Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ghettoization - Part II

Melvin the Cantaloupe said that everything started when he came out with his first book of poetry, No Raisin in the Sun (1988). It received the S.Q. Chalmers Award for the best first book of poems by a poet under 35, judged by the eminent Kenneth Koch, as well as rave reviews in American Poetry Triquarterly, Contemporary Poetics, and Stunned Gasping. Such now oft-anthologized poems as "Single Bird," "Harpischord Who Shook the Cherry Branches," and "Clouds of the Enemy Dolphin" appeared in this book.

But the Asian-American critics hated it. They dubbed Melvin the Cantaloupe the "Hello Kitty" of American poetry. Melvin was allergic to cats. When he went up to NYC, the other Asian-American poets did not invite him to their annual Asian-American literary gala, which he interpreted as a rebuke to his work. The cultural feminists hated it as well, arguing, in particular, that "Clouds of the Enemy Dolphin" demeaned women and trivialized housewives with such lines as "womanly minnow/ who swam among the thousand whores" and "the territory of the absent vagina is a woman with no womb." In 1990, he locked himself in the bathroom for three days straight, sustaining himself only with Cheese Balls and drinking water, upon learning that his longtime friend and fellow poet, Emma A. Cho, had ripped him apart in Asian-American Poetry Review without letting him know beforehand.

I had no idea that cantaloupes could be such drama queens. By now, I was ready to move on to the grapes, since I knew that grapes are the type of fruit most likely to study in the library on a Saturday night. But not being the type of person who could leave a cantaloupe in despondency, I gave him a couple Kleenexes and tried to console him.

"I am not a cantaloupe," he suddenly exclaimed. "Why does everyone treat me like a cantaloupe! I have never claimed to be a cantaloupe, and it is my prerogrative to choose whether to be one. People think that I am just a self-hating cantaloupe, but I am not! I am not a circus animal. I just want to be more than another melon, another fruit. Is that too much to ask?"

I picked Melvin the Cantaloupe up, dunked him in flour, and called him a donut hole. He soon calmed down again. During the past fifteen years, Melvin had been quite prolific. He had come out with five different books of poems -- The Clown Who Ate Paris with One Fist (1990), After Pistachios (1993), Although, Although (1995), Landing Upon the Gates of a Solar Eclipse (2001), and Every Salad Without an Ostrich (2003). After Although, Although, Melvin went through a dry spell, writing only two poems from 1996 to 1998, until one day, attending his third grade daughter's school production of Mourning Becomes Electra, it suddenly occurred to him that he could rhyme "bologna" with "phony," which made everything in the world make sense again. Since then, he had been experimenting with rhyme and fixed forms, penning a 28-page opus in terza rima, entitled "Sweetheart," which made up about a third of his most recent book.

The critics still bother Melvin the Cantaloupe from time to time, but nowadays, they leave him alone for the most part. He has few Asian-American poet friends and even fewer cantaloupe poet friends but no real regrets. Glancing at his sestina, I spot the six end words: "pizza whimsy orifice jacket mooch farmer." I ask him for his autograph.


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