I remember one very specific moment in a Brit lit class I took in college my sophomore year. It was an afternoon class; it was warm in the room, and the girl behind me had finally finished eating her extra crunchy apple for the day. I was fighting to stay awake now that my nerves were not frayed from that blasted red delicious apple.
I sat up straighter and re-doubled my efforts to focus. The professor was discussing a poem by some British author. I can remember the noise of the apple, but not the poem or the author, which probably tells you something.
Nonetheless, the professor asked what the poet meant in a certain part of the poem. My arm shot up as did the girl’s beside me. The teacher called on her. I was so disappointed. I had been ready to share my insights.
As she gave her explanation, I was thrilled he had called on her. Her answer was way deeper, more polished and sophisticated than mine. I listened in awe as she finished up. I was ready to give her a round of applause.
The professor waited for a beat, and then he said, “No. You are absolutely wrong.“
What? My first thought was good heavens then how wrong was my answer? I had always heard a poem can mean different things to different people. I had heard there were no wrong answers for what a poem means. And here he was saying that not only was she wrong with her assessment, she was absolutely wrong.
I have to admit I’ve always been drawn to the aesthetic of poetry. Poets come across as dark and moody: wearing all black, drinking coffee, listening to jazz, smoking, snapping their fingers instead of applauding.
I want to like poetry. I love words and the feelings they can project simply by the order they are placed in.
But I don’t get it. When it comes down to it, I don’t like the ambiguity of it. I don’t think I like things that are open to interpretation.
That’s why I like prose. Tell me in no uncertain terms what you mean. Let me think about it, see if I agree or disagree. We’re on solid ground. Poetry feels like quicksand, and I think we can all agree from Gilligan's Island, that quicksand is some dangerous stuff.
I keep trying to get better at poetry: understanding and appreciating it. I have a friend, Kathy, who loves to both read and write poetry. She’s really good at it, and I can enjoy the beauty of her words and understand it. She paints pictures with her words. She creates moods and feelings with them. With her poetry, I get it.
At the beginning of the summer, it was a cool, rainy day, and we were texting back-and-forth about how much we loved the weather. I suggested she write a poem about it. Yes I’m taking credit. This will be as close as I come to being responsible for poetry. Here’s the essence of that morning in a poem:
Lazy morning lingers
As stuttering drops of rain
Rhythmically pelt the black asphalt.
Ferns and moss drink greedily
And preen their verdant hues.
Trees sway like weary dancers
In the gray, chilly sky.
Summer rain is welcome
As I curl into my book
Ignoring petulant duties.
I am suspended, entranced in this
Gossamer, do-nothing day.
I may never be a poet myself, but I will console myself with being good friends with an amazing one. Snap, Snap, Snap, Snap!!!