Poem of the Week | April 13, 2010

This week, we feature a brand-new poem by Eric Burger. Burger was a Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He’s also a recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, CutBank, Phoebe, Sonora Review, and Puerto del Sol, among others. Burger has work forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review and Gulf Coast. He teaches at the University of Colorado and lives in Boulder with his wife Katherine and daughter June.

“A Hanking” was a lot of fun to write and began as an experiment. If I start a prose poem in a flat, journalistic idiom and incrementally push it into rapturous language, what will I end up with? A big fat mess? In the revision phase, I focused on making the landscape comically pre-apocalyptic to help present what I think of as one likely (and absurd and unfortunate) upshot of the growing nexus between capitalism and entertainment: depleted agency.

A Hanking

Tom Hanks is the consummate actor.  Whether playing an Eastern European
trapped in an American airport or a WWII captain in agony
over a hard decision, Tom Hanks “becomes” the character like few
others.  But he is also, paradoxically, always Tom Hanks on the big
screen-the same in every role.  Like Eddie Murphy is always
Eddie Murphy.  How can he be both himself when acting and also a fully
embodied, developed character for a specific storyline?  The only
conclusion I can come to is the rules do not apply to Tom Hanks.  He is
the antinomy at the heart of Hollywood.  He’s also the radiant cluster of
energies that will ultimately render this bumbledom of haves and have-
nots a thing of the past, a thing we pine for.  And the executives will beg
him to stop, but he won’t know how and they won’t understand exactly
what they want him to stop doing.  O paragon of obsidian!  O weeping
cube of deception!  These are the things the executives won’t know how
to say.  It wouldn’t help anyway.  Hanks will raise his potent hand and
against their will the executives will thrust contracts under it for him to