Poetic lie-sense

Please read me—please read me—please
Because I got out of bed to write this
Please read me—please read me—please
Because if everyone read this I’d be anthologized for ever
Please read me—please read me—please
Because it’ll only take a moment
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I look under every dark emotion for an even darker one
Please read me—please read me—please
Because you may find escape though these words
Please read me—please read me—please
Because poetry is a dead art
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I’m not even a poet
Please read me—please read me—please
Because if I die before morning, this’d be the last thing I did
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I have no idea if I’m still alive
Please read me—please read me—please
Because this may be the last thing you do
Please read me—please read me—please
(anonymous)

I found this poem while walking to work the other morning. It was written in smeared ink (as if someone broke open a ballpoint pen and used the little straw as a brush), on a piece of a torn shopping bag. A smallish, gray bird was struggling to fly with it, I imagine to use as part of its nest. As I walked closer, the bird dropped the would-be building material and flew away. I placed my cup of coffee on the sidewalk, picked up the torn paper, and deciphered the almost illegible words.

found poem
Because I have a morbid fascination with birds, the poem felt like a message from beyond, and reading it gave me a stereotypically eerie sensation, like I was being followed or watched or something; I jumped when a driver blew his horn. Maybe it was because of the trailer for the movie, Pulse, I’d seen recently; maybe it was the poet’s desperate style of penmanship; or maybe it was the line about reading it being the last thing I might do. Long story short: I was creeped out.

Besides the heebie-jeebies, reading the poem brought me some early-morning, anticipatory excitement, as images of Found Magazine danced in my head. I thought about my next cocktail party. I’d “inadvertently” have a copy resting on an end table. “Oh yes,” I’d say, “that’s the issue with the poem I found in it. I’m not sure, but I think it’s on page 78, or maybe it’s 87.” My hipster index was surely on the upswing.

Studying the poem, I figured that by the style of penmanship and selection of writing surface, some deranged maniac must’ve written it. Just to be sure of its authenticity, however, I Googled it when I got to work.

I typed “‘please read me – please’ poem” in the search window, and audibly gasped to see three pages of hits came up. I clicked the third link down, which was for a site called PoetryJunkie.com, and was even further heartbroken to find out that it actually is an anthologized poem (just like the poet wished for in his fourth line).

poetryjunkie.com

According to PoetryJunkie, “Please Read Me – Please” was written in the mid-‘80s by Carlton P. Hamberton. His bio from the site:

Carlton P. Hamberton (1952)

Born in Vancouver, BC, and relocating to New York City in 1972, Carlton P. Hamberton was prolific from the late 1970s until 1991 when he suffered severe brain damage due to a drug overdose. Though Hamberton dabbled in other styles, he is best known for writing in simple, street vernacular, a la Charles Bukowski. His poem “Please Read Me – Please” is his best-known work and his only poem that is widely anthologized.

Once I found out about its pedigree, the poem lost all value to me. How about you, dear reader? Was it more interesting as the scratchings of some unknown lunatic or is it the same, mediocre poem regardless? (I imagine that since a few of you are English professors, you’ve previously read the poem or at least heard of Hamberton.) Anyway, for those of you who aren’t poetry aficionados, give it another read and see if it’s remotely interesting.

Please read me—please read me—please
Because I got out of bed to write this
Please read me—please read me—please
Because if everyone read this I’d be anthologized for ever
Please read me—please read me—please
Because it’ll only take a moment
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I look under every dark emotion for an even darker one
Please read me—please read me—please
Because you may find escape though these words
Please read me—please read me—please
Because poetry is a dead art
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I’m not even a poet
Please read me—please read me—please
Because if I die before morning, this’d be the last thing I did
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I have no idea if I’m still alive
Please read me—please read me—please
Because this may be the last thing you do
Please read me—please read me—please
(Carlton P. Hamberton)

