Semi-Professional Confessional #2
College was a learning experience perhaps not in the ways my teachers intended.
At Sac State I took a poetry class. The professor was an accomplished poet and affable guy. Something you should know about me is that I seem unable to take serious things seriously and I over-analyze jokes. So when it came time to write our own poetry I reacted by mocking the structure and sanctimony of poetry.
My poem focusing on the Spondee (two long, accented syllables) became a poem about a “Spondeity” in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft. My couplet juxtaposed the best known heroic couplet with the most unheroic of situations. In “Beowulf Goes To The Bathroom” the Geat loses an eating contest and meets his demise attempting to find a bathroom.
My teacher was not pleased with my apparent lack of respect for poetry. When I finally did try to take it seriously, I wrote an essay about the poem Nathicanna by H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a poem about an unnamed speaker who is remembering the lovely Nathicanna and the wonderful life before a red mist distorts his vision. It implies that this life is a garish version of the beauty of reality. I analyzed the metrical regularity (Lovecraft liked Pope, but appears to also be making fun of him) and the use of alliteration to create a dreamlike state in the reader. I brought in the poem Behind the Wall of Sleep by Clark Ashton Smith, a contemporary and correspondent of Lovecraft, to explain the focus on dreams and reality.
I ended up writing 10 pages instead of the necessary 7. I can tell you it was rare for me to go over the minimum requirements for assignments and often I was a little loose with page margins and font. Imagine my chagrin when I got a B+ because the poem was boring. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said there was nothing interesting about the poem other than what I mentioned in the essay. And also that he would assume I went 10 pages because I was enthused about the subject and not just to fill space, maybe. That was a little disillusioning. I really loved what I was writing about and did more research than I did for any other paper throughout college. It turns out this was a great thing. I learned that I needed to do things because I wanted to do them. Because it mattered to me.
When teachers say “you can’t do this” or “fiction shouldn’t be that” I take it as a challenge. “You can’t write a story about nothing.” Another teacher told me. Oh, yeah? Watch me, I responded. I wrote a story about a guy who didn’t want to get out of bed. He slipped deeper and deeper into a feeling of peace, wrapped in his blankets, until he ceased to be. The response from my teacher was that the character had no arc, no motivation. Demotivation was the character’s motivation.
Beowulf Goes To The Bathroom was published in the Calaveras Station literary journal. My professor let everyone know that I was his student. It was a surreal experience reading the poem to an audience. Three or Four of my teachers were there. My family was there. A bunch of other students I didn’t know read heavy poetry about deep things and stuff. I was glad to be done with it. I didn’t feel any better about the poem than when I wrote it no matter how many people told me they liked it. I didn’t feel any less either. In a small way it helped me realize that success is not praise and failure is not dependent upon audience. Fear of failure is a fear of the opinions of others.