May 21, 2019
The Customer is Not Always Bright
How a poetry commission almost became a landmark court case
Like the great artists of past generations, I compromise my artistic integrity by whoring myself out for commissions from more powerful people in society.
Renaissance painters’ clients were usually the clergy, and they were interfering bastards who rejected work for being too realistic or insufficiently devotional. A cardinal’s secretary dumped Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child with Saint Anne (1605) with a furious note: “In this painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust... One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration, and from any good thought.”
As far as I know, nobody from the Vatican has ever commissioned a poem from the Morbid Books online shop. Although I know what Caravaggio felt like when he read that note. It happened while I was at home in January 2017, and I received a message from a mouth-breathing chimp by the name of Wayne:
I would like you to write a poem about a very particular person, to include as many personal touches as possible.
I would like the finished result in 14 days.
Happy to chat to give you a full brief.
Happy to pay some in advance on an invoice.
I look forward to hearing from you very soon
He then sent me the details of his commission:
The overall premise is to swoon her.
We have known each other for 18 months, we have done so much together.
We are not together due to many factors.
I want this to be written in a way that she knows how I feel about her but not pressuring her!
If you could make her overcome with emotion I guess would be amazing.
Her name is *****
The first time we met/went out was in The Botanist
Most magical night for me - pizza express
Most magical for her - Making breakfast together.
We have spent many drunken nights together where we just talk for hours.
I think she is absolutely amazing, she inspires me all the time.
Makes me laugh
I think she is absolutely beautiful etc.
We went to Paris together
Went to Rome for a day just to have a pizza
She has a Instagram addiction, fashion junky.
Most incredible reaction form her, when I gave her Christian Louboutin shoes.
If you need anything else just let me know.
I think after the first attempt you will nail it.
So I replied with the following verse:
WAYNE AND *****
They flew to Rome for the afternoon
to get a pizza the action.
But the most magical moment for Wayne
was going to Pizza Express with her in London.
For her it was making breakfast in tandem.
“Babe, hold the eggs up so I can Instagram them.”
He bought her shoes. She gave him head.
They stayed up all night talking
about Uber ratings, HBO series, Russian mothers.
His improving dress sense, *****’s command of English,
how when he was a kid he wanted to be an explorer.
He read her a passage from the Kon-Tiki Expedition.
“I’d like to sail a raft across the ocean with you.”
“If we ran out of food, who would eat the other?”
“I’d let you go first.”
“No, I’d let you devour me.”
“You’re making me hungry right now!”
This is no good at all......
Wow, I guess I was expecting something completely different.
I will send full notes later
I was surprised. Admittedly my own passion for the Kon-Tiki Expedition, a book I was reading at the time, had crept in, as had an oral sex reference. But I thought I had clearly fulfilled the commission, giving them a portrait of themselves as I saw them. My depiction could easily be seen as more satirical than devotional, as I had come up with the image of them as cannibals on a raft in the Pacific Ocean as a comment on the identity Wayne had constructed for them as ravenous consumers. But I still believed this work could be interpreted as a darkly humorous portrait that had the potential to swoon, or at least get the guy a blowjob.
Wayne was so concerned with what I’d done he asked to speak with me on the phone. Only then did he tell me the poem was to read aloud to the girl and her mother. He also wanted the poem to be set in Paris. I wished he had told me that before, as it was pretty important information. I also told him that if he’d bothered to research my work beforehand, he would know it was very much in “house style.” I told him regardless, all clients get a free rewrite, so I’d be willing to do him a different kind of poem, one that nearly always works in romantic situations: a personalised acrostic. I explained to Wayne what an acrostic was and showed him an example. He set me to work. The next day I sent him
POEM FOR *****
To be honest I wasn’t ecstatic about it, but I thought there was something overblown and conventionally poetic (i.e. ridiculous) about the image of two lovers’ eyes meeting in the rapturous Moulin Rouge. It was exactly what he had asked for. But Wayne still wasn’t satisfied.
We are going miles away again.
I want something written, that one will read.
Sorry I think this is a joke!
**I replied: **
Dude you asked me for personal details - I used them, you asked me to take them out. Mention Paris, but don’t be too specific. You said you liked it, now you say it’s a joke, it’s not specific enough. I can’t win.
It’s an acrostic that reads down the page - that’s the form - the vast majority of people I do this for are really happy with it as it’s personalised, and can’t have been ripped off from somewhere else. I reckon if you show it to her she’ll like it, as most people do when they have a personalised acrostic made for them.
I’m sorry Lewis, I know what I want. This is nothing like I described to you.
I like the idea, just needs far more content.
Believe me you can win!
This took you 5 mins for £50, like I mentioned spend the day deliver what I want.
