Canadian Pennies, the Nation of Texas and a poem

April is National Poetry Month.  All sorts of organizations, schools, and institutions have all sorts of things planned to bring poetry into American life. But I heard a pretty cool one on March 30, a few days before it begins.

All Things Considered on NPR had done a story on the demise of the Canadian penny. (Canada is one of ten countries to jettison its lower denomination coins because they are just too expensive to make. The cost to make a U.S. penny is 2.41 cents–a losing proposition, but the U.S. has no immediate for its elimination, despite yearly pleas to do so. There must be a very strong “penny lobby.” ) All Things Considered had also done a faux “what-if” story on Texas seceding from the union and forming its own nation.  There were all kinds of speakers–serious and not–who took part in the piece.  My favorite was Kinky Friedman, the novelist, humorist, rockabilly guitarist who ran for governor a few years back. As foreign minister, Friedman felt that Texas should send a delegation to third world countries to teach the women how to have “big hair”!

So what has this to do with poetry?

Well, aside from its normal news day, All Things Considered also has taken on a poet in residence who follows the news team through a given day and then at the end must make up a poem on some aspect of that particular news day.

Yesterday there was Kevin Young  as the “news poet.” His task was to write a poem about anything he had witnessed, heard, learned throughout the day, and he chose the Texas story and the Canadian penny story. Here is the result, his poem “Anthem”:

ANTHEM

Kevin Young, NPR's Poet in Residence

Life is a near
death experience.

You can go
to hell, I’m goin

to Texas. It costs
more than a penny

to make a penny.
A dollar for your

thoughts, and a dream.
People have to breathe

where they live.
A town big

as her hair.
Aren’t there more

worlds than three?
Texas is finally

free, but not its lunch.
Cleave
can mean

to sunder
or to meet. The threat

must be imminent.
Look and see—

the daffodils, the rain sage
upright, the high

desert, fire warnings,
the scorched trees. Cloven,

clove, clave, cleavage,
cleft. Every day’s
a lottery. Hoods,
blood. The death

of the Canadian penny
means we all may need

to round up. Leaves,
left. Bereave,

bereft.

To understand many of the references you would have to have had heard the “TEXAS-AS-NATION” original story. (Click on link above). I was fortunate; I heard both the Texas story and then the poem.  (It seems he threw in a line about the Mega-Millions lottery madness that was happening that day, as well.) What a great way to end the week and to end the month.  To hear Kevin Young read the poem, click here. It’s pretty good for a poem that was made to order.

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4 thoughts on “Canadian Pennies, the Nation of Texas and a poem

  1. According to the TV show West Wing, the penny lobby is strong, and based in the only state that allows pennies to be used in tollbooths — Illinois (get, Lincoln’s on the penny and from there).

    (NPR does great April Fool’s stories! They are famous for declaring Nixon was running for president in 1992.)

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