Found Poetry

We sometimes find poetry in the oddest places.

For the past ten years, I’ve mainly earned my living as a web software developer, and I’ve seen a lot of technology trends come and go. One trend I really miss has to do with the naming of pizza boxes. I’m not talking about actual pizza boxes, but about rack-mounted servers, high-powered network computers — they’re usually manufactured by Sun Microsystems, or sometimes Hewlett-Packard or IBM — that websites or technology departments run on.

You see, in the mid-90’s it was the standard custom for network administrators to think up “themes” for the names of the machines in their various networks. At J. P. Morgan bank, where I worked from 1992 to 1994, our middle office trading system boxes were named after American rivers: mississippi, wabash, missouri, columbia, ohio, hudson (all lower case, the Unix standard for machine names). The back-end database servers were fish — flounder, barracuda, swordfish, tuna — and the IT department workgroup servers were an oddly-chosen selection of famous comedians: martin, leno, wright, murphy, piscopo.

There are two main types of workers in a technology department: developers like myself who write programs and build applications, and system administrators who run networks or servers. I’ve always been glad to be a developer rather than a sys-admin, except that this means I’ve never gotten to name a network. I envy the sheer power of this privilege. It allows you to impose your tastes and beliefs, at least in one literal sense, on those around you. To copy a file, I would have to run:

scp brooklyn@piscopo:/usr/local/home/brooklyn/filename .

even though I didn’t particularly like Joe Piscopo. I wanted to go into the workgroup network, decommission piscopo and put up kinison, but I was not the admin and this was not my right.

Thinking up network names was an art, and there seemed to be a wisdom to it. For instance, I noticed at JP Morgan that the secure back-end machines in one network had difficult names like penobscot or pawshatucket, whereas the front-end machines were cherokee and hopi. It seemed like an arcane and metaphysical act was taking place in this bestowal of names, and I wanted to be a part of it.

In fact, I would sit on the subway and dream up machine names for my imaginary network. One day I’d be using british authors: woolf, wodehouse, doyle, lawrence, wells. The next it would be rock guitarists: kaukonen and anastasio on the back end, page and garcia up front, gilmour and townshend running the heavy apps. It would have made me very happy, if I could have ever created one of these networks. I wouldn’t even care what the network was used for. I just wanted to name the machines.

You probably think that’s all I have to say about the naming of pizza boxes, but actually there’s more. After I left J. P. Morgan, I worked for a few years at the online division of Time Warner, and it was there that I began an epic battle with my sys-admin over the naming of my machines.

I was managing the deployment of a new advertising network to deliver and track ads, which would go online with two machines and expand to four. I was on a tight deadline, and guess I had to bug Hans (the sys-admin in my department) a little too much to set up my machines, because when they arrived they were named moan and groan.

I didn’t like this (though I admired the deftness of his message) and in fact I suspected ulterior sources of hostility, because it happened that a couple of months earlier Hans had organized a department-wide pool tournament, which I proceeded to knock him out of in the first round. It was his tournament, and he didn’t seem too happy about this. I was pretty sure moan and groan was his way of getting me back.

I decided I wasn’t going to take this, so I wrote an email to our boss stating that my co-workers and I were about to embark on a very difficult project that was probably going to consume all our free time for the next three months, and that the least we could hope for was to not have to constantly look at the names moan and groan for the next three months.

Our boss replied with a one-sentence message to Hans: “change these machine names”.

Because I’m a bastard, I actually sent Hans a follow up email asking if he would please rename the boxes eightball and nineball.

He never responded, but the boxes arrived with new names: cornflakes and wheaties. I’m sure this was meant to be some kind of subtle insult, but I liked the names, and my co-workers did too. When it came time for us to add two machines, we asked Hans to name them frootloops and luckycharms, and he did, and we were friendly after that.

Then, a few years later, “theme” names for computer networks began to go out of style. This is probably due to the influence of humorless consulting firms that inspect network installations and force dull methodologies upon the poor admins. So now, instead of hoffman, deniro and streep, or dandelion, daisy and carnation, we get prod01, prod02, dev05, etc. etc.

You can’t find networks with good names anymore, and I’m really mad about this.

