Originally posted here for the “Something Funny” challenge from QuietSilence: https://theprose.com/post/380735/vain-poet
This story is based on the Reedsy.com Prompt “Write a humorous story about the descendant of someone remembered for an insignificant act.”
My name is Blaze. OK, my real name is Blake Hilson, but my pen name is Blaze, because it sounds awesome. I have written for the local newspaper as an entertainment journalist for the past ten years, but my passion is for poetry. This passion comes from my late father Adam. My father wrote a poem that was published in the poetry anthology An Ocean So Blue, which came from the organization Talented Poets. Before my father passed away, he gave me his copy of An Ocean So Blue, and it is one of my most prized possessions. He told me that he had intially mailed his poem to Talented Poets for their contest, and although his poem didn’t win the grand prize, it got as far as the semi-finals. They told him that his poem was brilliant, and they wanted to publish it in their anthology of only the best poetry they receive. For $80 they offered to send a copy of the anthology to him as a keepsake, and he happily obliged. I have had the anthology in my possession for the past twenty years. Here is his poem that was published:
A Really Bad Poem
By Adam Hilson
This poem is very dumb.
Reading it won’t be any fun.
It sounds like it was written by a bum.
It will probably be thrown on the floor.
After all, the metaphors are a total bore!
This poem is very bad.
It is not at all rad.
It will never become a fad.
Because it is just PLAIN BAD!!!
This poem is very lame.
It will never help my rise to fame.
I am a horrible poet.
And yes, I do know it!
My poem is as sour as a lime.
None of these lines even rhyme!
As I revisited my father’s work, I smiled at the chills I felt from his pure poetry. Talented Poets were still around, and it was my turn to add to our family legacy. I love being an entertainment journalist, but I have wanted to be a published poet since my dad’s success. Fortunately, it was easier than ever to enter the contest from Talented Poets. My dad had to type out his poem on a word processor and mail it in, but all I had to do was submit my poem on their website. It was time to see if I had what it took to win the contest and get published in a future Talented Poets anthology. I submitted a poem that I worked hard on, and felt a lot of pride for. Here it is if you would like to read it:
I was walking down the street.
Walking on my feet.
When I fell into a purple hole.
I landed on a floor that was real cold.
I saw some little green guys.
They looked at me with red eyes.
Then they started dancing to a song.
A techno dance song, that they danced along.
I started to dance along with it too.
I became a real dancing fool.
These green guys know how to party.
Boring in the sewers, hardly!
Unfortunately, now I must go.
But there’s something I want you to know.
Next time you’re bored, with nothing to do.
Join these green guys in the sewers, they’re really cool!!!
I was quite nervous, but the time had come. My father inspired me to write, and I have definitely found great success with a well loved entertainment column. But I really wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a poet. I clicked submit, and I reviewed the confirmation screen that my poem was received and would be reviewed for the contest. And now the waiting game began. I decided to call it a night for now....
I didn’t have to wait very long. About a week later I had an email in my Inbox from Talented Poets. This is what it said:
We have reviewed your poem “Funky Beat,” and we were blown away by your amazing artistry. We would like to extend our congratulations on being accepted into our poetry contest as a semi-finalist! Your beautiful poem has the potential to win the Grand Prize of $500,000. We also are in the process of publishing Fields of Ferns, which is our latest anthology of only the best poetry, and this beautiful keepsake just won’t be complete without your incredible poem gracing its pages. For a small fee of $150 we can include your inspiring work, and send you a copy for your enjoyment. We also have additional products that your poem would be well suited for. Please click the link below to visit our online store. Thank you for sharing your work with us. We are deeply touched by your talent, and we look forward to collaborating with your genius.
Elated, I clicked the link and placed an order for the upcoming anthology, Fields of Ferns. I did it. I was going to be a published poet. Just like my father. I looked in the online store to see what else Talented Poets offered. They had many more things that could be done with my poem, options that I don’t believe were available when my father’s poem was published so long ago. My poem could be printed on a keychain. I could get a hoodie or a T-Shirt with my poem on it. I could have my poem read and recorded by a professional voice actor on an MP3 file. I could order a beach ball with my poem on it (might be nice for the summer). I could have my poem engraved on a dog food bowl (why not? Animals love poetry too). A dishware set with my poem engraved on it was also an option (could be nice for dinner parties). Many more options were available, and I couldn’t wait to consider all of them.
“Good morning Blake!” My coworker Tom greeted. Tom wrote an advice column for the newspaper. “That’s an ummmmm, interesting hat!”
“Thanks buddy!” I responded enthusiastically. Fields of Ferns wasn’t set to publish for a while, but some of the other items from Talented Poets had arrived. One of the things I had ordered was a baseball cap with my poem printed on it.
“Those socks are something too.” Tom said.
I was wearing shorts with my socks pulled up to my knees. I don’t normally go for that look, but I had also ordered socks with my poem printed on them.
“Aren’t they awesome?” I asked excitedly. I was about to fill my personalized coffee cup that had my poem printed on it, when Tom asked me a question that would open up a conversation about my proud achievement.
