Ron Silliman's site) and the growing popularity of groups like the "Lit blog Co-op".

There's an audience for this people.

Poets of the world unite!!! And watch TV!!!!

1 comment:

Michelle e o said...

Bravo, when is the season premiere?