I have been transparent about the fact that I like poetry. I follow a number of poets, and I’ve hinted about an interesting (to me) relationship with poetry in several other posts. I’ve mentioned in several comments, that I might explain the connection at some point, and I’ve been encouraged to do so. Yes, I’m spreading the blame around for this post.
I won’t go into the backstory, because I’ve told it before, but I was forced to take 6 extra credits of English, in a deal struck between my advisor in Chemistry and the head of the English department at West Virginia University. The only courses that fit the assignment and my schedule were Poetry 200 and 201.
When I took my seat on the first day of class, one thing was apparent – I was an outcast. I was a transfer student. My slide rule identified me as the nerd that I was. These English majors all knew each other, and a couple of quick looks, transmitted and received, thank you, were enough to communicate that I was not part of, nor welcome in their little group. I felt like I was back in 7th grade.
A few minutes later, the professor walked in and began class in the most uninspiring manner. You would never have guessed that this was the first day of Fall Semester. No “welcome back”, no, she stoically began to call the role. She paused after mispronouncing my name:
“Mr. Anty-on (spelled phonetically, the way she always said it) it says here that you are a chemistry major.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Oh my, I’ve never had a chemistry major take this class. Tell me, what made you decide to take poetry?”
OK, I had two choices. Tell her about the deal to allow me to skip freshman English even though I failed the exemption exam. Or, stretch of the truth a bit.
“I have always had in interest in poetry; the course fit my schedule, so here I am.”
“Really, a scientist with an interest in poetry. Tell me Mr. Anty-on, who is your favorite poet?”
I hadn’t though this through. My favorite poet was Edgar Allen Poe, but I thought, if I said that, it might sound trite, because, who hadn’t read Poe. So, I use the only other poet I knew well, which probably did sound trite, because of the sex and stuff.
“I really like E. E. Cummings.”
“Why is that? I’m sorry class, but this is such an unusual event, to have a non-English major in this course, I’m intrigued.”
“I like his spontaneity and the way he uses visual elements in addition to words to convey his message.”
You see, I figured that question was coming, and I had read E. E. Cummings’ poetry for an assignment in high school. I used that line in my report and I received a good grade from another old, unmarried, seemingly somewhat jaded English teacher. I hoped it would work again. And, it did.
It worked, but it had the unfortunate side-effect of widening and deepening the chasm between me and my classmates. I remained an outcast. I sat off to the professor’s right, several rows up the amphitheater style room, while the English majors sat up front and left of center. It wasn’t my choice, as with everything I’ve ever been to in my life, I was usually the first to arrive. I – was – being – avoided.
We spent the first three weeks studying Mythology. On the exam for that section, the professor included an essay question, asking for our thoughts on Mythology. Unable to piece together a cogent response, I wrote about how I was surprised to find new meaning in poetry that I had read before. I mentioned “Night’s Plutonian shore” in Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Raven” as an example.
Not only was she impressed, but the next day, she read my essay to the class. The chasm was now a virtual Grand Canyon. I overheard a comment about “getting an ‘A’ for being ignorant…” and I thought:
“Screw you, let’s see how well you do on that Organic Chemistry test tonight. I doubt Dr. McDowell will be holding up your paper as being insightful…jackass.”
When I returned to that class in January, the professor was ecstatic to see me. I had never been a teacher’s pet before, but I owned this class. The chasm was still there, upper right, lower left, and we continued from where we had left off in December.
Shortly after mid-terms, we were given our final assignment. We were to complete a critical study of one poet. I would have loved to have revisited Poe, but without pausing for breath, the professor looked at me and said: “I’m sure Mr. Anty-on will be choosing E. E. Cummings.”
Despite the fact that I had several other classes, difficult classes, science classes, I worked my butt off on that paper.
If she had asked me to name my favorite E. E. Cummings poem, I would have chosen this one. My editor might not be surprised. Perhaps the fact that I do like this poem, explains, or supports why I like Stream of Consciousness Saturday. If I have that all wrong, whatever, remember I was a chemistry major.