Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can poetry revive Modesto's Image

I'm always interested in the redemptive power of poetry and how it can breathe life into the most uninspiring of places. T.S. Eliot's bleak canvass was The Wasteland and Slyvia Plath wrote about the dark places in the mind.

In their own way a group of poets in California have attempted something almost as impressive; putting a positive spin on Modesto.

I have never been to Modesto, although I believe I skirted past a few strip malls on its western side. The Rough Guide said there was no reason to go there unless you wanted your car stolen.

The book More than Soil, More than Sky, is the work of 51 poets, according to the Modesto Bee.

It goes beyond crime and foreclosures to talk about the cycles of nature, although the cycle of offending is there too.

"Some write about rural life. Think almond trees and red-tailed hawks. Others talk about the city's urban nature. One poem looks at prostitution on Ninth Street, another remembers an 11-year-old boy shot and killed by police officers," the article states.

Sam Pierstorff, who teaches at Modesto Junior College, is one of the inspirations behind the book. It's interesting but I'm still not sure it will persuade me to get off the bypass.

The Drowning of Poetry by Sam Pierstorff

It looks as if murders of crows have nested
in the ceiling of Barnes and Noble and are now
peeing on the poetry section below.

Or maybe God himself is spitting
upon the paperback coffins of living poets
lost in dead languages.

But the clerk says it’s the broken air conditioner:
“It’s been dripping all day.”
The poetry section is soaked. A plastic trash bag

catches each drop with the sound of cracking quartz rocks
or a quick succession of letters depressed on a keyboard:
the sound of this poem or this line perhaps
if you could hear it being t–y-p-e-d.

And why not the Self-Help section or Audio Books?
Shouldn’t those aisles drown first?
Or Religion? Imagine the fanatics lined up for miles
to see a book cover with Jesus weeping real tears
or the miracle of shelves parted like the Red Sea.

The temperature tonight seems fine
in the crowded bookstore, but the air conditioner
has broken above Poetry where no one seems to visit.
Perhaps the section is lonely.
Perhaps the ceiling cries.


  1. Maybe poetry is the answer to our Modesto problem. It's just hard to pick up the wet soggy pages and get inspired by the runny ink.

  2. Maybe it's the answer to all of our problems Suzzy