Michael Salcman

The Problem Isβ€”

I’ve been writing the same poem for 132 years; an early draft was almost published but WWI put an end to that. This was long before open mics and local poets who performed from wrinkled sheets of paper for therapeutic reasons. The problem is I never had a chance to read my poem out loud in front of a real audience. But then I never could read a really long poem in front of twenty or thirty poets without watching them leave one at a time like the members of an orchestra in Haydn’s Farewell Symphony. Most everyone alive knows it’s a better strategy to perform shorter poems, musical verses or poems with a sense of humor. The problem is the poem I started before I was born is none of these things and the audience for it gradually disappeared during WWII. Soon after the war we had microphones and no one gave up their chance to read in front of an almost empty room. There’s always too little time. And yet, I could never tell how good a poem was, whether short or long, if I didn’t read it to someone other than a poet. On the other hand, I had no trust in the response I got because I’m too good a performer and reading out loud almost always made my audience think the poem was better than it really was. After the Korean debacle, I spent more than fifty years polishing my techniques for operating on the brain and lecturing on subjects like malignant tumors in the brain’s erotic centers. Back then I used microwave antennas for turning tumors into mush like Dairy Cream yogurt without seeds or nuts; you can bet those audiences stayed awake, responding to the slides with a hush, or a laugh or even applause. Performances didn’t leave much time for polishing poetry, so I turned to writing books after I retired. The problem is there are many more poets writing books than people reading them. I often felt like Ahab chasing the whale and then I died. The real problem is I finished writing my very long poem soon after I expired. A warning to all my friends, then; if you’re still breathing and reading this complaint, you haven’t read the big poem as yet and I am not the whale.

About the Author

Michael Salcman has served as the Chairman of Neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and as President of The Contemporary, Baltimore. His poems appear in Arts & Letters, CafΓ© Review, Harvard Review, Hopkins Review, Hudson Review, New Letters and The Moth; books include The Clock Made of Confetti, The Enemy of Good is Better, Poetry in Medicine, A Prague Spring, Before & After (winner of the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize), and Shades & Graces (inaugural winner of The Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize). Necessary Speech: New & Selected Poems is forthcoming in early 2022. His books are available on Amazon and from spuytenduyvil.net and bookshop.org.