Friday, September 4, 2009
This is the story of how I came to hate poetry:
It was a dark & stormy night...No it wasn't. I lied. It was daytime & being Tucson, Arizona, probably sunny in the extreme. I don't know for sure. Why wouldn't I know, you might ask? Well, it was junior high & I was inside.
The class was advanced English & I sat somewhere, along the wall, near the center of the room & across a smallish table from a classmate. It was nearer to the end of the term. Somewhere around a third of the way through the the class I had finished all the assigned reading & had become pretty bored. The student who sat across from me finished a little later, around halfway through the class & she, also, was bored. We started playing football. Not, of course, the real game, there wasn't the space or the equipment for that, but the folded paper game, where the other person uses their hands to make the goalpost. This was pretty fun & distracting & I'm sure that we would have gotten bored of this eventually & moved on to something else, but we never got the chance. Apparently, we where not the only ones distracted by our game. Others where watching us play & while we where done with our work, they where not. The teacher noticed He decided that it might help to move us to a table directly in front of his desk. Of course, the real issue wasn't where we where sitting, but that we where bored. Not just bored, but the kind of bored that should start with a capital B. There wasn't anything for us to do, sitting in front of the class & we soon started playing football again. I don't think we where really trying to be defiant or bad, we just needed something more to do than stare at the classroom. This, the teacher finally decided, could not go on. We where far less distracting where we where sitting originally, at least away from the eyes of some of our classmates. The teacher gave us an assignment, not really for credit, just to keep us (& the rest of the class out of trouble). He decided we should read "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." Now, you may say, why that's a great poem, filled with meaning, a worthy bit of poetry that should be read by all, maybe. For us though, at 11 or 12 years of age & nowhere near adulthood, this was shear torture, a punishment more than a distraction & one that had that whole repentance message, repeated over & over & yes, over again until we felt like strangling ourselves with an albatross just to make it stop. Finally the term ended, we received good grades, thankful that we where graded more on our work than on behavior & went our merry little way, with the belief that beside haiku poems from grade school (way more fun than epic poems, at least for children, by the way), this was what poetry was all about. I tried from time to time, to read other poems, but I couldn't. I tried to like poetry, but the memory haunted me. Eventually, many years later, I found a copy of "The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry" & couldn't stop reading. It was filled with amazing images & beautiful phrases. I still shudder at my junior high poetry trauma, but I can now, at least on occasion appreciate the strength & imagery of a powerful piece of poetry. I doubt that I'll ever again read "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner."
I think I just felt a cold chill...SAM