New American Poets

New American Poets: Katie Degentesh

I Loved My Father

I loved my father and I loved Jesus.
What was I to do?
I felt like a canoe
that was being pulled apart by two strong men.

I expressed that eloquently by imitating his life,
by becoming more and more ineffectual daily.

People would generally hide from him
because he looked so American (which I do not)

I didn't know that my father was controlling and manipulative.
I wanted to glorify Him by paying off the debt of sinful man

At least he could've explained why
he didn't want me to play with the toy gun.

He really cared about us.
Maybe he had no feelings towards or against other people, either.

Rather than be exposed to one more sales pitch
They spit on me and I ran away

Nothing happened for almost a year then
He'd call the State Police just to try and settle me down

If you got your finger cut off
on the thought of killing him
He got angry and he wanted to get even.

I love plants and trees, but
I wasn't allowed to go out or talk.

He was a wonderful man,
dealt with the servants of the castle
made a good living and provided well for his family
shared his affections with his boyfriend on weekends

I loved him from afar.
I sucked my thumb until I was six years old.
I didn't realize it at the time.

"When I was your age," he said,
"I had a square piece of white cloth to be made into
firstborn children of God, truly made perfect as God."

He looked at me, and he knew I had stolen it.
A man will be hated by his own family.

I hated Listerine and I hated my father.
I do not know whether he is alive or not.

I took what I wanted, and left him spoiled behind me.
I was reborn in Ireland, in 1753.

From The Anger Scale (Combo Books, 2006). Reprinted with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Every poem in The Anger Scale is titled with a question from the MMPI, or Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a psychological test consisting of 566 true/false questions that has been the benchmark for determining people's mental pathologies as well as their fitness for court trials and military service since the 1930s. Updated in 1989, the MMPI-2 is still relied upon for the same purposes today.

After my interest in the test was piqued by online articles, I found a PDF copy of the original test on a South African web site by searching for strings of phrases from questions published in these same articles.

Once I had access to all the questions, I began to use them to write the poems themselves by feeding phrases from the statements into internet search engines and piecing the poems together from the results pages. This process was a little different for each poem. For instance, for "I LOVED MY FATHER" some results might come from a search for "LOVED MY FATHER" +turtleneck, some from "HATED MY FATHER", some from "HATED MY FATHER" +pussy; etc. I might also then replace words or phrases in the results.

In some cases (mainly in the poems that make use of more archaic language) I followed a link from the search engine page to gather material from an actual web page, but for most poems I did not feel the need to stray from the search results themselves.

The title The Anger Scale also comes from online articles about the test. Apparently the MMPI has nine "scales" by which to judge its results, and the "psychopathic deviate" scale, or Scale 4, is sometimes referred to as "the anger scale". I felt it was a perfect title for the book as anger is one of the main emotions expressed in the poems, ideally to both humorous and serious "off the scale" effects.

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