Who Were You
Before You Were?Ms Helen Lothrom Klaviter
Business and Projects Manager
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Dear Ms. Klaviter:
I understand that Poetry magazine has just been awarded $100,000,000 to better American poetry.
We here at RALPH are delighted at your windfall, and wish you the best of luck as you disperse this largess in a fashion that will not force the poetasters of America into acts of terrorism. We would like to help.
In our one-hundred-twenty-six issues over the last ten years, we have published almost 700 new and distinctive poems --- plus dozens of reviews of books of poetry coming out of New York, and the university and small presses. However, over the past two years, our offices have become disheveled, our staff sullen, and our hopes are turning wan and troubled.
Our poetry editor has informed us that to work at RALPH may be a tonic to his heart but that it is toxic to his personal life. He cannot continue to support wife, three noisy children, and two noisy mortgage payments on $500 a week.
We've been told that the drop in funding for our non-profit foundation is due to a recent acute sickness in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and an atomic explosion in the price of houses.
As you may know, the DJIA has been moving east and west but not north over the past many months as the price of your one-room fixer-upper in the slums has quintupled over the last few years. Our benefactors who are dependent on these perambulations have apparently gone south since they don't return our telephone calls anymore. We must presume that they have forgotten that the business of recasting American letters requires a bit of cash flow.
Therefore, we would like to apply to you for a one-time grant of .0001% of that which Ruth Lilly of Eli Lilly Co. donated to your organization.
We promise to be astute and parsimonious with your monies. We will continue to use our woodburning 19th Century computers and the telephones that you actually have to dial. We will not squander your assets on fancy offices with fancy paintings and fancy expresso machines. And the only saunas we'll be offering our staff will be the same old un-air-
conditioned windowless offices at Broadway and Third, around the corner from Pacers Theatre ("Just a Kiss Away").
As we have in the past, we promise to continue to answer all submissions by hand, even to those people who send us verse that indicates that they can't tell the difference between an iamb and a hexamb. For it is our understanding that many years ago Ms. Lilly sent Poetry a poem that you rejected. We would like to be in a similar position of honor so we can look forward to a similar grant from a formerly aggrieved contributor in the distant future.
Too, we will continue to publish poetry that we think of as enlightened and rewarding, and we will strive to serve as a voice of reason in our book reviews --- despite tart letters from poets and publishers accusing us of being curmudgeons, misanthropes, poetic imbeciles, fools, fundamentalists, or worse.--- Yours in high hopes,
§ § §Dear RALPH:
Is "Lolita Lark" a pseudonym? The alliteration sounds better than most given names; it's more like a loving stage name.
I never considered who I was before I was Joel Friedland. I don't believe in past lives; I spend so much time living in my own past that if I had multiple past lives, as some people claim (or just imagine), I wouldn't move forward at all, and as it is, most of the time, I seem to be in a full scale retreat from living life as a mature, responsible adult.
What a joy to play on the internet writing to a literary journal at the top of the day -- when I should be working or looking for work, since I am currently unemployed.
In point of fact, when I think of RALPH, I think of my brother Ralph who lives in Sarasota. When I think of acronyms associated with the name RALPH, I had always thought of "the Honeymooners;" now I'll think of your online literary journal.
--- Joel Friedland
Thank you for your response.
I suspect that when they ask you who you were before you were Joel, they may not be talking about past lives.
They are perhaps asking, as the Buddhists often do, in their beguiling way, merely about the face you had before you had a face.--- Lolita Lark