Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"Misreading Pennsylvania" by Eric McHenry, Guest Contest Judge

Misreading Pennsylvania
Eric McHenry

When the seventh salvo of silver flashes
cued the blue floaters for the seventh time,
blotting the smaller letters from their sashes,
I mispronounced “Miss Reading” — made it rhyme
"Mystic Pennsylvania" Watercolor on Paper, by J. Artemus Gordon

with “misleading.” Pissed off her press agent,
Miss Information, who steamed out to smoke.
But the style writers covering the pageant
called it an unconscious masterstroke.

So I became the Master of Near Misses.
The work kept coming. “You must be Miss Taken,”
I transproposed to the Pork Products Princess
panel, and you should have seen Miss Bacon.

They ate it up, though. It was liberating.
Within a month I didn’t even need
my malaprompter. Cheating was creating.
Believing anything I couldn’t read

I crushed my quadrifocals. People shed
their crosshairs and acquired a layer of fuzz.
Consequence came uncoupled. What I said
I saw, and what I saw was what I was.

Poet’s Notes: I remember seeing a headline that said something like “Students Accused of Cheating” and misreading it as “Students Accused of Creating.” This poem is a meditation on the ways we improve the world with our mistakes. Its speaker is the emcee of the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, and I’m not sure how that happened, exactly. My wife is originally from Reading, PA, and that fact must have had something to do with it. 

Editor’s Note:  It is no easy task to make a traditional ballad fresh and entertaining.  The sheer number of malapropisms and plays on words ensures that this ballad is the exception.  “Misreading Pennsylvania” was first published in LitRag.

Artist's Note: Cassandra Angst, Miss Pennsylvania 2017, was used as reference for this piece.

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