14 August 2008

Shorter is Better

This post is part #4 in a series of 10 rants about my ex-books. Parts #1 and #2 will help to set the scene. Part #3 contains relevant squawking.

While I was living in Galway, I took a brief weekender to the City of Cork. I spend an evening in a pub where I met a salty older gentleman who claimed it was his life's work to continue Ireland's long literary tradition. I bought a poem from him in exchange for a pint.

My American companion did not approve. She shot me dirty, disapproving looks that said, "How could I dare to interact with the local color!" and, "Didn't I know I was being had?"

Sure I did. Part of the fun of buying him the pint was being in on the game. Ultimately, I think I got the better end of the bargain. He got a pint of Murphy's. I had my very own six word poem, Questions to Ask of Samuel Beckett, written on a beer mat. I also had a story to tell for years to come thrown in free of charge.

On a totally unrelated note, I found a heart on the sidewalk that night while walking back to the hostel. It was no longer beating, and I think it used to belong to a sheep.

Poetry has always been very close to my (very much still beating) heart. Rolling the tape back to my childhood, I fondly recall that poems made for excellent bedtime stories. Cuing up to the days of Crow-In-Elementary-School, it was poetry that first helped me to bumble through a curriculum I wasn't sure I fit into. Mostly, I liked going to school, but I struggled a little bit.

I saw school as an infringement on prime daydreaming hours. By second grade, my favorite in-class pastimes of driving my pencil around my desk like a car or staring out the window lost in thought were deemed inappropriate behavior. Meanwhile, I thought timed arithmetic drills were a waste of time. It wasn't that I couldn't keep up. Quite the opposite. I found classroom life to be slow and colorless in comparison to the world inside my head.

That year, I failed my writing competency examination. I probably took one look at the test and decided that it wasn't worthy of my concentration. As a result of failing the exam, I was given additional writing assignments throughout the year and in the summer leading up to third grade. These assignments had a line quota, but no rules about how much space I was supposed to take up within a line.

"Can I write poems?" I asked Mama Crow. I wanted to write poems because they were shorter. I thought they were better because I could put my thoughts into a string of words, divide those words into 15 or however many lines I needed to complete the assignment and hurry back to daydreaming. Plus poems by nature did not have to make sense so long as you could explain yourself. I thought poems were easier. Mama Crow thought I was a weirdo.

Coincidentally, second grade was my favorite grade. I think my teacher still hangs my spider poem on the wall during her arachnids unit.

I don't think it's at all surprising that I first flirted with bending the rules through poetry. I think poets have been doing this for centuries. I think poetry identifies language as a system. By recognizing it as such, we play with its parameters as a way to explore the best and the worst of our ideas, our feelings and our society. Poetry, therefore, is not some forum for pedestals and elitism. It says, "I have a heart and a gut and a brain and a body and it is a joy to express my experience in the formation of words."

The best and worst part of owning poetry collections is that you end up with some old, raggedy copy of a book called The Collected Works of... The plasticine tape holding cover on is losing its battle. The pages are yellowed and smell of age. Favorite poems are falling out, making pages become their own bookmarks. Poetry collection are both anonymous and loved. For this reason I know I am missing several collections from three of my favorite poets, Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca, Allen Ginsberg, and Pablo Neruda, but I don't know the exact titles.

Sadly, I'm almost certain I've lost these books to a case of sticky fingers. I think I know the culprit and I've decided it's time to change my perception of things. He did not borrow without asking; I have unwittingly invested in his edification.

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