One spring morning, my wife, Valerie, found a column in the San Francisco paper about Weed, Calif., which was getting ready to capitalize on its merchantable name.
I e-mailed my former classmate, Chuck Weed, to tell him the news, wondering if Chuck has a sense of humor about his name. He responded, saying he was in negotiations with the town to become Mayor-for-Life, and offering me the position of Poet Laureate, a post with a handsome imaginary salary.
I took a minute to consider if I’d actually accept the position of Weed’s Poet Laureate, even if six figures were involved. Switching fantasies, I noted that Poet Laureate of Provincetown is a position I’d actually pay to hold.
There would be challenges. I’d probably struggle to cover with sufficient encomia the variety of activities and ways of life that flourish in Provincetown. I could make a stab at some of the arts events, and some town celebrations, but I’d have trouble addressing, for example, the Mayflower’s 400th anniversary.
As for memorializing, say, the development of whale watching as a partial replacement for the dying fishing industry, I might do better.
Harry Kemp was perhaps the only previous unofficial Provincetown Poet Laureate. He had a love of all things local, and his embrace of the mythos included appearances in garb suggesting Harry was the modern-day spirit of the Pilgrims.
I’d be challenged to hold such a position, but I’d be happy to try. A promising part of this gig would be learning about the natural world. For starters: sighting so many varieties of avians, including occasional cardinals.
I might get some mileage out of delineating the variants among human inhabitants as well. You know: How many months of the year do you have to live in P’town before you become a year-rounder? Or, conversely, how much time can you be absent in midwinter before you’re no longer a full-time resident?
I wondered if I’d stoop to bribery to secure this position. Would I promise poetic praise for the votes of whoever votes for Poet Laureate? Would I be ready to endure the objections of the many candidates better placed to assume this post? Would I invite guest readers to spell me? Would the town explode in controversy?
I felt myself slipping into one of the favorite fantasies of writers: that the written or spoken word has an enormous effect on one’s surroundings.
Controversy would surely surround my appointment. Letters would be written; inebriates of all stripes would expound; punches might be thrown; all gosh darn heck would break loose.
Nevertheless, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I might not be the strongest candidate, but I was definitely available, at least until I accepted that gig in Weed.
A day or two later, I happened to reread Chuck’s e-mail and noted that he’d taken more care in the writing than I had in the reading. He hadn’t offered me the imaginary post of Poet Laureate of Weed but the much less complicated position of poet in residence. He hadn’t even included capitals or hyphens. I’m a fan of both. But I noted with relief that to be a lowercase poet, in lowercase residence (no hyphens), is simply to be me, wherever I happen to be.
I was happy to be relieved of the imaginary burden of being a Poet Laureate and looked forward, whenever I might make it to Weed under his extended Mayoral stint, to being poet in residence.
The same goes for Provincetown. No controversies about my bribing local officials or brouhahas involving my curriculum vitae. I can simply go about my business and face what Billy Collins says is the challenge of the lyric poet: figuring out how to fill the remaining 23½ hours of the day.
All matters doctrinal, poetic, and procedural have been resolved. I’m on my way to freedomland.
As for Chuck’s imaginary stint as Mayor-for-Life of the newly revived Weed, Calif., no doubt he’s in for a wild ride.
The position of poet in residence is not mythical at all. In Provincetown, I can be a poet in residence without any fanfare. No naysayers will challenge me to write a pantoum about the new less-than-universally-appreciated funicular, about which I have a deep ambivalence, in that I wouldn’t have voted to install it, but, due to my decrepit knees, I will probably ride it at least once.
No one will step back, going all squinty-eyed, and say, “Oh yeah? Poet in residence? So, Mr. Poet, write an epic on fishing. And finish up by celebrating the unique culture of the dune shacks.”
If I should happen to introduce myself to people as a poet in residence, they’ll probably say something like, “That’s nice. I think I need to refresh my drink.”
In other words: a position for life, unencumbered by outside demands. All based on my imagined stint as Poet Laureate of Weed, Calif., the new Weed Capital of the West, under the philanthropic governance of Chuck Weed, Mayor-for-Life.
Will Walker of San Francisco and Provincetown is author of the poetry collection Wednesday After Lunch. This story is slightly adapted from one he told at Provincetown Story Night on Aug. 7, 2021.