By Peter Halstead

In mocking up the facts,
the world convinces
us that what it lacks
is its own recognizances,

demurely putting on
and flaunting suits
which last year were a put-on,
trumped-up photo shoots.

Then, without warning, sun exposes
new arrangements on the runway
attendant on its neon poses,
playing at display

and entrepreneurial couture,
a layout said to have potential,
although details of the brochure
remain at this time confidential.


I wrote this from words chosen from two articles and only afterwards tried to figure out what it meant. Having puzzled it out, I rewrote it to reflect the discovery, eliminating all but two of its original words, but not their mood. It began as a found poem, random business words culled from a Wall Street Journal article: “Small Liquor Company Has Given a New Twist to Brand Marketing” (May 21, 2003). It is as perverse to me that I read such articles as that the great poet and statesman Archibald MacLeish used to watch the show Combat! on TV. I had typed up the end of each sentence because the computer eliminated them from its printout, and the result looked like an old-fashioned “poème concret,” which I figured must have something good hidden in it; Michelangelo’s optimism about marble. My idea was to make a poem out of its opposites, to say something sensitive with crass language. We are what we read, and so I myself, steeped in yellow journals, have recently become trendy, splashy, tony, classy, high-end, and top-drawer. Since I have a vocabulary consisting mainly of words that rhyme with June, reading John Fairchild’s W (now sadly defunct) usually rips me out of my cozy Emily Dickinson sock drawer (the top drawer). I am now all about thrills, spills, and chills, admittedly somewhat flimsy drawers for the accumulating dark socks of summer. But enough sockiology. I soon realized that my accumulated phrasebook was disgusting—sad proof that I wouldn’t last an hour at Cosmopolitan. Nor did my random phrases have much to say about anything, shuffle them though I did. I decided during a nice wine at a Paris dinner that the poem was in fact about burgeoning spring: nature’s incomprehensible tricks, in whose presence I always feel quite at home. People invariably turn into leaves in my mind. Still trying to keep the poem perversely different from my usual references, I turned to fashion, the last resort of an ill-kempt man, and an article in New York Magazine (June 9, 2003) called “The Boys of Summer” about club life in the Hamptons, dependably filled with neologisms. This yielded only “neon” and “entrepreneur,” but infused me with just the mood I sought: titillated outrage. Two words survive as well from the original business article (confidential, details), words whose irony inspired the poem and remained as my ending. All of this taught me quite a bit about what I am willing to condone. I read anyone, but I write myself, thus proving that we are not what we read at all. Having disproved my original assumption, in true sonneteer fashion, I felt satisfied that something had come of it. In a way, the process needs to be part of the poem. Poems are as much about how they start as how they end. This is at least my excuse for the indulgence of writing up the origins of my poems. I also find I forget whatever peripheral nonsense encouraged any given poem and have been amused at how little of the cloakroom finds its way onto the cloaked and masked swordsman. I blame really John Frederick Nims, the editor at the time of a poetry review, who wrote me that my explanation was wittier than my poem. I realized that I was doing myself a disservice not to work the wit into the poems. I was writing the poems I thought I should write, rather than the poems as they actually existed in my mind. And even then, something still remained unstated: the emotion behind the poem, important to it, but hard to rewind, even for me, a week later. It’s like discovering the sun in the log. It’s not enough to photograph the log, proudly immobile on its worktable. You also have to see the sun, shining off a mirror on the rear wall, and maybe the ominously buzzing saw.