A Photograph of Poop. And Poetry.

Yesterday I mentioned the Free Verse Photo Competition, a pretty great project that was started to help celebrate the upcoming National Poetry Month.

I decided to join in the fun, and took a picture of poop.

The line is from Maxine Kumin’s The Excrement Poem – and definitely one of my favorite poems. If you’ve not read it before, I can’t recommend it enough. In fact… fee free to go and give it a quick read. I’ll wait.

Before I talk too much about the poem, let’s get back to the poop.

When I was reminded of the Free Verse Flickr Pool yesterday, I started to think about favorite poems. In particular, I was trying to think of something a-typical to submit.

I pulled a few books off my shelf, prior to going to work… and quickly scanned some poems for ideas. Walking to work, I happened across a spot on the sidewalk where someone had let their dog take a pretty ginormous crap. Right there on the sidewalk.

Of course, Kumin’s poem came to mind. And taking my cue from the Sprinkle Brigade, I knew I had found my photo.

Prior to the end of the work day, I made a little sign out of paper and grabbed a few paperclips. Walking home, I was a bit nervous as I was walking in pace with several other folks who were just leaving work.

California is a fairly busy street, and the spot where I set up shop was just shy of a fairly busy intersection. There was a Starbucks and an Italian restaurant about 50 feet away. In terms of being self-conscious, it was a pretty uncomfortable few minutes.

Cars were driving by, folks eating pasta about maybe 20 feet away, and me slowly sticking a paperclip into some dog shit on the sidewalk. Very classy, I gotta tell ya. The whole time, I kept imagining what anyone else walking by must have thought – Hey, look at that long-haired Asian guy playing around with feces. That’s kinda weird.

Thanks to Justin’s handy tripod he gave me, I was able to set up the camera pretty well for the photo. Ideally, I would have played around a bit more with the lighting, but my self-consciousness got the better of me. I snapped a few images, and packed up.

In terms of Maxine Kumin’s poem – I absolutely love it. The Excrement Poem actually impresses the hell out of me, the more I look at it.

While the topic isn’t something one necessarily thinks of immediately when thinking of poetry, Kumin is just masterful about changing how the reader views the subject matter. Somehow, she’s able to take one of the most vile and disgusting images we know of… and transforms it. She takes something that we all view as repulsive, and redeems it.

Even from the first line, she mentions God. I mean come ON, this is bad ass stuff. It’s a poem about SHIT, and line one has God in it. Kumin moves easily from big to small to big again, and here’s the thing she does that, to me, embodies what a good poem should do: it changes the way we look at the world.

The fact that she can take something as ordinary and as disgusting as the topic of shit, and make that into a symbol of survival, of continuation… I’m just awed, at both the poem and the writer behind it.

Admittedly, one of the strongest moves in the poem is to keep from naming the subject matter until the very end. We get the word “excrement” in the title, and we don’t see any mention of it again until the final line. The actual “punch” of the line centers around the word “shit,” and the prior stanzas do all the setup to make that word as powerful as it is.

While my photo submission is an incredibly crude representation of Kumin’s poem (and that last line in particular), I do like the juxtaposition. There’s a hopefulness and a loftiness to the words; and there’s a grossness with the actual image of crap, right nearby.

I just submitted the photo to the Flickr pool, and I’m hoping there aren’t any issues with it being accepted. I’m not really anticipating “winning” the contest with this guy, but I like that I took a chance on an image that fit the requirements, but was also very different from some of the traditional images that have ben submitted so far.

If nothing else, it’s definitely a-typical.

Also – if you’re looking at this and thinking to yourself Jesus, I can do better than just sticking some words into a pile of dogshit, then I encourage you to give it a go! Submissions to the Free Verse Flickr Pool are open until April 15th, so there’s more than enough time.

I liked going through this exercise, and definitely see myself taking more photos to submit in the future.

More photos, and less poop.

Maxine Kumin’s The Excrement Poem

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. This is one of my favorite poems, too! I really liked reading your story.

    Eva G. Reply

  2. I can’t believe you didn’t win this contest.

    Alex Reply

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