Today’s found poem isn’t the best we’ve published by any means, but it’s probably my favorite. A couple weeks ago I was locked in traffic on the endless grid that is the San Fernando Valley — construction down the road ahead — and boredom gave me the opportunity to actually read some of the signs in the strip malls. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I returned a few days later to recapture the magic.
The first thing you notice when arriving in the Valley is the proliferation of shops along any main street. You can literally drive down Ventura Blvd. for hours without seeing anything but strip mall after strip mall: 7 Ralph’s Groceries, 35 99 Cents stores, 22 Taco Bells, and thousands of independently owned idols of specificity — Lightbulbs Unlimited, shops selling nothing but American flags or marble lawn art, a half-dozen chandelier stores in what’s spontaneously become the chandelier district. I remember my mom exclaiming after I picked her up at the airport, “The stores are all full, but there aren’t any houses; where do all these people live?!?”
There are literally so many shops and restaurants that you can’t read all their names; it’s physically impossible. Just driving to work is like a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland — I’ve lived here for five years and I still notice something new every time.
The overabundance of billboards and window displays borders upon obscene, and living here it’s impossible to forget the centrality of consumerism in our culture. And so there’s nothing more fun than being able to sequester all that economic fervor and recommission it as art — and not just any art, but the least profitable of all the arts, the only art, it’s easy to argue, that doesn’t even have an economy. You can’t make a living writing poetry, and yet we do it anyway and call it our “work.”
How fun is it to imagine all the banner-makers at their silk screen presses, working hard for a living, having no idea that what they’re making will become a line in a poem?