(1/31/05) - I never much cared for poetry. It’s the type of literature you will not find the average person reading. You might find a working class guy who thinks he's a starving artist who'd be far too pretentious to actually talk to Joe the tow truck driver, who's a decent man, reading Wordsworth or Emily Dickinson. But that guy makes a mockery of the situation. He’s more of a cliche' than the tow truck driver who might read Bukowski for the dirty words but let me not defeat my point too soon.
Poetry is institutionalized sophistication. The folks who do read it, I believe in my black heart, read it because they see it as "cultured" (or pick your more pretentious adjective and insert within quotation marks) and in-turn they are "cultured" by reading poetry.
It’s like the books we're forced to read in high school. Why do we read them? Because they're "classics". Why are they classics? Maybe they did sell a bunch of copies in their day, but I got an itchy feeling most of the teachers in public school ramming that shit down our throats say books like "Great Expectations" are classics because they were told they are "classics".
That's great! Shit. I'm sorry. Somebody said "The Awakening" is a classic so it must be a classic. I mean it came from an official source. I mean. It's just like my country hasn't had a war since 1945 because we haven't declared "war" on anyone since Romania in 1942.
Maybe I'm just fucking myself by having this attitude but buying into the sort of jargon you get in education seems to be a first class ticket to banality and bullshit. The real test is "If I don't like it. And I don't find any relevance in it. Well, then it's not good to me."
When I transferred from Oklahoma to Houston in 1988, I of course had to take all the standardized tests. Only there was a problem. From the results of my tests they couldn't figure out where to put me. "The picture can't be cloudy. We have to pick one. He’s either gifted or exceptionally stupid!"
Wow. Impossible that I had really good verbal skills and an interest in science and suck at math. Well you know what, math is fucking boring.
So they put me in "gifted" literature courses, and dumbass math, but of course it made problems because they want to keep all the smart kids together. They might get infected by the dumbasses. Maybe I did.
My last year I finally just dropped out of the advanced placement literature because I hated it. Big deal if I can avoid taking English in university. I don't know if I want to go to university and even if I do the teachers there might not be so worthless and myopic. It turned out to be true and I liked literature in university.
Problem? Not only do people in public education have to be spoon-fed "what is a classic" but they also have to be spoon-fed "how do we interpret this classic?"
I was given some poem I did not care for that I found overly dramatic and we were told to interpret it. I did. I received a D. Why? Because I interpreted everything to mean death. Which is what the poem was about. Some guy's daughter died. Boo fucking hoo. But the poem was supposed to allude to how all of this man's typical surroundings on the farm, “The chanticleer's muffled call.....” which are routine suddenly seem dismal and dark to him because his stupid daughter is dead now.
Okay. Maybe you can interpret it that way. But I thought, "what if the guy is really black-hearted and resentful anyways? What if it was his bitch wife who wanted the child? And what if it was his asshole father that forced him to get married instead of joining the circus and traveling the world shagging exotic women from town to town while collecting the stories and experiences that make a man's life worth-while.
And now his wife is gone, dead. Those dreams of youth are stolen, and he's a broken down dirt farmer out in the middle of the freezing high plains in South Dakota land, taking care of this anchoring symbol to the uninspired desires of his family and reminder of the woman he never wanted to commit to in the first place.
And now he's hoped she'd die. He's prayed to God, Golgotha, and Hiawatha to rid him of this last ball & chain so he can run freely with his horse RotGuts, like the Red Headed Stranger." (The Red Headed Stranger, a true classic in my book by the Goddamn way!)
My point was that there ARE different ways to interpret literature. At that time and in many ways still, I feel exactly the way that I interpreted the poem as I did above. I felt my hand forced to write the interpretation that is accepted and that is complete and utter bullshit! That is disrespectful to literature and the power of words! That makes the words dead.
That teacher wanted to fail me for a final exam on the Melville story "Billy Budd" because she accused me of not reading it. I refused to identify the three men being hung from the three masts on the ship as symbolic of the Trinity. Why? First off because ships happened to have three fucking masts! Second, because I hated being forced to go to church and found nothing spiritual about all those schmucks that were there because they were going through the motions of life and I believe what I just said above about literature and the power of words. The catch is if dead people are listening, then there's no point in speaking.
Anyhow, she talked to me and accused me of not reading it. I told her I did and when she started asking me specific things about WHAT ACTUALLY FUCKING HAPPENED IN THE BOOK, I could answer the questions without a problem. "Wow. You actually read it."
Do I feel superior? Was I being pretentious? Decide for yourself. I felt like people all around me in suburbia were the walking dead. Zombie walkers and vacuum assholes I called them. And I felt, and often still do, that they were trying to kill me. They were trying to kill the sparks inside people that make life worth living.