I began this story by talking about found poetry, and that’s where I’d like to end it. These server names were like poetry to me. They were simple words that carried tremendous aesthetic appeal, and they also carried both important concrete (functional) and abstract (personal) meaning. I find poetry in lots of places, but pizza box names were as good as found poetry ever got, for me.

Where have you ever found your own found poetry, if you have found any?

23 Responses

  1. Prose That FlowsThe Unix
    Prose That Flows

    The Unix Primer Plus 3rd. Ed. reads very well and is easy to understand. The Economist and its pocket editions–Investor, MBA, and Manager–read very well, as does Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage. Garner’s examples of mistakes do not but illustrate well. An old flower-child poo-poohed my complaint about my finance text being so poorly written–I was literally rewriting it as I read it and doing my own research online–as the status quo for text books but I remember my Statics textbook as being well done, as well as Carter’s Elements of Metaphysics and 1997’s Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy. The 9/11 Report is exceptionally well written, escpecially since it is a government tract. All examples just given should be held up as gleaming to examples to the mountain of dreck that passes for writing. The age where if something was worth doing it was worth doing well seems to have mostly passed from the written word.

  2. Pizza. Crime. Context.When I
    Pizza. Crime. Context.

    When I lived in Venice, I spent hours upon hours riding the vaporetti, which were the slow-moving bus/boats that traveled the Grand Canal, the Giudecca Canal, and the lagoon. Of course, in Italian, everything sounds like poetry, and the names of the different stops were all lovely: Piazzale Roma, Ferrovia, Ca’D’Oro, Ca’Rezzonico, Accademia, Salute, San Marco, Giardini, Redentore, Zattere, etc. Though I never got off at this stop (I often went past it on my way to the Rialto or the train station), my favorite stop was San Silvestro, because someone had put three stickers together on the outside wall, reading “Pizza. Crime. Context.” It was such a random group of words, and I’m not exactly sure why, but I really liked them. Sometimes I’d say them to myself when I got to San Silvestro, because hey, you have to do something to entertain yourself when you’re riding public transportation, and by the time I reached that stop, I’d been on the vaporetto for about 40 minutes. Pizza. Crime. Context. PizzaCrimeContext. PIZZA! CRIME! CONTEXT! I’m not sure how poetic the phrase is, because it’s kind of stupid, and also doesn’t make sense, but I did find it pretty amusing, so at least there’s that.

  3. Stand-up for PoetryI find
    Stand-up for Poetry

    I find poetry in stand-up comedy. Not your average “dick jokes” as they’re known in the business, but anecdotal comedy. “Dick jokes” are the acknowledged bread and butter of stand-up comedy, although most comics resent the portions of their shows that are dick jokes.

    I guess this would also be spoken, found poetry to a degree. If a comic has a southern accent, the words generally flow better and are funnier. You can test this out if you don’t have a southern accent by playing a few lines of someone’s comedy act in your head, without the accent. Not very funny…is it?

    Sometimes I hear non-comics do a “bit” without realizing it. Everyday people commit acts of comedy all the time, in much the same way that practiced, professional comics do. This is poetry to my passively trained comedy ears. Sometimes I point it out to them. Everyone likes to hear that they’ve said something funny.

    There is a certain poetry to comedy bits and this is what my ears pick up on.

    After I read the question today, the first piece of comedy that came to mind was Tim Wilson’s “First Baptist Bar and Grill”. In fact, when I looked up the lyrics, one of the first sites listed was for the annual Georgia Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Tim’s from Atlanta, so it only makes sense that he’d qualify as a Georgia Cowboy Poet, but I doubt he took part in the event, or if he did, he probably considered it a hassle. But his comedy is poetry. As a bonus, it’s smart, clever, and funny.

