Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Letter to Someone You Don't Know

Running into you reminded me of an incident a few months ago. I decided to take a year before grad school and along with traveling, serving coffee I signed up for a couple writer’s workshops. The first was a pleasant experience even if very different from college where I acquired a nemesis in the form of a seventy-year-old lady, named May. This little old lady squared off against me not the other way around and the entire thing is an absurdly hilarious but lengthy story. The second workshop I signed up for was through the local community college and something of a disaster.

Not only did we launch into poetry with William Blake, Shelly and Christopher Marlowe (poems about mistresses and sheep are probably not the way to go when half the class is still extremely resistant to poetry’s mere existence let alone the fact that they’re supposed to write it) and chooses to skip over sparse selection of more readable poets in the assigned anthology like Williams and Rich. Well, I think they’re more readable: at least they don’t have apostrophes in the middle of words.

She introduces slam poetry – which is her favorite – and scares off even more people due to its forcefulness. At this point one guy asks if he’s going to be able to write poetry because he’s not an angry person and doesn’t think he can get angry enough to write a poem like those. So the instructor launches -- 'launches' is the only good way to describe it because it involves full range arm motions not unlike a condor taking off -- launches into a grocery list of poetry forms. There’s not just spoken word, there’s ballads, and haikus and prose poems … but she can’t really say what a prose poem is.

I can’t seem to get called on; I fail at muscling my way into the conversation; I want to cry. She says she’ll look it up for next time. I took a deep breath and had some faith.

She returns with a visual method for identification: “regular” poems have ragged edges; prose poems are square. She draws a picture of a square on the board to help. Says nothing about the actual poem or method, just the shape. How is this possible when at the very beginning of the assigned anthologies is James Tate’s “Distance from Loved Ones”? Albeit it’s not billed as a poem but as a “miniature narrative” which should help the situation not hurt it.

And why was it that wherever I sat the loudest woman in the class would sit next to me so that whenever I got the instructor’s attention this woman took it as visual confirmation that she should start talking? Loudly and without pause? Stating opinions that had no room for argument because she was so certain of them? Like the fact that books are so expensive because of price gouging and conspiracy which would always somehow lead to the politics of the nuns she lived with in Spain in the early eighties.

That day I walked away thinking how a year ago I was detesting being in your class and unintentionally engineering a schedule of skipping it on rotating days with K----- and S------ so that our grades wouldn’t suffer. Don’t get me wrong, by the end of semester I enjoyed the class, but it wasn’t until that day that I desperately and fiercely missed it. And realized I’d been rather spoiled.

Highly Recommended