Meet the Poets
Reality descends upon 16 obscure poets when they are thrust into a four-bedroom house well-stocked with wine, whiskey and cigarettes. Without a computer, dictionary, or thesaurus, the poets must dip fountain pen into ink and produce great poetry if they are to become the last poet standing. Dicey and dangerous words spill from quills in this high-drama, docu-style reality series in which the stakes are incredibly low. Think: “Ice Road Truckers” meets “Tabitha Takes Over” meets “The Millionaire Matchmaker.”
Co-hosts and beloved poets Sharon Olds and Billy Collins, wearing black turtlenecks and slacks, greet viewers as they tune in each week to Meet the Poets. It’s like Tabitha Takes Over except nobody’s taking over and nobody is a hairstylist named Tabitha. Sharon and Billy wield red pens like shears and occasionally suggest cutting extraneous words. Needless adjectives weigh down meaning, one of them will say. Things get hairy as, with each snip of stanza, hurt feelings fly like simile.
A Note about Winning and Losing:
Any poet who doesn’t follow the show’s guidelines (refer to attachment 1-B) will no longer be considered part of the show and subject to immediate removal. This will add to the drama as viewers feel like they’ve been hit by an ice truck and are left wondering, What the hell’s going on? What happened to that poet I liked?
Each week the poet with the worst poem must leave and the poet voted with writing the best poem wins five hours alone in the highly coveted writers’ retreat cabin. The last poet standing receives no financial compensation, but he/she will receive a complimentary copy of the TV Guide that lists that week’s final episode. One of their poems will also be considered for publication in a literary magazine of their choice—but no guarantees.
#1: Meet the Poets.
As the poets arrive, viewers hold their breath as brawls erupt over commas, where to place them, or if they should be there at all.
We meet Francois, who prides himself on ending lines with a preposition. He also overuses the phrase: to flail like fish. Prone to sentimentality, Francois is the first poet voted off the show.
Then there’s Madeline, the poet’s poet. Generous with both praise and helpful critique, Madeline encourages the others, all the while churning out stunning verse that knocks the other poets breathless. Contrast this with the selfish Morinda, who cares only about her precious windmill poems and exhibits rude behavior, such as flossing her teeth or leaving the set while others reveal their works.
Belinda is a lonely housewife and closet poet who, as quickly as she writes poems, shoves them under sofa cushions. Hilarity ensues when she learns there are no sofas and no place to hide. As she is forced to face her fears, viewers fall in love with Belinda and her poems.
Enter Al, who can forge metaphor out of metal, not to be confused with Sal, who is transitioning from male to female. A former lawyer who once wore ties and wrote powerful haikus on the sidelines of her briefs, Sal surprises viewers—and herself—with gripping villanelles.
A known semi-colon hater and slam poet who is inclined to rhyme arrives late on the scene; stirs bitter feelings among the contestants. Does the poet not concede that, at the very least, a semi-colon is necessary between two independent, yet related clauses not conjoined with a coordinating conjunction?
Throw in a poet past his prime who wears a tweed jacket, smokes and drinks excessively, and you have yourself: One. Hot. Show.
At the end of this first episode, the contestants each draw a number to learn the order in which they will select a cardboard cutout resembling a dead poet. One by one they enter a dark, smoky coffee joint and place their cut out on a chair next to a cafe table that holds only a flickering candle.
The following episodes, with the exception of the finale, culminate at the coffeehouse. The poets take turns reading their work aloud to Robert Frost, Rumi, Sylvia Plath, Lord Byron, Basho, Maya Angelo, Anne Sexton, and others. The air is thick with smoke, the judges obscured, and the poets see only their silhouettes. (The true identities of the judges will be revealed in the final episode.)
After the judges vote, Sharon Olds approaches the table of the poet whose poem is deemed most unworthy. With thumb and forefinger, she extinguishes the candle flame. We hear a hiss or sigh (the poets will later argue over the sound of a flame dying). The loser must then immediately pick up their dead poet cutout and head out into the dark and stormy night or maybe it will be woods on a snowy evening depending on the night they lose. In episode #3, loser poet does not go gentle into that good night, but will rage, rage, rage against something trite.
As Sharon Olds licks her singed fingers, the camera cuts to the hands of Billy Collins. He’s opening a book that contains a list of the contestants’ names. Using the eraser end of a pencil, Billy rubs out the name of the loser poet. (Sometimes, especially when he doesn’t like the poet, he will rub so hard that he’ll make a raggedy hole in the paper.)
Scene fades as the winning poet dashes off to the writers’ retreat.
#2: It happens all the time.
Poets funnel into an empty room. Voluminous voices of editors who have rejected their fine work are piped into the room through large speakers in the ceiling. Against the backdrop of failures, they must persevere and write a haiku. Then, sent into a room without alliteration or rhyme, the poets, in nine hours, are required to compose an epitaph to time.
#3: There once was a poet named…”
Each poet must pull a word out of their butt. That word becomes the subject of their limerick. The more risqué the five-line poem, the more likely they will survive this episode.