    This is one of his comedy songs that is anecdotal, hilarious, and definitely poetry:

    “First Baptist Bar and Grill” by Tim Wilson

    Well, the church burned down and no one knew
    what Pentecost Baptist was gonna do
    the Sunday brimstone got so dadgum hot
    it burned up a church bus in the parkin’ lot
    In a panic the reverend Dr. White
    called up an ex-member that hadn’t lived right
    he owned Joe’s beer joint right across the fence
    it’s the same Joe’s he’d preached against
    he said I don’t really want to be a hypocrite
    But I got a Sunday school class that’s about to shit
    we’re all excited about revival week
    and moved by the spirit, so to speak
    with all the souls we saved and the money we spent
    we thought God told us to sell that tent
    I got a famous evangelist supposed to come
    and done run out of chairs, will you loan us some?
    Joe says, hell you can just use the whole dang place
    A9 on the jukebox “Amazing Grace”
    I ain’t supposed to open because of them blue laws
    but we’ll open tonight if it’s allright with y’all
    Preacher said well I reckon that’d be OK
    the good Lord works in mysterious ways
    I was gonna talk about Joshua, Judges and Ruth
    and I reckon I can do it from the DJ booth

    At the First Baptist Bar and Grill
    it’s the only church in the bible belt
    that smells like a whisky still

    when the sinners finish one more round
    we’ll have dinner on the ground
    and go inside and hell, pray we don’t get killed

    The evangilist came with a well-dressed choir
    they showed up around happy hour
    looked around the joint and didn’t take it real well
    said the White ministry has gone to hell
    Ms. Mills that taught youth Sunday school
    and two deacons in the back room shootin’ pool
    were sharin’ the Lord with a Jim Beam rep
    who was teachin’ Ms. Mills some line dance steps
    Reverend White was readin’ from the book of Luke
    to a tall, drunk trucker about to puke
    he had John 3:16 memorized
    tryin’ to dry him out to get him baptised
    the evangelist yelled about the lights and the beer
    said White, you can’t save any souls in here
    this place ain’t nothin’ but a den of sin
    ain’t the kind of place Baptists ought to be in
    Preacher said well we don’t really need y’all here
    You didn’t do a very good job last year
    Only saved one sinner, that’s Todd McGuire
    and he’s the little son of a bitch that set my church on fire
    Joe’s beer joint has done been revived
    Only been here an hour and I done saved five.
    Sure it’s got mirrors and a big dance floor
    but I finally found the flock God called me for.

    At the First Baptist Bar and Grill
    it’s the only church in the bible belt that smells like a whisky still
    not a stained glass window anywhere in site,
    just a blood-stained floor and neon lights,
    and the communion wine in here is always chilled.

    We’re here every Sunday; We’re livin’ large;
    We’re the only church with a cover charge.
    And if you don’t like our doctrine and think we ain’t devout,
    we’ll have our bouncer throw your butt out …
    of the First Baptist Bar and Grill

  4. simpsonsWell, I suppose that

    Well, I suppose that aesthetic appeal is used all the time to name all kind of products. The fact is that when words go beyond something, we find poetry.

    On the bus, watching faces, I believed once I saw some mythologic significance and I ran to write a poem named “el regreso de las gorgonas”. Yesterday, I found a funny sentence to answer a poem in litkicks: “the master knows everything except the safety box combination”.

  5. Great Story !Levi, I always
    Great Story !

    Levi, I always enjoy your behind-the-scenes info and insight on web technology and human nature. You give it an organic dimension. You are the anti-Borg.

    Found poetry? Ah, yeah…

    I’ve worked with people at places that combined legal & social services in which acronym becomes art, so to speak. First, I’ll quote someone, then I’ll tell you what it means. You should imagine this person speaking with hearty enthusiasm:

    “So, the LSP sends me a PEM for an IDO ASAP. Only problem is, the POE hires Indy, so they don’t have to sendy. I make a TC to the NCP and he wants stip in an OV! Sweet. He OV’s with an MO for all retro and mo’!”

    “So, the Legal Service Provider (attorneys who work for us) sends me a Priority Email for an Income Deduction Order (A court order that requires employers to deduct child support from someone’s paychcheck) as soon as possible. The only problem is the Place Of Employment hires Independent contractors, so by law, they don’t have to deduct & SEND anything from the man’s paycheck. But, I make a Telephone Call to the Non-Custodial Parent and he wants to make an agreement (Stipulate) at a visit to our office (Office Visit). Sweet. He comes into the office with a money order for all the back-pay he owes, and then some!”

    People really use all those acronyms and more. Some states now have medical stations set up next to the courtrooms where paternity and support are determined. If the guy wants a DNA test, he can go right next door and get it done before he leaves the courthouse. They call this the “plead or bleed” system.

