Flat-Packs and Prose
Graffiti art by Banksy, near Ikea Croydon
From Boston Review:
Every Sunday morning I spend a few hours with the colossal edition of the New York Times and its tendency to sum up because I don’t want to see the week coming; I’d rather watch it going. One Sunday I came across an article in the metro section that I found somewhat alarming: a cluster of businesses and residences in New Rochelle, New York, is going to be demolished to make way for an IKEA superstore. The city is claiming the land under eminent domain—the government’s right to take private land for public use. Although IKEA is neither a dam nor a highway nor a park, New Rochelle is labeling the area one of “urban blight,” which does in fact allow the city to invoke eminent domain. More likely, however, the municipality is already daydreaming over various ways to spend the $2.5 million in annual sales-tax revenue the IKEA is expected to generate.
Not surprisingly, the business owners, employees, homeowners and tenants about to be dispossessed have no desire to see a store the size of an army base built over the remains of their houses and workplaces. Understandably, they neither consider the neighborhood “urban blight” nor are they particularly interested in seeing the homes of their neighbors decked out with Swedish, assemble-it-yourself furniture.
Without ever having seen New Rochelle, knowing nothing about its furniture needs or what its political leaders had based their decision on (other than tax revenue), I sided with the soon-to-be displaced. Primarily, of course, it was simple identification: I wouldn’t want my house plowed under to make room for a furniture franchise. Secondarily, however, I thought that in this particular situation the poetry lost wouldn’t be worth the prose gained. This may seem an odd way of framing the situation, but the erosion of the poetic is one of the ramifications of the franchise, whether it’s a furniture outlet or a fast food chain.
There’s no animosity, of course, between prose and poetry. Like space and time, they’re different aspects of the same continuum. The conflict arises among readers who prefer one, often at the expense of the other. And, as in this instance, the text isn’t always composed of words. With the IKEA all but inevitable, with the runaway success of franchises in general, it seemed to me one more sign that we live in an age that is increasingly poetry-averse.