Writing Wrongs

November 03, 2005

Despite all the reading and writing over the years, I’ve never taken to poetry, which probably means I’m lacking, somehow, in the soul department. Be that as it may. Even in grade school, during the Wishes, Lies, and Dreams era, where they tried to make it fun, I never really got into it.

I do remember writing poems, one in particular about Maryland, where they eat spaghetti with their toes. I just thought Maryland was an odd name for a state. The other night, Andrew queried me with: “Is there really a state called Mary-Land?” I told him there was and how when I was his age, I thought it was crazy too. It must be genetic. I bet he’d like the part about spaghetti and toes.

In eighth grade, a visiting poet came to my junior high. In retrospect, how brave do you have to be to willingly visit a junior high school as a poet? Give that woman a medal. Anyway, we gathered in the school library and she had us write poems. This, along with the whole Wishes, Lies, and Dreams program, is where I get my dislike for “live” writing exercises. I’m not the sort who enjoys free-writing for ten minutes and then sharing with the group.

I. So. Do. Not.

So she selects poems to read, no doubt based on legibility more than actual merit. I remember her standing over my shoulder, plucking the sheet of paper with my poem on it from my grasp, and then reading. Thank you. Like I wasn’t a big enough geek already.

She praised my strong verbs. At the time, I had no idea that this was high writerly praise, indeed. The poem itself was about being locked in a room of fire and escaping with the help of a silver key. Oh, yeah. Good stuff.

I haven’t written a poem since then.

But the torture doesn’t end there. In college I majored in Russian. Second year, all students were required to run the gauntlet with Lydia Borisovna. Picture, if you will, one of the old Russian babushkas, complete with head scarf (really, she wore one), squat, square body, squat, square face, and I swear to God, drill sergeants inspire less fear than she did.

If you’re a Russian major, you must be acquainted with the father of Russian Literature, Aleksandr Pushkin. I adore Pushkin. I love Queen of Spades. I love Eugene Onegin, even if it’s a novel in verse. But . . . the man wrote a metric ton of poetry as well. And apparently everyone in Russia can recite every last stanza.

And therefore, so should we. She’d have us stand there, in front of the class, and recite whatever the assigned poem of the day was. Then she’d berate us. Our pronunciation--all wrong. Our rhythm--pathetic. Let’s not even discuss heartfelt meaning--you can’t talk about that which does not exist. Little, teeny, tiny school children in Russia could recite all of Pushkin’s poems, why was it so hard for us to remember one?

And yet, it was. So hard. And I may be risking my writerly mortal soul, but I’m leaving the poetry to those far smarter than I am.

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 10:37 a.m.

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