Tough Day for the Army
“Poet Farmers” is from John Warner’s collection, TOUGH DAY FOR THE ARMY (LSU Press, 2014). Warner is an editor at large for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His fiction, non-fiction and humor have been published widely in print and on the web, and he’s the author of three previously published books, including a guide of fake writing advice, FONDLING YOUR MUSE: INFALLIBLE ADVICE FROM A PUBLISHED AUTHOR TO THE WRITERLY ASPIRANT, and with Kevin Guilfoile, the Washington Post #1 bestseller, MY FIRST PRESIDENTIARY: A SCRAPBOOK OF GEORGE W. BUSH. He lives in South Carolina.
Warner’s stories are reminiscent of the works of Donald Barthelme, George Saunders, and Amy Hempel. With comic and tender rambunctiousness, his satirical voice parries and thrusts its way through each narrative, combining a strong wit and a soft heart.
He said this about his story: “Poet Farmers” began, ironically enough, as a poem I wrote in graduate school at McNeese St. University when I was enrolled in the poetry workshop, crossing genres being strongly encouraged as part of our development. I was and am beyond terrible at writing poetry, but I believe I was better for the effort.
For whatever reason, a lot of “rural” poems had been turned in by colleagues that were definitely not of the farming persuasion, and I began to wonder where all of this material came from.
At the same time, I was reading Donald Barthelme, most specifically his amazing story “Porcupines at the University,” in which a college Dean is shown fretting over what to do about an approaching herd of porcupines. I was taken by the juxtaposition of something putatively serious, with something silly, and was eager to try something in the same mode. Thinking of my roving band of poets from the farmers’ point of view, I began to think that they might see them as a kind of invasion.
I was too afraid to share the poem in the workshop for fear that my friends and colleagues would take offense (though I meant none), but I couldn’t let something I liked go to waste, so I repurposed it as a story to include in my MFA thesis, dating the initial completed drafts of this story to early 1997, making it the oldest one in my collection.
If you look closely enough and count the beats, you can probably find the original line breaks.