24 May 2011

"This is a Poem, Not an Act of Terrorism": LSU Student Arrested for Writing a Poem in Imitation of Johannes Göransson's "Quite Disturbing" Style

[Now that we've "officially" published Johannes Göransson's Entrance to colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate, we're re-posting this feel-good story about LSU Student James Bellard, who was arrested after reading Johannes's work and writing (as assigned) an "imitation" poem. And then leaving a copy of said poem in the LSU library. While dressed as a leprechaun.

Why in hell is this a feel-good story? Well, because the investigating officer, Detective Morris, appears to be aware that poetry is alive and breeding and can be just as "scary" as "life." That Morris appears familiar with contemporary poetry beyond Mary Oliver is heartening news. One can only imagine what might have happened if, for example, John Barr had been the arresting officer.)

The following is Mr. Bellard's earnest and often hilarious account, re-posted here from Montevidayo. --Eds.]

Luck of the Irish

It was late at night when I got the e-mail for the assignment to write an imitation of Johannes Göransson. I was sick and really didn’t feel like writing a poem that I wouldn’t finish till 11:30 that night, but I hated being sick more and to change my routine would be to let the virus win. So, I read a few of Johannes’s poems. I picked out some elements of his style (killing, doll penis[es], and demons to name a few). The overall feel of his style was that it was quite disturbing. I set out to make my imitation even more disturbing—like the ramblings of a schizophrenic before some terrible act—and after the events that transgressed shortly thereafter, I’d say I’d surpassed my own expectations in that.
This is the poem:

Dear, Lucifer

i opened up my refrigerator, and thought, who should i kill today, or maybe someone should kill me because something really only has meaning when its wrapped up, because there needs to be a moment that sUMmarizes it all up. so give me the super-freaky super-nunchuck from outer-space. let the death-scythe Carve my pain into my soul. but i didn’t have a death-scythe in my refrigerator, only a bottle of tooth-paste that i could use to slowly slit my wrist, only I couldn’t do it because that wouldn’t be as sexy… not that i want to be dead, but to die. Hey, look there’s a doll in here with a penis.

***

It was 8:55 the next morning when I went into the LSU library to print out my poem. To celebrate the holiday, I was wearing a green leprechaun top hat. To add to the effect, I had my side-burns poking out like Wolverine. I had even been going to buy spray paint to make my hair green, but I was pressing the clock and didn’t have time to make the stop. My first class would start in 15 minutes.

Once I managed to get the slow computer to start printing my poem, I found myself standing in line behind a person who must have been printing a whole book. Nonetheless, I’d given myself a little time to spare, so I stood there for a few minutes. That’s when the printer ran out of paper and my impatience won over. I tried another printer, this time with success.

I went back to log off of the computer, but someone else had gotten on it. I didn’t like that because they might be able to mess up something of mine. I don’t like to cause trouble, though, for anyone, so I said not a word to him, and just hurried to class.

***

I was in Tureaud hall walking towards my last class of the day, when a man walked up behind me and said in a voice like my high-school teacher that had always stood by the school entrance and inspected everyone’s uniforms, “Excuse me sir!” I turned around to see what he wanted (faintly annoyed by the association), then I saw the badge clipped to his belt. “Put your hands on the wall!” He commanded.

“There’s the leprechaun.” Another officer said smugly as he walked up with a third. “Good eye!”

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in the can and will be held against you in court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, an attorney will be appointed to you by the court of law. Do you understand your rights?”

A leprechaun… yeah, I guess I had the luck of the Irish.

***

The situation didn’t feel quite real as I rode in the SUV to the LSU police department. All manner of explanations for why I’d been taken in for questioning went through my mind. I could only think that there’d been some mistake, though I couldn’t imagine what it was. Nonsensical thoughts drugs being planted on my body wandered through my mind.

They pulled up beside the station, then led me inside to a room where I sat down across from Detective Morris. After I’d signed the document saying that I understood my rights he began the questioning. “Tell me everything you’ve done today.” Morris said.

I told him everything I’d did since that morning. I told him because I was innocent and wanted to clear up my name. Besides, being cooperative itself should relieve some of their suspicion. When I got to the part about when I’d gotten off of the computer for a bit to came back and find it taken, I thought to myself that someone must have got on then and done something illegal under my name. I didn’t say this out loud. If a virus had been uploaded onto the computer, I didn’t want my guess to be right, because it would seem to them like I knew something I didn’t.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Morris asked when I’d nearly gotten to the part where they’d spotted me.

“No,” I said, glad that we were finally getting to this. I wasn’t sure if the feeling in my stomach was just my nerves or the stomach virus I’d had since yesterday, but the shaking in my legs was definitely the nerves. I was anxious to prove my innocence and get out of there.

“No idea?” Morris asked again.

“No idea.” I repeated.

“A disturbing letter was found on the printer in the library. Are you familiar with this?”

I realized now what it was, and had to keep myself from laughing at how seriously the people who found this “disturbing letter,” and the cops now, were taking this. “That was a poem.” I said. “I’m not going to kill anyone or commit suicide. It must have printed out when they reloaded the printer with paper, I was running late for class, so I just printed from the other printed.”

At first they didn’t believe me. It was a weird mix of feelings, trying not to laugh, and being scared they might not believe me at the same time. But, it was mostly my trembling body that was scared. My mind was more reasonable. Once I showed them the e-mail for the assignment, and they read about killing, terrorism, and dolls on Johannes’s site (Officer Morris was actually really good at reading poetry), they were obliged to release me.

Later Dr. Lara told Johannes about my experience, and he said that it meant art was a crime. With this in mind, I added a new title to the top of my poem above “Dear, Lucifer,” something that should keep me from almost getting arrested in the future:

This is a Poem, Not an Act of Terrorism

A lot good did end up coming out of what could have been a catastrophe. I got to delay a quiz I hadn’t studied for, for one thing. For another, Johannes talked about what happened to me for two days before we actually met, then told me he wanted to have my poem and the story published on his blog. I guess I have the luck of the Irish.