Some background music:
I’m going in a bunch of different directions with this one today. Just try to hold on and don’t get lost, please? haha, thnx.
Poetry: A word that is certainly bound to incite fervent cries of protest from the teen and young adult population. From any sample of the population, actually. Over time, poetry has gained this stigma of being either:
1. Mushy, dramatic, over-emotional sonnets about love with horrible ABAB rhyme schemes written by twelve-year-old girls in their diaries on the bumpy bus ride home,
2. Terribly dense, postmodern crap written by pretentious hipster college students who believe that their take on the new adaptation of The Watchmen is the most genius revelation um, ever. It looks like random words were just thrown up on the paper. You take one look and think what is this?!
So the position that most people take on this matter is the obvious one: I do not like poetry. I hate poetry. It’s boring and awful and annoying and I don’t understand why I have to read it. I’ll admit I was one of these people. But this class I took last year, Contemporary Literature, changed that. This is the third time that I’ve mentioned that class in my blog, so clearly it has had a pretty significant effect on me; it is probably one of my fondest memories from high school. I think it’s because up until that point I’d had challenging classes and I’d learned things in them, but this was the first time I had one of those “light bulb moments,” so to speak. This class made me realize that there is so much more in the world than I ever could have imagined. Granted, I realize that Mr. Jiles is not the only person in the world who has taught literary symbolism. In fact, he used Thomas Foster’s “How To Read Literature Like a Professor” for the basis of the first month or so of class. But he was the first to introduce literary symbolism in a way that I could apply on my own, so he and his class remain significant in my memory as a turning point in my education.
I’ve gone off on a tangent, as I often do. But it all ties together, I promise. (And if it doesn’t, at least you’ll have a complete image of the situation as it stands in my mind.)
Anyway. In Cont. Lit., we were given a poem every day and we were to write our responses to the poem, whatever it was, in our journals. Poetry being the death hole that it is, most of us in the class were stumped immediately on the first poem, but the best part hadn’t even come yet: we had to read our responses out loud to the class. Yeah. It was scary to say the least. That first week of the semester, I dreaded walking into class and being forced to sort through all these words and find not only a deeper meaning, but one that was suitable to be read to the class. It got better with lots of practice though, I swear it did.
One thing that Mr. Jiles said that was particularly thought-provoking was that poetry was not invented as a torture device to be shoved down high schoolers’ throats until the very thought of it causes shivers for miles around. It was meant as entertainment. Not only in Shakespearean times, but now. This contemporary poetry I was reading was meant to make me happy (or sad, or whatever, as long as I felt something).
So somewhere between January of 2009 and now, something has clicked.
Because I like poetry, now.
I like it because it effectively captures a moment in time without wasting time on descriptions and details. There is a time and a place for extensive exposition, but sometimes it’s just not. I like the abrupt feeling of many poems, as if they are snapshots of a story. They are their own stories without pages and pages of narrative. Beautiful. It reminds me of art: my favorite type of art is the kind that can capture the complete essence of a scene or situation with as little details as possible. I don’t mean stick figure-with-tree-and-house pictures, or even Rothko’s color-field type stuff. I need an image of what’s going on. But I like to feel the art when I see it rather than have all the specifics. For example, Las Meninas by Velazquez is undoubtedly a beautiful painting, but I prefer Munch’s, or Degas’s, or Hopper’s style. I like the abstract symbolism and painterly brush strokes in Munch’s work, the movement and passion in any of Degas’s ballerina pieces, and the contrasting light and dark colors which heighten the isolated tone of Hopper’s pieces. These artists rarely allude to well-known people or events in their work; instead of retelling a story from history, their pieces are the mediums through which they communicate their view of life and the world to the rest of us. No specifics: the message is more universal that way.
So, poetry is like that. Sometimes. I mean, you’re always going to have your ancient epic poems as well as modern attempts at them, but this is the kind of poetry I like. Just so you know. That’s why I like poetry ^^.
And now you get a poem. Read it. Soak it all in. Just forget everything and live inside the words. Read it out loud.
I hope you’ll see why I like it.
“The Summer I Was Sixteen”
by Geraldine Connolly
The turquoise pool rose up to meet us,
its slide a silver afterthought down which
we plunged, screaming, into a mirage of bubbles.
We did not exist beyond the gaze of a boy.
Shaking water off our limbs, we lifted
up from ladder rungs across the fern-cool
lip of rim. Afternoon. Oil and sated,
we sunbathed, rose and paraded the concrete,
danced to the low beat of “Duke of Earl”.
Past cherry colas, hot-dogs, Dreamsicles,
we came to the counter where bees staggered
into root beer cups and drowned. We gobbled
cotton candy torches, sweet as furtive kisses,
shared on benches beneath summer shadows.
Cherry. Elm. Sycamore. We spread our chenille
blankets across grass, pressed radios to our ears,
mouthing the old words, then loosened
thin bikini straps and rubbed baby oil with iodine
across sunburned shoulders, tossing a glance
through the chain link at an improbable world.