Poets are forced to write a pantoum on a pontoon. Captain Lee of the hit show Below Deck is at the helm as the poet past his prime falls overboard, hits his head, ruins his tweed jacket, and is rushed to the E.R. He’ll return in the next episode, drunker than ever and without his tweed jacket.
#5: Haiku you?
The remaining contestants must write a haiku again. This time, there’s a catch. They must convince a stranger, preferably one they meet on a bus, to allow them to tattoo the three lines somewhere on their body. Former reality star and tattoo artist Kat Von D of LA Ink stands by to assist.
#6: It’s sonnet as easy as it appears.
While blindfolded, poets are divided into two groups. They must work in teams to pen a sonnet at sunset. They’re not allowed to reference light or lack thereof, or use any noun or verb beginning with the letter “S” or “R.”
#7: One part inspiration, but mostly perspiration.
Remaining poets are given $100 and let loose in a bookstore. They have five minutes to purchase inspiration for their next poem. The self-absorbed Morinda buys up copies of her latest chapbook, Windmills, writes a poem she entitles “Ottoman or footstool, you decide” and is promptly voted off the show.
#8: Because I could not stop for Death.
We see a close-up of horses’ hooves clopping along city streets and coming to rest before the poets’ place. Contestants climb aboard Emily Dickinson’s leisurely carriage ride. They pass by everything familiar only to disembark at their future graves. There, amidst stone and moss, they tackle death and loss with only pen and paper.
#9: Woo-Hoo, William Carlos Williams!
This week, contestants are whisked away in red wheelbarrows and dropped off at a farm. Sitting on bales of hay, they must create prose poems as Vicki Gunvalson of The Real Housewives of Orange County arrives and starts chattering about her ex-boyfriend and how she can’t believe he faked cancer. Vicki is holding white chickens to her plunging neckline glazed in gold. So much depends upon whether or not their poem makes her toss a chicken into the air and shout out her trademark, Woo-Hoo! The poet who commands the biggest Woo-Hoo! is wheeled away and gets five blessed, camera-free hours in the retreat cabin. The losers must find their own way back.
#10: Are you botched, baby?
Poetry, as you may have noticed by now, lends itself well to crossover shows and so plastic surgeons and Bravolebrities abound in this series. In this episode, Botched stars Dr. Terry Dubrow and Dr. Paul Nassif thrust a mangled poem under the noses of the remaining contestants. The poets must salvage what they can and fix it. The hitch? They have one hour and must do it while under anesthesia and the watchful eyes of the plastic surgeons. Viewers will be transfixed, wondering, can this botched poem be saved?
#11: Wait, er, I heard a fly buzz…
The season finale culminates in the greatest crossover show ever. After the final four poets receive fabulous make-overs, hosts Sharon and Billy pair the poets with a Top Chef contestant to create a meal that evokes the taste of their latest poem. But wait! There’s one final twist. Dressed as Walt Whitman, Bravoleb and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio bursts on the scene and informs the poets that they must also pair their poem with one of Bethany Frankel’s Skinny Girl cocktails along with a side of Sestina.
The poets serve up their poems, dishes and drinks to the judges—their identities now revealed—and wait for the final verdict. Judge Nene Leeks of Real Housewives of Atlanta points out one poet’s poor decision to pair a simple soup and Skinny Girl Naked Cosmos with a poem layered with meaning. Obsessive compulsive designer Jeff Lewis of Flipping Out flips out over the clean lines of another poet and then berates another for their clunky phrases but, in the next breath, congratulates them for serving their hunkless poo of poetry with meatloaf drenched in gravy. The third and final judge is the entire cast of Vanderpump Rules minus Lisa Vanderpump. Because they are beautiful, young, and stupid, these waiters and waitresses don’t contribute anything of significance other than the hotness factor.
And the final poet left standing is…..well, you’ll just have to produce the show and see who wins.
Hosted by Andy Cohen, the cast convenes in a library and argues over the pedagogy of poetry, wrangles over words, such as is bungle better than blunder? Viewers are treated to never-before-seen moments, such as an in-depth and heated discussion between Sal and Al about line breaks and when Madeline, Al, and Belinda confront the very nature of poetry. Naked and afraid in a public, but rarely frequented park, these three contestants create some of the show’s most raw, stark poems.
Final Thoughts/Comments on Casting and Spin-Offs:
If Angela Lansbury isn’t dead, her presence on the show may rope in older viewers. I loved her in Murder, She Wrote, didn’t you?
Bravo should be prepared that Meet the Poets will likely inspire wildly successful spin-offs, such as Meet the Playwrights and Meet the Hic Lit Chicks.
Jennifer Clark is the author of Necessary Clearings (Shabda Press). Her second poetry collection, Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman is forthcoming from Shabda Press. Co-editor of the recently released anthology, Immigration & Justice for our Neighbors (Celery City Books), Clark’s work has been published in Columbia Journal, Flyway, Amsterdam Quarterly, Nimrod, and Ecotone, among other places. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.