No, I won't say it. Anyway I think Eliot was wrong. In the American Midwest,
April has always seemed a bit of a practical joker, reeling madly from winter to summer and
back again within a 48-hour period. Any month that brings us poetry, taxes, and the return of
Daylight Saving Time clearly has something up its sleeve, and is probably laughing at
One Step Forward, One Step Back
More than one wag has likened the concept of Daylight Saving Time to making a blanket
longer by cutting off one end and sewing it onto the other end. It allows people who don't get
out much a chance to see what jet lag feels like, albeit mildly. For some reason, many countries
have embraced the idea. Worse, in the northern hemisphere we're 'springing forward' while
folks down under are 'falling back', which means that those of us who travel the globe seldom
know what time it is anywhere or even what day it is.
The notion of Daylight Saving Time first saw daylight (heh, heh) in 1784 when noted
American tightwad Benjamin Franklin, in whimsical mood, decided to entertain his friends with
an essay on economising through the use of natural lighting. In 1907 Englishman William
Willett put forth a more serious proposal on adjusting the clocks to take advantage of the long
daylight hours of summer. This goes to show that humour does not travel well between
even if their citizens allegedly speak the same language. Mr. Willett was widely derided and
criticised by his fellows, but in 1916 Great Britain actually adopted a version of his scheme.
And this goes to show that governments don't know a joke when they see it. After that,
numerous other countries, who didn't get the joke either but were unwilling to admit it, adopted
some form of Daylight Saving Time, leaving us with the mess we have today. Ben Franklin has a
lot to answer for.
I keep reading statistics on how many barrels of oil we save during the summer months by
fiddling with the clocks, and I guess I believe them. I also see that the number of automobile
accidents raises each spring right after we move the clocks ahead, most of that number
occurring during the morning commute to work, when a few working brain cells more or less
makes a critical difference. Or perhaps the drivers were thinking about filling out their
income tax forms, and having an automobile accident seemed a more appealing alternative.
The Taxman Cometh
Every April in the United States the Taxman pays a visit, accompanied by his henchmen the
Accountant, the Headache, and the Small-Bits-of-Paper-That-Turn-Up-Missing. They're
denizens of the Internal Revenue Service, the division of our national government responsible
for collecting taxes and enforcing the tax laws. One way to gauge a society's mood is to take a
look at the jokes floating around. As you can tell, the Internal Revenue Service agents are not
If a lawyer and an IRS agent were both drowning, and you could only save one
of them, would you read the newspaper or go to lunch?
Q: What do you call 25 skydiving IRS agents?
(In case anybody from the IRS is reading this, let me point out that I did not make up these
jokes, and that I personally have nothing against IRS agents, all of whom are decent,
upstanding people who are just doing their jobs. Also I don't owe you any money.)
To add insult to injury, the United States tax code is quite convoluted. Not even the IRS
understands it, and the average tax payer has to go through hours of mental contortions to
figure out how much he owes. Making out your own income tax return is a bit like a
do-it-yourself mugging, so rather than deal with the Headache and the Small-Bits-of-Paper,
Joe Citizen often throws piles of money at the Accountant, in exchange for which he receives a
sheaf of papers with lots of numbers on them, the only parts of which he understands being
Your Name and Sign Here. He then goes to the nearest bar for a stiff drink, relieved that he
won't have to do this for another year.
Q: What is the difference between death and taxes?
A: Congress does not meet every year to make death worse.
Stirring the Roots
Writing poetry for a living is a good method of minimizing one's income taxes through the
simple ruse of minimizing one's income. Perhaps not coincidentally, we celebrate National
Poetry Month in April, so while our finances are taking a beating, we are encouraged to buy a
book of poems and make a poet happy.
The profession of poetry is in an odd state in the USA. Judging by the numbers of new
books of poetry being published each year, it's a waste land (you knew I'd end up quoting
Eliot). The major publishing houses and bookstore chains aren't interested in it because there
isn't a large enough market to generate much profit. In addition, the large firms are in part
responsible for the demise of the small, independent publishers and booksellers who are the
major supporters of the art. Many poets who enjoy eating regularly and sleeping indoors have
fled to academia, which functions as something of a modern patron of the arts, providing
students, university-funded presses, and tenure. This is great for the 'recognized' poet but it
leaves out the many who write poetry for the joy of it, without hope of getting published, and
who are turning out inventive and exciting work.
Fortunately, the Web has set the economics of publishing poetry on its ear. A Web site
provides an inexpensive means for writers to make their poetry available to a broad audience.
For those whose goal is traditional publication, there are a number of companies providing
'print on demand' services, allowing authors to self-publish and market their books while
containing the upfront costs. For those who like to read their work for an audience, poetry
slams - competitions of performance poetry - are springing up around the country. There is a
natural affinity between performance poetry and rap music, and the popularity of the latter
has attracted many who may have been put off by the poetry they'd learned in school. In the
rough and tumble of neologisms and jammed syntax, the language remakes itself. So the roots
of poetry stir beneath April's rains; who knows what sort of garden will sprout. But it's
spring, and we live in hope.