In my little world, poetry is something like a pithy verse, a greeting card, a momentary good feeling or catastrophe capsulized, and at the ready for any situation. There are few poems I’ve read for my own pleasure beyond what was required of me in school. I prefer novels, short stories or novellas. I blame my high school English class.
Correct me if I’m wrong, fellow graduates, but Mr. Olson, though entertaining, had a few loose screws. I liked him, I really did. He would get excited and run his fingers through his thinning hair until it stood up straight, troll-doll-like, and stay that way until he ran them through again. I still use one of his illustrations on perception to teach my classes. He was generous with his time before and after school and was a great AcaDec coach and I learned a ton. There was a small fridge in his room and magnetic poetry pieces, so we hung out there to talk and play and try our hands at trivia on the computer. He was fighting a losing battle, getting high school kids to want to read large novels or obscure poetry and I can totally relate to his fight for relevance.
I messed up once in his class, royally. He gave us a poem to deconstruct, and I did. Oh, boy, did I! I lit into the anonymously penned quatrains and found the meter and imagery to be substandard. It was no Frost, certainly, hardly Williams, and excited no feelings in me ‘cept loathing. The narrator lacked agency, was ill-conceived and boring, frankly. I should have been perceptive enough to realize the narrator of the poem was a Mary Sue for Mr. Olson and “Anonymous” could be replaced with his name. Was my face ever red!
But, I ran afoul of the good teacher on more than one occasion when it came to poetry. I found early on that there was only one method of poetic interpretation in Olson’s class: SEX. That’s right. Did you know that every poem ever written deals with sex? I mean, you might think that poem you just read was about overcoming grief, but it was really about impotence. Where I originally read verses about loving one’s mother, I was soon corrected to understand that it was an Oedipal complex at play. My innocence was constantly invaded by libidinous fingers pointing out how we were supposed to find the “true meaning” of the poetry. Once I knew the formula, I applied the sex rubric to all the poems we read. Insta-A-Plus for Kristin!! but I felt somehow cheated out of my ability to read poetry in the future, now that I was trained to see sex in every stanza.
This might be my sensibilities overacting, but that’s the way I saw it back then. Now, I don’t like to take up poetry, not because I fear that poetry is sexual, but because I worry I’m not going to really “get it,” that I don’t have any talent in discerning the true meaning of verse. Not all poetry is about sex. To prove that, I’m going to read the poetry books from the Bible. I’ll start with Song of Solomon. That sounds like a lovely, nice, easy introduction to poetry, just to dip my toe in again. 😉