(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Nov. 6, 1994.)
Recently, I got a very nice computer-generated letter from an outfit called The National Library of Poetry.
''Dear Dave,'' the letter begins. ''Over the past year or so, we have been reviewing the thousands of poems submitted to us, as well as examining the poetic accomplishments of people whose poetry has been featured in various anthologies released by other poetry publishers. After an exhaustive examination of this poetic artistry, The National Library of Poetry has decided to publish a collection of new poems written by THE BEST POETS we have encountered. ''I am pleased to tell you, Dave, that you have been selected to appear in this special edition: ''Best Poems of 1995.'' ... The poem which you will submit for this edition has been accepted for publication sight unseen on the basis of your previous poetic accomplishments.''
You talk about feeling honored. It's not every day that a person who does not, technically, write poetry is selected as one of the top poets for a year that has not, technically, occurred yet.
Oh, I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking, 'Dave, you wienerhead, they don't really think you're a leading poet. They got your name from some mailing list, and they'll publish any drivel you send in because what they REALLY want to do is throw a book together and then sell it to a bunch of pathetic loser wanna-be 'poets' for some absurdly inflated price like $50.''
Well, that just shows how much YOU know. Because it turns out that ''Best Poems of 1995'' is now available at a special pre-publication discount price of just $49.95. But listen to what you get: You get ''a superb collection of over 3,000 poems on every topic,'' as well as ''an heirloom quality publication'' with ''imported French marbleized covers.''
I called the number listed on The National Library of Poetry letterhead; a pleasant-sounding woman answered, and I asked her which specific poetic accomplishments of mine the judges had reviewed before selecting me as one of the Best Poets.
''Um,'' she said, ''we don't have that available right now. All that information is closed in a backup file system.''
I frankly have had very few poetic accomplishments. I once thought about writing poems for a line of thoughtful greeting cards, but I finished only one, which went:
''Thinking of you
''At this special time
''And hoping your organ
''Removal went fine.''
Of course, I have to produce an entirely new poem for ''Best Poems of 1995.'' I asked the woman at The National Library of Poetry if there were any special literary criteria involved; she said the only one was that the poem had to be, quote, ''20 lines or less.''
I was happy to hear that. If there's one thing I hate, it's a long poem. And if there's another thing I hate, it's a poem wherein the poet refuses to tell you what the hell he's talking about. For example, when I was an English major in college, we spent weeks trying to get a handle on an extremely dense poem called ''The Waste Land'' by T.S. Eliot, only to conclude, after endless droning hours of classroom discussion, that the poem was expressing angst about the modern era. I felt like calling Eliot up and saying, 'Listen, T.S., the next time you want to express angst, just EXPRESS it, OK? Just say 'Yo! I'm feeling some angst over here!' ''
I believe that if some of your former big-name poets such as Homer and Milton (neither of whom, to my knowledge, was invited to be in ''Best Poems of 1995'') had observed The National Library of Poetry's 20-line limit, their careers would be in a lot better shape today.
Anyway, I wrote a poem for ''Best Poems of 1995.'' I call it, simply, ''Love.'' Here it is:
''O love is a feeling that makes a person strive
''To crank out one of the Best Poems of 1995;
''Love is what made Lassie the farm dog run back to the farmhouse to alert little Timmy's farm family whenever little Timmy fell into a dangerous farm pit;
''Love is a feeling that will not go away, like a fungus in your armpit;
''So the bottom line is that there will always be lovers
''Wishing to express their love in an heirloom quality book with imported French marbleized covers;
''Which, at $49.95 a pop multiplied by 3,000 poets
''Works out to gross literary revenues of roughly $150,000, so it's
''A good bet that whoever thought up the idea of publishing this book
''Doesn't care whether this last line rhymes.''
I sent this poem in to the folks at The National Library of Poetry.
And T.S., if you send something in, for God's sake, keep it simple.