Tuesday, April 11, 2006

First Steps

Hi. My name is Les and I'm a poet. I guess it started in high school with Keats, Byron, and Shelley. Sure I'd tried the gateway stuff when I was little, but neither Mother Goose nor Dr. Seuss hooked me like some poor kids. Luckily, I managed to leave all of that behind for a while in grade school and junior high. That's when, through the grace of the California Achievement Test, I was labeled as "gifted" and channeled into the surprisingly superior education system for such children. I was bussed, for a while, to another grade school once a week where Montessori principles seemed to rule. We sang foreign songs, practiced math at our own pace, recreated medieval feasts, and made our own films. (My partner and I made a commercial for the Air Force. I believe I was stranded on a desert island. Bless the logic of children.)

By Junior High, I was a sickly asthmatic who dreamed of becoming a scientist, a doctor, or maybe, a rock star. I took honors classes and found myself briefly drawn to the somnolent repetition of Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabelle Lee" and Joaquin Miller's "Columbus." Sure it's vaguely disturbing that we studied both of those poems in the midst of puberty, but the 80s was a less enlightened time, right? And I was in honors English.

It wasn't until high school, when I felt keenly aware of the enormous size of my spectacles and the conversely disappointing girth of my biceps, that the psychological conditions became such a fertile soil for things like consonance and alliteration. With hindsight, I now blame "alternative" music. Robert Smith's wail was dead on for a Texas teenager: boys don't cry. And then, I found Morrissey just before the Cold War gasped its last icy breath. I still remember the Sunday nightmares of total annihilation and hope like hell that such fears never return.

From there, it was easy. I just enjoyed "Ozymandias." A teacher even encouraged me with a photocopy of "Mont Blanc." And then, one day, I found the poetry section in the library. I read Byron's "Don Juan." I read a translation of Goethe's Faust. I even read an anthology of minor 18th century poets. I realize now that this was the end of my science career.

Yet, I persisted. I toiled through my fretful first year as a Physics major. I thought nothing of jotting occasional rhymes about girls who looked swell, even in their winter coats. Sadly, I still hadn't gotten laid, so the poetry got harder. I read the symbol-heavy stuff of the modernists: Eliot, Pound, Williams, Crane, and Rilke. There was no stopping me. I slipped into the mid-century beats and confessionals. I read Plath, and I liked it. And my own jottings took on a different life. I thought, hell, I could do this. I thought, hell, I want to do this.

So I did. The rest...well, the rest is a blur of post-modernism, of theory, of reading, and of positing my youthful insights as literature. Soon, I found myself in grad school, reading the poetry of John Ashbery, Galway Kinnell, Robert Haas, Billy Collins, and myriad other contemporary luminaries. I found myself thinking what happened? I found myself wondering, isn't there an easier way to get laid?

And then, I moved back home and got a job as the night clerk of a convenience store. Seriously.

So that's part of my story. What's your story? Remember, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.


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