It’s National Poetry Month and I’d be derelict in my devotion to poetry if I didn’t write about this. Also, I have a workshop tomorrow on the British poet Thom Gunn, so poems are uppermost in my mind. Aside from reading Gunn’s work and making spicy sesame noodles for our potluck lunch, my assignment was to bring in a poem for critique inspired by Gunn’s work. My first thought with this assignment was “Ugh.” I’m not a huge fan of Gunn’s work though I respect his craft and voice. I decided to be inspired by his faithfulness to ordinary, realistic life. The poem I wrote is about a trip we took to Mexico. It’s a small moment, but I think I packed a lot into four stanzas. We’ll see.
I didn’t always love poetry. But it does show up often in my school memories. When I was six, my teacher Mrs Wells had us memorize Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I stood at the kitchen table and launched into, “Whose woods these are I think I know, his house in the village though…” I recited the whole poem and my mother was properly impressed. From there I memorized Robert Louis Stevenson by reading certain poems over and over. And there are more through high school and into college.
For a long time I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t know what I wrote. Mostly I wrote things that I didn’t finish. When I was a freshman in college, misery led me to completing my first journal. A three-subject spiral bound notebook full of my angst, doodling and some stories. It wasn’t the content that pleased me so much as the fact that I’d managed to fill every page.
For the sake of brevity and to save us all from useless, maudlin details, we’ll cut to me living in Studio City with Scott and the girls. The girls are young. Izzy is four and Olly is one. I remember sitting on the front step watching them play in the garden and thinking, “I need sleep and I need something more than this.” The “this” that I referred to was the cycle of meals, naps, diapers and nursing. I wanted my brain back. I started looking for a writing project and ended up helping Jay Gordon revise a book he’d written. But I also had this dream.
It takes place in a classroom. I’m sitting in a row of students at a desk. The kind where the desk connects to the chair. A teacher with a big ruler in her hand is walking down the line of us. She tells one guy that he’s a plumber. Another is an accountant. When she gets to me, she whacks me in the head with the ruler and says, “You’re a poet, stupid!”
This dream has stayed with me for eleven years. Tonight, I’m wondering if sometimes our dreams are nothing more than manifestations of our wants and fears. It seems that these two things are closely aligned. Perhaps this isn’t profound or original, but I like thinking about it.
[My apologies if I've shared this story before.]