I am a poet, not a writer

Oh my God! I've been incredibly busy the last week or so, and I can FINALLY say why.

Last Thursday, I got an e.mail from the office of Kay Ryan, the Poet Laureate of the United States. As part of a program to re-orient the No Child Left Behind educational reforms, the Obama administration wanted to do away with, or at least de-emphasize, standardized testing. Don't get me started on standardized testing, but OK, fine.

That whole thing had to take a backseat to the health care fight, but now that the new bill on that has been signed into law, Obama apparently wants to come off that bounce and dive right into the education reforms.

So where do I come in? Well, in order to get any Republicans to sign onto this AT ALL, he has to promise a back-to-basics approach that the conservatives will agree to. As it was explained to me, part of that was to include reinstating rote memorization as an instructional tool.

Obama (who is certainly no dummy), wanted to encompass modern teaching methods, yet get Republicans to back the reforms. In what I think is a damned clever move, he is actually putting the Poet Laureate to work as part of this educational reform effort.

It's taken a thousand phone calls and a lot of faxing of contracts (tricky, since I don't have an agent), but to make a long story short, I will give you one guess, ONE GUESS, whose poem about semicolons will be read by Ms. Ryan in the kickoff ceremony at the White House TONIGHT as an example of the kind of teaching tools that can transform American education.

It was brought to her attention after my alma mater, the University of Chicago, featured it on National Grammar Day. Obama taught at the U of C, and apparently surrounds himself with fellow Maroons. I can't know if he himself actually read my "Ode to the Semicolon", but he'll hear it tonight.

I would be so very, VERY much more colloquial in expressing my excitement, were it not for the fact that my visitors have gone from ~20/day to ~9000 in the last 36 hours, since it was announced.

To all of the new guests, welcome! Feel free to check out the links at the top for more information about me and my writing!

For all of my regular readers, I'm sure you won't be surprised when I say that today, April 1, 2010, is a day that I will remember for a long, long time!

UPDATE, 10:45am: I just found out something incredible!

It is a day for rumination on the nature of mankind. My first tweet setting up this April Fool's day joke was read by people who follow me on Twitter. Through RTs, it was also read by my 2nd order followers, people who don't follow me directly, but who might be peripherally aware of me.

One of these 2nd order followers ("X") was fooled by the gag. As with everyone who I knew to have been taken in, I contacted X at the earliest possible moment to reveal it to be an April Fools joke. (I have no way of contacting the people who read it, believed it, and went away without commenting or tweeting about it, since I don't know who those people are.) Several of my followers had already publicly tweeted about it being a joke, so the cat was out of the bag, at least to an extent.

It turns out that X doesn't like April Fools day. The jokes, the gags, the attempts to lure people into believing things that aren't true - all of this makes this the worst day of the year for X. In fact, X feels that, in the case of a writer with a blog, an April Fool's joke is not just a silly piece of throw-away stupidity, as in the case of the iCade Arcade Cabinet.

The theory goes that, specifically for writers, running the risk of alienating forever a fraction of the people who read (and fall for) the joke. That fraction of people will now associate me with a stupid April Fool's joke, rather than with the deathless, inspiring prose for which I have heretofore been so widely admired. [<--JOKE] As a consequence, when my Great American Novel comes out, those people will think, "Ah, he's that jackass who pranked me. I will not buy this book!"

With respect to this lingering distaste for me and my work, X feels that the fault is not with X for X’s reaction, but rather with me for having put an April Fool’s joke on my blog. Or maybe it’s for having made the joke about my work, instead of about something unrelated. Or maybe it’s because the joke was too plausible. Hard to tell.

I follow X, but X doesn’t follow me. X expresses opinions in a forthright manner, and this is no exception. I will admit that such forthrightness directed at ME is a little uncomfortable, but such is life. I’d like to say two general things about X’s response.

First, X expressed these opinions about this joke, and about me, without naming names. There was no "that Tony Noland is an asshole". Rather, X used this episode as a starting point for a discussion about the impact of our actions in the public sphere, and how it could impact our careers as writers. That discussion is a useful one to have.

Second, this is not the first prank posting I've done, nor do I expect it to be the last. I didn't intend to be mean-spirited about this joke, and I made a reasonable effort to telegraph it as a gag. Perhaps those who don't know me and my sense of humor didn't catch on instantly. Many people did, and thought it funny, to one degree or another.

So, what conclusion do I draw? It's not that I need to stop making jokes, or change my sense of humor. It's that you can't please everyone, and changing your style in order to avoid offending a small percentage of potential readership will suck the life out of you and your writing.

As a writer, that's a good lesson to learn.


  1. Ok, it might be just because I read this at midnight.... [actually 12:14 am... establishing an alibi for later for something altogether unrelated...so don't give it another thought...] but I fell for this hook, line and stinking sinker.

    Very funny.

  2. How fabulous Tony! Ho‘omaika‘i ‘ana – Congratulations

  3. Absolutely brilliant! Congratulations!

  4. Amazing how one thing leads to another. Congrats Tony.

  5. Great news, man. Wow. Nice work!

  6. Karen got it right off the bat, so she gets First Prize for the April Fool's Day posting this year.

    Rosa, Stina, Donald, Chuck, thanks for the congratulations anyway. I'm tickled that it sounded plausible!

    In self defense, I tagged this as "April Fool" and "fiction" in addition to mentioning the April 1, 2010 date in the post. This tells me that people don't typically read the tags on postings.

    Happy April Fool's Day, everyone! Be careful out there - today is a good day to be an Internet cynic.

  7. Welcome to the dark side, Tony.

    And very funny, ha-ha!

  8. Well I have to say Tony that after I posted my comment I had a moment of "oh man what if it's true? Boy am I going to look like a meanie!"

    [stranger things have happened]

    What tipped me was the going back and forth with faxes and contracts....in my professional dealings with the federal government there has been very little back and forth. You pretty much sign the form that they give you...laughing...
    I did enjoy it. You have an evil mind. [and I mean that in the most positive way]

  9. Hilarious, Tony! But very well-written and quite believable if one didn't know you better (or hadn't read your pulitzer prize acceptance interview.)
    The biggest tip off would be how well your site still loaded with such a rush of traffic. ;-)

  10. Gorsh, I'm surprised I was able to get thru to read much less leave a comment

    you are SO lucky

  11. Linda, Laura, Paige: Thanks for reading, guys! April Fools!

  12. Haha! I like it. If it helps, I can read Ode to a Semicolon aloud at my house. It's white.

  13. Silly - don't you know everything you read on the web is true??


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