It is the same poem; nothing about the verse is different. And the copy I found is the same as it was when I saw the bird struggling with it. That certainly hasn’t changed since finding out about Carlton P. Hamberton. Nonetheless, I visualized my issue of Found, with little white wings fluttering away, so sad. I guess this says a lot about my appreciation (or lack thereof) for poetry: if it can’t somehow buy my entrance into an ultra-hip venue like Found, it’s worthless.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Couldn’t the act of copying a poem onto a torn piece of shopping bag be an equally valid, post-modern, artistic expression?” Maybe I was looking at it all wrong. Perhaps I should’ve seen it as two separate art pieces on one scrap of paper: the original poem and the interpreted poem. Maybe Found would be interested after all!

I was reaching and I knew it. I sighed deeply as melancholia took over my body; I sagged in my office chair.

The question remains, however: what drove some poor slob to break open a pen and copy someone else’s poem onto a torn piece of shopping bag? Maybe it was Hamberton himself who copied his own words down. Perhaps it was the publication of “Please Read Me – Please” that sent him over the edge and into the arms of Sister Morphine. Maybe the heckling shouts of “sell out!” at downtown readings became too much for this tender spirit. According to the bio, Hamberton did suffer severe brain damage due to a drug overdose; maybe he somehow wound up in Long Beach, California, where he now wanders the streets of my neighborhood longing for the ‘80s and New York, when life for him was full of promise. The poem became a little more interesting.

Ultimately, however, this mystery, like so many others, shall remain unsolved. Unless…

I woke up at about 3:00 AM with “Please Read Me – Please” mostly composed in my half-awake mind. I got up to jot it down, and I went back to bed. As I was lying there, I thought about how differently people might feel about it if I told them that I found it on the street. I got out of bed again, this time to write this post, and the legend of Hamberton was born. It’s morning now and I’m tired; deceit is invigorating but draining.

Please read me—please read me—please
Because I got out of bed to write this
Please read me—please read me—please
Because if everyone read this I’d be anthologized for ever
Please read me—please read me—please
Because it’ll only take a moment
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I look under every dark emotion for an even darker one
Please read me—please read me—please
Because you may find escape though these words
Please read me—please read me—please
Because poetry is a dead art
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I’m not even a poet
Please read me—please read me—please
Because if I die before morning, this’d be the last thing I did
Please read me—please read me—please
Because I have no idea if I’m still alive
Please read me—please read me—please
Because this may be the last thing you do
Please read me—please read me—please
(Scott Godfrey)

15 responses to “Poetic lie-sense”

  1. Lane says:

    Strange and interesting. I like the part when you have the poem before the Google, that space of uncertainty about who and what this is.

    Google is a two edge sword. It really has brought Warhol’s prophecy to fruition (15 minutes of fame – for all!) but also it’s sterilized the world a little. And in another way deligitimazed it – If it doesn’t Google is it real?

    Anyway, I think the whole thing is a great experience, Google and all.

    YES! Copy the poem. Disguse it as building material and send it aloft!

  2. PB says:

    I was always bummed out in high school that my boyfriend and I never had “a song.” This was mainly because I never had a boyfriend, but I wanted a song to describe all of our inner feelings even more than the boy himself. Isn’t that what art is all about? Seeing, reading, hearing, touching something that represents everything we know but cannot express? I think the poem however unsophisticated has a million lives–it reminds me of a great coming of age novel–God knows how many times Holden or Harry or Frankie has described some piece of me perfectly. What is even more interesting is your wanting to be the Cortez, the one who discovered this new thing only to internalize it and make it your own just like the scrawler. Amazing post.

  3. brooke says:

    This is a great post, although I have to say I’m pretty sure I’m a better poet than that guy. When I first started reading this, I thought someone was flaking out on their posting duties this morning by hacking up a poem. Clearly I misunderestimate youse guys. To answer the question you pose, I like the poem more before you googled it. What is interesting about the poem is how you discovered it, how it made you feel, and the notion that it was conceived and written maybe the night before. Much of the interest is ruined when you discover it’s an old poem. But visually, your copy of the poem still lends it some value. I think your copy is how that poem ought to look — all chicken scratch and crumpled brown bag. Send it into Found. After all, you found it, and it’s interesting.