“So, what’s with all the personalized things you have today? And is that poem printed on your sneakers too?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Remember when I told you about how my father was a published poet?”
“Yeah, I finally remembered after the first 50 times you told me.”
“Well, I entered the contest my dad had entered before, and my poem is a semi-finalist! They are also publishing it in an anthology, and I was able to get it printed on all these personalized things! I have even more personalized things at home!”
“Well, congrats man.” Tom said as enthusiastically as he could muster (I think he needs some coffee. I should have ordered him one of the mugs too). “Your enthusiasm is great, but you might want to be cautious. I am pretty sure this contest and their book are from a vanity publisher.”
“Vanity publisher? What do you mean?”
“Well, they are probably only interested in publishing poems based on the money they receive, not the poems themselves.” Tom replied. “I mean, you are wearing socks with your poem on them. How many publishers do that? I bet any poem entered would be a semi-finalist.”
At this point I felt offended. “Are you saying you don’t think my poem is semi-final worthy? Talented Poets think I have talent!” I then pulled up the email from Talented Poets on my phone to show Tom, while trying not to cover up my poem printed on my custom phone case.
“Your poem is.... fine.” Tom said cautiously. “You are a great writer Blake, and you have done amazing work here at the paper over the past ten years. I’m just saying, you could probably send this organization anything, and they will butter you up to get your money. And it worked, as you are sporting socks with your poem on them.”
“Whatever!” I responded heatedly. “I will send a completely ludicrous poem to them, and I guarantee it will go nowhere in their contest!” I stormed away from Tom, with a plan in mind to prove him wrong....
I was ashamed of what I was about to do, but I had to prove that Talented Poets praised my poem for its merit, not my money. This was also about my father’s legacy as well, since this all began with his published poem through them. I created a new email and used an alias in order to separate my decoy poem from my true work. I read the submission I was about to send once more before sending it to the contest. At the very least, my real poem should win against this one:
I could send anything to Talented Poets
And they would say I’m an artist.
They don’t appreciate true poetry.
They only appreciate true money.
But I’m a vain poet, and I might know it.
So here’s my poem.
Is it semi-finalist worthy?
Maybe if I drop money on it it will be.
Would they put this poem on a baseball cap? Sure, if I send enough money.
So let’s do this.
VAIN! VAIN! VAIN!
MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!
TALENTED POETS SUCK!
WORST COMPANY EVER!
EVER! EVER! EVER!
It made me sick writing these words about Talented Poets, but there is no way they would endorse a poem like this. Now as long as I don’t hear back from Talented Poets, then Tom could eat his words....
“You were right Tom. Talented Poets really is a vanity publisher.”
“Sorry Blake,” Tom said sympathetically. “But if you don’t mind me asking, now that you know this, why did you buy that hat?”
I blushed as I remembered that I was now the “proud” owner of a baseball cap with my decoy poem “Vain Poet” printed on it. I began to explain why I had this awful hat.
“I had to test it out and see if they would really go as far as publishing this poem and putting it on merch. And they did. I will be receiving a copy of Fields of Ferns with the poem “Vain Poet” in it. And this poem is also a semi-finalist. And Talented Poets told me they loved this poem and that I have incredible talent. Did you want to hear the spoken word recording of the poem that I also purchased?”
“I think I’ll pass. But they aren’t wrong in one aspect.” Tom responded. “You definitely have incredible talent. Just look at how well your entertainment column has been received by our readers.”
“Yeah....” I replied, still feeling blue. “I just hate that my dad’s legacy was being published by a vanity publisher, which anyone could have done by throwing money at them.”
“I know for a fact that your dad left a far bigger legacy than that.” Tom gently rebuked. “Yes, his claim to fame was being published by a vanity publisher. But you enjoy his poem, don’t you? You enjoy the anthology it appeared in, right?”
“Yeah, I really do.” I said with a smile. “The poem summed up my dad’s goofy sense of humor, and that is something I will always treasure.”
“Exactly.” said Tom. “And your father’s legacy goes beyond his poem. He wrote something that inspired you, and thanks to that inspiration you are also a writer, a writer whom people look forward to reading in our paper every day. Your father’s poem had lasting effects that are continuing. You should be proud of him, just like he would be proud of you.”
I was deeply touched by Tom’s words. He was right. It doesn’t matter that my dad’s poem only got published by Talented Poets. He inspired me, and thanks to that I am able to make people happy every day with my writing. My father started a legacy that continues on.
“I really appreciate that Tom. You are so wise, maybe you should write an advice column!”
Tom laughed. “Maybe you’re right.”
So I’m not entering any more Talented Poets contests or buying merchandise with my writing printed on them. But I am still writing my entertainment column. I am still working on writing poetry too. I bought a nice journal and wrote my father’s poem in it. I am filling the journal with my own poems too. Maybe some day I will try and get them published, but even if I don’t, I will still pass them on to the next generation for inspiration. So for what it’s worth, thanks for the start Talented Poets. And thank you for everything dad. You will always be my hero.