Michael Martone’s 25-Cent Napkin Poem

In his collection of essays, The Flatness and Other Landscapes, writer Michael Martone recounts how he and some friends would write poems for hire in Bloomington, Indiana. “We would go up to people on the street and ask them if they would like a poem today. On any subject, we said. In any form. We’d write it on the spot in pencil on a legal pad or on a portable typewriter we’d tote along. Charge a quarter. We called ourselves RKO Radio Poems and our slogan was “A Poem Must Not Mean But Be 25 [cents].”

Martone passed through Sycamore’s hometown of West Lafayette last night as part of his 4th Annual Double-Wide World Tour of Indiana and spent some time with us at a local bar. We offered him a quarter to compose a poem for us, which he did on a bar napkin, in honor of Editor-in-Chief Anthony Cook’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Martone’s payment of 25 cents represents the most money Sycamore Review has ever paid an author it has solicited. Here is the poem.


Your factories
on the east side
produce the daily
juxtapositions of
gorgeous junk. The
P&G moon is turned
into soap before our
eyes. Train loads of
potatoes are ironed
into Pringles and
the teeth of new corns
are hammered into
Crest. O Queen City
you are the
mother of mash ups
where else do pigs
fly and the
chili runs from
the waffle plated
taps like chocolate


MICHAEL MARTONE is the author of Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins (University of Georgia Press, 2008), Double-Wide: Collected Fiction of Michael Martone (Quarry Books, 2007), Michael Martone: Fictions (Fiction Collective 2, 2005), and many other works of fiction and creative nonfiction. He is a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at the University of Alabama. He was raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, attended Butler University and graduated from Indiana University. He also earned an M.A. from The Writing Seminars of The Johns Hopkins University.