  6. Ah, the canals of Venice.
    Ah, the canals of Venice. Strange you should mention this. I once worked with a young Italian man who had been a chef, a dock-worker, and a poet. One night in a Moroccan bar he told this story,

    “Nel passato ci era una ragazza. Ho desiderato comprarlo una fetta di torta. Il suo crimine era che ha rubato il mio cuore. — nel contesto letterario dei caff –, romanzesco e passando vicino senza arrestarsi quel parlo di esso come crimine.”

  7. Where can we read “el regreso
    Where can we read “el regreso de las gorgonas”?

    I like the idea of being on a bus watching faces and seeing some mythological significance. There is something cool about that.

  8. A christened ship!Hmm,
    A christened ship!

    Hmm, perhaps it is the christening itself that I find poetic? Well that and sailing itself I suppose.

    I’ve just always loved the idea of naming a ship something meaningful, something playful, something avant-garde or prolific.

    What will you name yours?

  9. Eureka!Greek for I found it!

    Greek for I found it!

    I find poetry everywhere, but I mentioned Greek so I will start there. I have learned a number of languages, and I always find poetry in grammar books and mispronounced words, misunderstandings, etc. It is all in the accidents or coincidences. Being open to the possibilities of language.

    I recently wrote a poem about a Japanese word that both means parenthesis and attractive, discovered in a textbook sentence that read, “What must you do to become…..”

    Other places I find poetry is in ads. I just was making collages with a friend and found more than a dozen great sounding titles for poems.

    It is all in the looking. What meets the eye sometimes meets the eye.

  10. Yes, naming a ship would be
    Yes, naming a ship would be fun. Also, naming homes or property. Elvis had “Graceland.” Stetson Kennedy has “Beluthahatchee” which is Native American for “place of forgiveness.”

  11. Anything Foreign…I have
    Anything Foreign…

    I have always been fascinated by other cultures and languages. Now, I have never learned enough of another language to even lay claim to knowing it, but I have exposed myself to other cultures and been fascinated by the spoken words.

    There is something musical (poetic) to me when hearing words from a language totally unknown to me spoken by someone fluent in the unknown language. I will stop in a store or restaurant and openly eavesdrop in on conversations (of which I will not understand anything) for the sheer delight in hearing the lilting music from their words. They are probably discussing whether or not “these pants make my ass look huge” to “what’s best on the menu” or simply arguing with their kids. But to me it is all poetry.

    Spanish has a unique music of its own. I was lucky to be married to a nice Mexican dude and was exposed to the musical sounds of that language and never tired of hearing it spoken. The few words I picked up remain of little use to me today but once in a while I will hear them in a conversation while shamelessly eavesdropping. I still like the words cari’os (caress) and chingaso (yeah, I don’t know — I was told it was untranslatable). Also the way parents referred to their children as meha (daughter) and meho (son).

    Having worked with the American Indian culture some in my youth, I think these languages are probably the most lilting when spoken. There is a soft intonation and musical rhythm to their speech pattern and even when speaking English their method of speech is quite poetic. I still find myself using some of the Indian slang I picked up from my students while teaching in Arizona. My favorite is the term “jollie” which was a word peculiar to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. It was the term used to define money that had value only on the reservation in the local Trading Post (they only had one). Because it was fun to think of jollies as money soon all the kids and teachers used this slang term and you’d often hear around the school, “I can’t go, I ain’t got no jollies.” I still sometimes will catch myself referring to a state of brokenness saying “I ain’t got no jollies.”

    I spent more time being exposed to the Arabic culture than any other culture. Their speech is filled with laughter and passion. I would listen attentively only picking up a few words which were transferred straight to Arabic from the English words like car, and television, and highway, airport and words which clearly defined a meaning but wasn’t quite right, like “I’m going to the wash machine” meaning laundromat. All their words are strongly poetic and uttered with great passion. Even if simply counting ( three, four, five) Talatha! Arba! Humseh! It sounds like some really serious business going on.

    So I listen, and all around me is music and poetry and words being spoken and words singing to me. All of life is some form of poetry.

  12. I wholeheartedly agree! I
    I wholeheartedly agree! I too have been fascinated with languages ever since I can remember, it is indeed poetic, no matter which country it originates from.