  4. Scott Godfrey says:

    Um, I’m sorry… Uh, but… I actually didn’t find it, or Google it or anything. The only true part of my post is the last paragraph. I hope this doesn’t send anyone into a suicidal tail-spin.

    Brooke, you may be a better poet than me, but I’m a better deceiver than you.

  5. brooke says:

    dang, holmes. sorry about that. i *almost* double checked your story (on google, of course), to see which storyline was true. in retrospect that would have been a good idea. okay — great poem. eek. i’m going to go sit in the closet now…

  6. Lisa says:

    You bastard.I just spent 5 minutes of my morning googling a non-existent junkie and http://www.poetryjunkie, just to be sure of the x-filish truth here. My antennae were up, however, with the bit about the bird, since even really urban birds don’t usually use large pieces of paper– with poems written on them, no less– as architectural design (unless, of course, these are the kinds of birds outside of yourhouse only).

    Last week, at the Greater L.A. MFA exhibition, Chloe and I were invited to make psychic contact with Duchamp. The question posed: What would you like us to know about post-modern art? The answer: illusion.

    Personally, I liked the poem just sitting by itself at the top of the post, making fun of all of us posters. I miss you, Scott.

  7. okay. so i love — LOVE — the fake web page. and the photo of the fake poem. i wish, in your story, you had killed the bird and had it stuffed and taken a photo of it, but that would have been pushing it too far.

  8. Scott Godfrey says:

    Brooke: you may emerge from your closet. I don’t fancy myself a poet, so I’m not in the least bit insulted.

    Lisa: sorry to send you on a wild Google-chase, and yes, I miss you too.

    B-Dub: thanks for the kind words. I do consider myself a details man.

  9. brooke says:

    i agree with bryan, the whole ruse was brilliant, and evidently effective. i’m stoked not to be in the closet anymore, it’s all nice here in sf and stuff…

  10. G-Lock says:

    Holy fuck. My mind just melted. That was a really cool post.

    “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Couldn’t the act of copying a poem onto a torn piece of shopping bag be an equally valid, post-modern, artistic expression?”

    In entertainment law, we would call what you did with the found poem – assuming the whole thing weren’t a ruse – a transformative use, thus perhaps sidestepping any copyright issues. Artistic expression, however, is always suspect under the law.

  11. PB says:

    man, I fall for all ruses, just ask my kids who take advantage of my gullibility constantly. That being said, a story within a story within a poem is still cool–especially because the question still stands–is anything really original any more??? I am in a disillusional tail spin, but it began long before your post. sigh.

  12. farrell says:

    this post was brilliant. as i said before, while you laugh at us, you make us feel so good. thanks for the ingenious fun. wish it happened more often. xo

  13. Lisa Tremain says:

    By the way, who IS the guy in the picture?

  14. Scott Godfrey says:

    I’m glad you asked. He is a gentleman who I met at a barbeque in Paris; his name is Patrick (I don’t know how to spell the French version), and he is a mechanic who specializes in Italian cars. He spoke zero English, and I zero French, but hanging out with him was one of the highlights of my summer trip to France.

  15. Antibush says:

    Bush goes ballistic about other countries being evil and dangerous, because they have weapons of mass destruction. But, he insists on building up even a more deadly supply of nuclear arms right here in the US. What do you think? What is he doing to us, and what is he doing to the world?
    Our country is in debt until forever, we don’t have jobs, and we live in fear. We have invaded a country and been responsible for thousands of deaths.
    The more people that the government puts in jails, the safer we are told to think we are. The real terrorists are wherever they are, but they aren’t living in a country with bars on the windows. We are.