Sunday, July 20, 2008

Found Poem, Portland


We hadn't been to Portland (Oregon) for a while, so we spent a few days there. Many moons ago, we used to stay at a cavernous old hotel called the Mallory, and then we'd go to the venerable Benson for a drink. This time we stayed a few blocks from the Benson and stopped by, only to find that they'd remodeled the lobby and pretty much gutted the great old immense bar that used to be lined with dark carved wood. Oh, well. Things get modernized.

Predictably, I went to the secular shrine for bibliophiles, Powell's Books--always a good time. The place isn't quite as magical as it used to be, but it sure seems to be thriving. So far the Internet and some of the surviving used-book stores seem to experiencing a beautiful friendship. The stores can appeal to their traditional clientele but also sell books online. Maybe Kindle and other devices will eventually undermine even these stores, or maybe paper books will survive somehow. . . .

All big cities have a lot of homeless citizens, but Portland seems to have more than its "share," whatever a share is supposed to be. There also seems to be a greater percentage of younger homeless persons--people of high-school age--in Portland. I'm wary of a state and the State having too much power, but with regard to homelessness, I lean toward Sweden's attitude, which is definitely state-heavy.

Basically, Sweden sees homelessness as unacceptable. The police pick up homeless people and take them to a shelter. I'd be in favor of building a lot more shelters and having the police, or another agency, or non-profit groups transport homeless people to the shelters. I'd rather see taxes go to that then a lot of other stuff. There is an argument, I guess, for allowing people to live on the street if they want to, but it's not an argument that convinces me. In most cases, they've been forced to live there, one way or another, or they have mental conditions so genuinely disorienting that they're not good judges of where they ought to live. Also, a huge percentage of people on the street, especially but not exclusively younger ones and women, are targets for all manner of predation and abuse. I think people have a right to shelter and basic meals, and I think society has the responsibility of getting them into shelter, maybe even in spite of initial opposition. At the same time, the shelter has to be safe, not another site of potential abuse.

Now that the rant is over, I'll mention a found poem I saw in Portland. It was composed of eight signs, one word each, on the side of a grocery store downtown--I think it's called Helen's. The words were in white, with a black background, and appeared in a line on the side of the building. I've kept them in order but arranged them vertically.

FOUND POEM: GROCERY

BEER
WINE
SNACK
DONUT
CARD
BEER
WINE
CIGARETTE

The order of the words appealed to me a great deal--three single-syllable words followed by a multiple-syllable word. Then there's the repetition of beer and wine. All the nouns are singular, although "beer" and "wine" can work as collective nouns. I also like what the "poem" says about what items are most essential, perhaps most desired, and I rather like that "card"--greeting card(s), presumably (although playing cards were available in the store--is among the perceived essentials. Beer and wine appear to be doubly essential. I agree, of course, that the list is a bit of a nutritionist's nightmare.
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