    What a coincidence that you mention the two languages I’ve always said I wanted to learn (Spanish and Arabic)I figure I have a good base for learning Spanish since I am French, but I forsee the masacre of many Arabic words before I even come close to something resembling the language!

  13. Art exhibitsIt’s not the most
    Art exhibits

    It’s not the most unlikely place, but museums and art galleries produce plenty of great poetry, from titles to desciptions to the pieces themselves. I was recently in a Cy Twombley exhibit and most of his pieces had short poems scrawled in partly readable handwriting. The fact that you could only read about 50-80 percent of the words made it that much better.

  14. Name’s the gameAs a teacher,
    Name’s the game

    As a teacher, I can often find poetry in the literary works I teach. The sounds that bubble forth from the kid’s mouths. The sounds that the heater makes in mid August (yeah, that’s right) clicking along with the sound of crickets, birds, and locusts. But most of all, I find poetry in the lists of names I receive every Fall. Names I don’t recognize yet. Names that don’t yet have faces. Names that are unique to those singular individuals. Names that were loved by parents even before a child was born. I can even have names that seem to me, as everyday as the word “spoon”, and then there are those as unusual as the name “Looney” (yes, that’s a first name). Let me rattle off some poetry from my current life–made up of the faceless names you can find here and now.

    merissa jessika kali kaylie andrew austin levi ashlie ashley ashleigh ashlee jenni cassie johnna richard zachary beau sabrina eva jackie annie lisa sarah atticus tyler shane katie jessi kyna noah alphonso watson tito adam amanda theresa clarissa cloe parish scott john jens lizbeth seanteelle seth corey jaz gertie mitch max russel brittni skyler skylar steven walter isaiah jill c.j. joe brent r.d. brady logan chantz

    and those odd last names that seem so…hmm…poetic:

    guldenpfennig spitznogle hurlbut pameticky paris tigrett geitzenauer stroughmatt blick bonnichsen lemkau kracht bierman bieri gingerich leopard hohenadel riedl shlutz warschauer verslues giovanazzi canaarr

    it’s poetry, i tell you. just look at it.

  15. agreed. you’d even be more
    agreed. you’d even be more pleased to hear the outcome of our dear joe hurlbut. i dare you…ask me….

  16. Poetry Lost and FoundI find
    Poetry Lost and Found

    I find poetry in the inspiration of others. On this particular paragraph, poetry is discovered by me in dreams, in the comments I read or in the observations I make when living day by day. Sometimes, even when doing very difficult chores, like sawing trees, I find inspiration in the sounds of silence when the lumber is through being stacked and the brush piles high. I feel, at times, compelled to write down phrases brainstorming through my head when hearing the daily news.

    I file the ideas in the back of my mind and dig them out when I am able to get to pen and paper, or the keyboard. Then I revise on the spot or sometimes months or years later. I have notebooks filled with unpublished poetry and prose.

  17. Isn’t it great how sometimes
    Isn’t it great how sometimes the stuff we have filed away in our brain suddenly finds its way to usefulness? I mean, even if it’s not “used” so to speak, it still enriches us, and when it fits into a context which we can use in writing, that’s a bonus!

  18. Courthouse PoetryI work as a
    Courthouse Poetry

    I work as a public defender, and the people here use some fairly violent expressions, like “judge you cut me off at the knees” (meaning the judge’s ruling has completely undercut the defense). Or, “the judge split the baby,” which means imposed a sentence halfway in between the max and min allowable by law. Or, “sent him up the river,” means max sentence. GAC is guilty as charged. Many of our clients are “kiddie diddlers.” Battery on a LEO, has nothing to do with astrology or lions, but means law enforcement officer.

  19. unexpected placesunexpected
    unexpected places

    unexpected books
    foreign words
    name of products
    paintings, music, films
    things i don’t like

  20. The title of your post made
    The title of your post made me think in the title of the film “Pizza, birra, faso” (Pizza, beer and cigarette).

  21. Yes, I also want to read that
    Yes, I also want to read that poem!Other mythologic apparitions?

  22. found poem on the 22 bus a
    found poem on the 22 bus a few years ago.
    Did not read the small printed name and said to lady sitting opposite me ‘that poem aught to get published it is very good’ then I read the small print….Dante!

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