It might just be me, but isn’t the idea of displaying poetry in toilet cubicles a little objectionable? The Red Room Company, a non-profit organization operating out of Sydney, is currently calling for submissions to their Toilet Door Poems project. Poems exploring ‘issues of social, political, cultural and creative relevance’ will be posted on the back of toilet doors in Greater Union cinemas and Qantas domestic terminals during the month of April 2006.
Now, as a poet, I realize I should be grateful for any opportunity available to expose my work to a wider audience. After all, I am frequently expected to have my work published without payment, and often read for free, it follows that I should be happy to have my poetry published anywhere, under any circumstances. However, I am having trouble visualising a constipated cinema-goer appreciating my delicate little piece about tulips, or my sunset haiku, or my witty political satire.
They’re in the middle of watching ‘Cheaper by the dozen 2’ or some other monstrosity; they’ve eaten their mega-sized popcorn and guzzled their mega-sized soft drink; and now they need to take a dump. They shuffle, buttocks clenched, to the bathroom, squat in a cubicle, and find that all is not as it seems down below. Nothing is moving. They groan and they strain, grow red-faced and frustrated, and through watery eyes, begin to take in their surroundings. They notice that, instead of the usual dirty joke, telephone number, or inane obscenity, they are faced with a screed of words. Is it advertising? A story? A song? They read the first few words, then give up, and wish for the obscenity. Before long, they’ve ejected the reluctant stool, pulled up their pants, and vacated the cubicle, ducking out of the bathroom without washing their hands in order to get back to the zany climax of their zany movie.
I can’t see the poems displayed in Qantas terminals faring any better. After all, the typical airplane commuter is primarily concerned with getting out of the airport as quickly as possible. The average airport loo is the last place I’d want to relax and read a poem.
If these organizations were really serious about supporting the form they would dedicate some space in their in-flight magazine to poetry, or devote a few moments of screen time to a poetry reading. Offering space on the back of toilet doors is about as miserly as you can get. Poetry deserves better.
The Red Room Company aims to ‘create, produce and distribute poetry, by new and emerging Australian writers, to the public, in unusual ways.’ These are admirable aims, and I would usually be reluctant to criticise any attempt to expose poetry to a wider audience. However, there is no need for us to be quite so desperate. Poetry may be the most undervalued and marginalized creative pursuit in the country, but that doesn’t mean we should accept anything thrown our way.
After all, would Australia’s performing arts community leap at the opportunity to perform in the bathrooms of fast food restaurants? Would the country’s fine artists get excited over the chance to decorate the seat covers of hardware store toilets? I doubt it.
The Red Room Company are encouraged to continue their mission to distribute poetry to the wider community. I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities waiting to be discovered and explored.
But, please, no more Toilet Door Poetry.