Craig’s List Beat Poetry

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I find the Craig’s List free stuff ads very entertaining. The combination of really odd items1 and unique writing choices lead to speculation about who wrote the ad and what they were thinking.

I ran across the three beautiful ads pictured above last night and proceeded to force my wife to listen to me read them aloud (It was Valentine’s Day after all). The result was beautiful, poetic even, beat poetic even even. I scrounged around tonight for some jazz loops and produced the beautiful work of art below. No words were changed but I did leave off the phone numbers.

Craig’s List Beat Poetry

The best thing about this is it could morph into a real English lesson. Decide this author was intentional. Analyze it like you would any other work of poetry. A short sample follows.

owner in left and gone, two beautifully dogs, golden retrieve, and Lab mix

This poem is about escape from the oppression of everyday society. In a scant 13 words, the author manages to take a snapshot of everyday Americana and depict the chaos just beneath the surface. By juxtaposing an almost total lack of capitalization against the apparent order enforced by the repeated use of commas the reader is forced to consider the role of structure and order in our society. Even the subjects of the poem reference typical American archetypes while subtly twisting our understandings of them. What could be more American than a golden retriever and a lab? A closer look reveals not a “golden retriever” but a “golden retrieve.” Taken by itself this might appear to be a simple mistake but in the context of the poem as a whole a theme arises. The owner is described as “in left and gone” as opposed to “is left” or “has left” which seems to cast the owner as a person opposing the Right. That shifts this portion of the poem from a redundant paraphrasing- “owner has left and gone” to a statement about a person giving up on the American dream. She both has left and “is left.” Her dog has shifted from a golden retriever to a “golden retrieve.” In her departure she has left behind the reward based grind of everyday life. She will retrieve no more.

Other things I’d talk about –
The capital L in “Lab” representing big pharma vs drug use for pacifying society
“Two beautifully dogs” vs “Too beautifully dogs”
dog as pejorative
“golden retrieve” vs golden parachute vs repetition and oppression in work

I could easily write a paper on this. 10 pages plus.

There is no doubt this is fairly absurd but if what is important is the mental process of analysis then, while the content does matter, it matters far less than English classes would typically have you believe. I’d be mixing stuff like this in with This Is Just To Say without hesitation.

I hated poetry on first exposure in school. Scheduling errors led to my enrollment in a poetry class in college. I was the only one who named Shel Silverstein and Dr. Suess as my favorite poets when we introduced ourselves on the first day. Interestingly, this was not done with ironic intent but through sheer naivety. People began singing “One of these things is not like the other” yet I stayed on because the teacher was a good match for me. Looking at poetry like a game and arguing with people about it became amusing to me.

I still use those skills when writing just about everything and when analyzing anything from parent emails to state teacher qualifications. I’m not arguing the assignment or even poetry analysis will work for everyone but I think there’s a greater chance of interesting more kids if you can change their perception of what it is they’re doing. This is a game and the power is much more in the hands of the student and their ability to justify. Putting that analysis on something that doesn’t (and can’t) have right answers opens up a degree of freedom that analyzing the tired poems included in literature textbooks often does not.


1 Someone keeps trying to give away the wooden crates Clementines come in and I saw a half empty 2 liter of grape soda in there the other day. Granted, you had to take two additional full two liters (citrus and cola) or no deal.

Comments on this post

  1. Giulia Forsythe said on February 16, 2013 at 12:28 am

    Oh this is so excellent. I was skeptical when I was just reading the text but your jazz loop scrounging paid off; the musical accompaniment totally makes that work.

    • Tom Woodward said on February 16, 2013 at 3:13 pm

      I don’t know why you wouldn’t expect badly written Craig’s List ads to make beautiful poetry. Strange.

  2. Linda said on February 16, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Love the drum mixed with the unexpected piano trills! Incredibly inventive and educational!

  3. Jim Groom said on February 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Brilliant, absolutely brilliant….neeeeeed goooooooone soooooooon

    • Tom Woodward said on February 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      I’m serious that I’d like to film something like this. Do it up right. You exude Beat from your pores.

      • Giulia Forsythe said on February 16, 2013 at 7:48 pm

        Donning black turtlenecks on a stark, low stage in a dark, smoky club – Jim & Tom take turns rhythmically reciting Craigslist beat poetry in velvety tones.

        My prediction: a sell-out smash and a viral YouTube hit spurring thousands of copy cats globally. The world will be a better (funnier) place.

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