I will pay you, I want it to be right!
Tell a story through beautiful words, I want her to go wow!
Believe me she won’t with this.
Happy to help, as love the idea of the words spelling out her name.
I’ve written these for hundreds of people. It would be highly unusual for it not to be appreciated.
Like I said, this is not right.
She will not like it at all.
Here’s an acrostic I wrote with six words - the brevity and the limitation is part of the aesthetic beauty. Believe me, adding more ruins it.
That’s great, but this is not what I’m looking for!
Like I said, deliver what I want I can pay more.
So you want an acrostic that has more content? I could try a square acrostic - that’s pretty complicated so won’t look like you’ve written it, but I could try and do that tomorrow. These take a few hours.
Perfect, seriously stop worrying about the time! I will pay you!
Ok if you please, how much are you prepared to pay for this masterpiece?! I can try and do it tomorrow
**Wayne: **I don’t know, I am a very fair person.
If I read it and think wow, I will pay what you ask within reason.
What was you thinking?
**LP: **200 - half up front and the other half upon approval. I’m gonna work at it for quite some time.
**Wayne: **I am happy with £150
I have already paid £50 and based upon what you have sent this far I am not willing to pay anymore upfront.
I will pay, I can guarantee I will pay the balance once I’m happy.
Once it’s finished I will pay, I will stick to my offer of the bonus also
**LP: **I have already invested a considerable amount of time writing and consulting and produced two works that would ordinarily be accepted, so I think it’s only fair that I receive half up front as I’m not prepared to spend any more time writing good work that is rejected due to personal taste. I will do my best to give you what you’ve asked for - I guarantee that
I will not pay any more upfront, I am happy for you to refund my money if you feel you can’t accommodate.
I paid the £55 straight away even though on the website it says - pay after if you are happy.
You can clearly see I will pay, I just don’t want to lose anymore money.
Sorry dude, the website says nothing of the sort:
I’ve given you what you asked for, twice, and spent hours consulting with you already, altering things you asked for in the first place then decided you didn’t like. If you don’t feel I’m being fair, that’s unfortunate, but I think you have to respect that my time is valuable just like any other artist or worker. So if i’m going to spend any more time working for you in good faith, I’ll need a guarantee of payment regardless, as it’s not fair for my perfectly sound creations to be discarded and unpaid for just because you do not deem them worthy. I hope you get where I’m coming from. If not I bid you adieu
I will guarantee to pay the balance once its right
I am a businessman, so I understand time.
I think you have a clear understanding of what I want, if not just ask and deliver.
We will get their no matter how many times we have to rewrite.
Sorry dude - I dont think it’s fair to say that my time will only be rewarded if you like it, since you’ve already said you don’t like poetry. (There’s a good chance I could send you a Pulitzer Prize winning poem and you wouldnt like it.) I have better things to be doing with my time
If you was confident in your ability this shouldn’t be a issue.
I’m sorry, the first one you wrote was awful, nothing like the brief I have to you.
I am sure if you put as much effort into doing what I’m paying you to do as you are arguing the point it will be perfect.
I suggest you have the layout, you have all the information of how I want it.
Compose yourself, get you creative juices flowing and earn some cash.
Your brief: more beautiful words. Lol. Get outta here.
Two choices Lewis-
Do the work you have been paid to do at the increased price I have agreed to.
I will hire someone else, give them the same information I have given you and see what they think of your work.
If they agree with me, I will then instruct my solicitor to recover the money I have paid you + my and the other persons costs.
I would much prefer the first option, like I said I am a businessman but also want to get paid for what I want!
Working in the service industry you should provide customer service.
This is a simple transaction, you want to be paid, I want a poem.
You write the poem, I pay you.
If you are unclear on the brief, I am happy to discuss.
Dude, since when was poetry part of the service industry? (And is that how you talk to people in the service industry?)
‘Hey Mr Escher, I like what you’re doing but I demand more colour! And can you turn the goddam staircase the right way round?’
‘Like the sonnet, Petrarch, some big words you got there. Huge words. But can you add a few more lines on the end? Don’t really feel like I’m getting bang for my buck.’
Is this by any chance Donald Trump in disguise?
Ultimately I gave you exactly what you asked for with your totally banal and generic brief. (Pizza Express - so beautiful.) I did exactly what my website says I would do, in rewriting it for you.
There’s not a court in the land that’s going to rule against me on the basis of your ridiculous attempts at literary criticism. Although it would be very amusing for me, and make great material for my non-fiction, if you were to take me to court on the basis that you don’t like my poetry.
Good luck finding a poet who can glitter your turd of an existence.
Ps I’m cc’ing the three other poets I know who take commissions… You’re welcome.