The audio version of this post appears below. Just click on “play”.
I gave up reading poetry a quarter of a century ago, which is kind of ironic as the genesis of my writing passion grew from Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabelle Lee. When I was seven or eight, I made my mom read that damn thing to me over and over again. My mom was a real trooper as I spent hours asking her questions about what every single word meant and why Poe had chosen to arrange them the way he did. I realize that my love for a famous iconic poem doesn’t make me deep or intellectual, nor do I care. It would be far sexier if the writer’s spark had come from some obscure poet who killed him or herself by eating the only copy of their best opus and then aspirating on the vomit of their own words.
But, again, I don’t care. I just knew I wanted to learn how to string prose together like this guy did. Of course, that will never happen Poe was the master and I’m but a fan with a little imagination. As I went through school I suffered the same shit everyone does; Frost, Whitman, Yates…blah, blah, blah – searching for all the hidden meanings and trying to find some answers to life in general. I hated it. I’m not saying those guys don’t rock – I’m just saying it seemed a colossal waste of time trying to get into all these various heads.
At university I met tons of self-proclaimed poets none of which I became friends with. At that time, to me if writers were the gold standard of self-absorbed personalities then poets were the ones who set the standard. After awhile I coined the phrase “intellectual vapidity” and applied it to all the poets on campus. Then one night driving home from school, I heard some famous now dead poet on NPR saying how we all need poets to explain the universe to us. That everyone on the planet who was not a poet was somehow inferior and would struggle with our own existence until we take the big dirt nap. This guy probably thought we would struggle afterward as well.
Remember, I’m young at this point – twenty, or twenty-one at the most. So, I’m still impressionable and trying to feel my way up the slimy slope of life. I’ve never been one to judge too quickly or harshly and prefer investigating questions myself before rendering a decision on any given subject. Thus, I decided to write some poetry. I knew all the basic structures and understood everything from allegory to villanelle and since the white noise of ideas never shuts off in my head, I had plenty of material to forge into something hopefully readable.
After three weeks and exactly eighteen poems (I can still see the blinking MS/DOS prompt on my old Tandy computer), I re-read all of them and then called begging the NPR station to send me a tape of the interview with that nutty poet. I got it a week later, popped it into the player in my car on the home one night and listened to this guy’s pabulum once more. As soon as I got home, I looked at the printed out copies of my foray into poetry, neatly sorted them into a pile and placed the cassette from NPR next to them. I looked at the poems and said “you suck”, looked at the cassette and said “you suck even worse”, and then I ripped the pages into pieces and smashed the tape with a hammer, swearing to never attempt to write a piece of poetry, spend any time talking or arguing with a poet, and damning them all to hell. At twenty or twenty-one you feel like you have hell damning powers.
I’ve spent the last twenty-five or so years poetry free, being polite every once in a while when someone gifted me with a book of poems (usually Frost – easiest to find in the bargain bins, I guess) because the gift giver knows I love literature and trying hard not to grimace when someone told me they were a poet.
I’ve softened with age as one is wont to do and now have a still suspicious view on poetry albeit it a more embracing one. My good friend Ray Grant published a book of poetry a couple of years ago. You can find it here. Ray is someone I hold in the highest of regards, both as a thinker and all around Renaissance man. So, of course, I felt obligated to read his book (kidding Ray). I enjoyed reading Ray’s poems because I could relate the content to Ray as a person and my friend, and have gone back to his book on quite a few occasions. It’s also led me to be more receiving of other people’s works – although I do have to say, mainly of people who are not well known. I’m not sure what that phenomenon is, but I still find the classics boring and vapid. Maybe it’s just because I didn’t know those poets personally and thus couldn’t relate to what they were saying.
The point, if there were to be one is this: I’ve realized how personal poetry is and being the kind of person who loves nothing more than to entertain people with stories, I’m not ready to let the reading public into my most innermost thoughts and struggles. I’m giving poetry a stay of execution in my reading lexicon, but I still won’t be writing any poetry in the near future – or ever. Well, maybe as I’m about to take the dirt nap.