Tuesday, October 28, 2008

www.Death.com OR Further Proof That We're All a Little Insecure

When I was in college I was a poetry geek. It is true. I worked for the literary magazine my university published every year. Each week I met on the library's second floor with a group of fellow poets and friends. We even wrote a grant (well, our professor wrote a grant because let's face it I'm still not quite certain how one goes about writing a grant) to publish a volume of our work together. We thrived in language and imagery. We were cocky and young as only university students with their lives ahead of them can be. We were sort of snobby and elitist. And, to be honest, we took ourselves a bit too seriously, dropping lines like "honing our craft" and "I'm unclear on the antecedent here" like I dribble soup down the front of my shirt at nearly every restaurant between here and Hoboken.

That is the nice part about college. One can be peacockish there and everyone else reinforces the behavior. Preened by professors, praised by parents, one grows certain that they are the deepest thinker, the most sophisticated, and that the world is waiting for them, bachelor degree in hand. Perhaps it is because I belonged, full-bodied, to the generation of praise junkies. But, then again, maybe this was all just me (I've always been prone to delusions of grandeur, though, "one possessor of an overactive imagination" is the euphemism I prefer).

But I've gone on an unnecessary side trip. Back to The Poetry Geeks. We geeks meshed together when invited to a special week-long daily seminar and workshopping session with Robert Dana. Now before I go into the gory details of our week with Robert Dana, I must first say this: Writers, like most artists (and the vast majority of people, really), are full of themselves. They come to these literary and writing conferences as nobility. They come as guest writers at universities and, for a week, they live the life of a minor celebrity. Throngs (slight hyperbole there) of writing and poetry geeks trail behind them, hoping for that holy grail word of advice which ensures their shot at geeky publication. I won't get started on the boundary-crossing, student/guest writer romantic interludes that frequent these week-long visits, because I never crossed this boundary, one, and more importantly I find no reason to dwell on middle aged men's obsessions with the barely legal. It gives me the shivers. 'Nough said.

Now, when it comes to swollen heads, Robert Dana was no exception. I guess he had a right to it. He, with a few key individuals, built the powerhouse that is the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He was Iowa's state poet laureate for a time. He is known in literary circles throughout the US. And, to his credit, Dana, to my knowledge, never took advantage of a poor co-ed. But the man was ever-sure of himself. He lived life with the firm knowledge that he had "it." And, looking at much of his poetry of the past, he did have "it" at one time.

This attitude of himself carried into our workshop sessions. We scrawny, sniveling college students knew nothing and he knew everything was the basic theme of the week. This treatment tainted our view of his greatness. His new volume (the most recent collection of his poems we had to purchase in order to attend his seminar, of course) lacked that certain something one would like to see in poetry. And, feeling insulted as we did, we poetry geeks spoke mercilessly at his expense and the expense of his rather bad poetry when he wasn't in the room. Afterall, we were nearly as big-headed as he was just without having earned the right.

The last straw of his conceit was our culminating project: a Friday night reading. We'd each taken a brief five minutes sharing our work, when the star of the show took the stage, er podium, for a while. Somewhere in the midst of the reading, he set up his next reading, a poem about the death of a neighbor. He shared with the small audience that this poem had his favorite line he had ever written in a poem in it. He thought himself so clever. He read it with all the drama and histrionics and cheesy seriousness that only a poet can. His favorite line? You guessed it.

www dot Death dot com

We couldn't control ourselves, some of us might have vomited a little in our mouths, others may have even snickered a little (because we were so mature, afterall). This was his crowning glory? Poor Robert Dana. Poor Robert Dana's dead neighbor.

Now why do I tell this story? Frankly, I started to write it because it makes me laugh, and I got the obligatory thank you card in the mail for attending a poetry geek's reception last month. But, always the English teacher, I can't leave this post without a conclusion. What's the point? I'd ask my students. I guess the point is that we are all a little cocky and conceited. We all are a bit too full of ourselves. And we use this to compensate because deep down we all are a little insecure. Even Robert Dana. The nice thing about life is that eventually we get knocked down off those pedastals. Eventually life teaches us that we aren't peacocks, but people. Eventually we learn the graceful art of humility. And as much as it hurts to feel like a donkey's hind quarters, isn't it great that sometimes we get that humbling opportunity? And, I say it again: www.Death.com is THE WORST line I've ever read in a poem. Ever.


silvernic said...

Apparently I have not matured as completely as you, because I still think that I'm cool AND and excellent poetry writer. Or is it that I never thought I was cool, nor a good writer? One of those two. Anyway, I didn't know that barely legal coeds was one of the perks of being an established poet. I may have to start perfecting my craft again.

As for the worst line of poetry ever, I may have to disagree with you. Yes, the line was bad. But I think that our opinion may be overly tainted by the poet's reading of the line. In fact, as I read the Weekly Poem Project (weeklypoemproject.blogspot.com), I run across contenders for that spot on a frequent basis. For example:

"It’s an escape from this hellish heat.
The sort that only air-conditioning can bring,"

Kill me please. I know that I never wrote anything that bad. Right???

Alice said...

hehehehehehe while I simply know nothing about poetry (much to your disappointment) I can hear that horrible and very unoriginal line being shouted in all dramatics and I can't help but laugh. He probably felt intense and possibly shed a tear, but oh please it's bad.

As for the peacock life of a college student, I think we all have to go through it. I think they lie to you while you are there so you won't stop? As for the humble pies of life I sure have my fair share. In fact sometimes I wonder if I can ever eat anything else?

Is there something I am not learning here?