Thursday, November 18, 2010

I WAS A TEENAGE POETRY POSER

I was in high school during the late sixties and early seventies, suffering from all the belated-arrival blues that was the usual blend for teens who wished they were older than they were, thus more experienced and hip. The daily aggravation started with a look in the mirror and sighing loudly, too loudly, that my facial hair wasn't coming in thick enough. I was particularly pissed that I'd missed out on the Beat era, and that I was too young to truly be involved in the college folk revival.

Still, I took my Dylan very seriously, although I considered him at the time to be an also-ran--the last great age of hipness was the fifties--and I went about my way, my rather self centered and self righteous way, to become a campus poet, seer, gadfly, intellectual, man of mystery. I had long hair, wire frame glasses, I wore as much black as I could, which was absurd since I was living in Southern California, a terrain where I still hang a shingle and get my mail.

Black clothing makes sense, I guess, if you're in colder, damper, more overcast climates, ala NYC, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, but in So Cal there was and remains a surfeit of sun, which made attempt to be a gloomy, dark, frost-bitten avatar of hip a ridiculous enterprise. It's only beginning to occur to me how absurd my middle class yearnings for street credibility really were. I'd lived up to that point as a self-conscious, shy, hard-of hearing and overweight nerd who was often the brunt of abuse from others because I was thought of as dull and dumb do to my hearing loss--I didn't always catch on to what others were talking about and tried, often times, to bluff my way through a conversation. My responses to what others had said or had asked me , or what I put forward in attempts to become part of a conversation already in progress, were as often as not guesses at the topic, based on what the words I thought the phonemes resembled . It was a poetry of its own sort, and I felt absolutely exhilarated when what I had offered at risk wound up being dead on, and it was even more electric when my mad stab at relevance somehow managed to jump the rails of the subject and introduce a related tangent that others hadn’t considered and thought was a brilliant leap on my part. Too often, though, my remarks caused a quiet in the room that had the dead solemnity of a tombstone; I was the Coltrane of Confusion, the Mozart of Misspeak, and the Picasso of Puzzlement. It went something like this:

"I just got a new bike..."
That's great. What kind is it?"
"One o'clock..."
Norm Crosby, a comedian who was a regular player on the Ed Sullivan Show, came up with that joke, but it got the experience of a hard of hearing fellow trying to make his way through the world without letting on that he had a loss. Crosby got the absurdity of it precisely right and I still use the quip as a reference point some forty years later Even so, I wrote poems, did special readings in 7-11 parking lots, and performed some original verse at an ersatz antiwar rally where in an especially precious ad lib I announced that Bob Dylan was "...the father of us all". One might have wondered how I discovered half the paternity of the counter culture. My nonsense utterances gathered many rueful looks; I was among those weenies that went to dances to listen to the band. During my senior year I'd made something of a name for myself as a faux bohemian, dark and mysterious as previously described, taken to mispronouncing names of famous men and writing reams of awful poetry of which there is not a single line in existence; I tossed the poems into the trash one night, all three folders and four notebooks. It was liberating, if that word ever had any meaning. It was as if someone had taken a big boot from my throat. I was now free to be a pompous git on my terms alone. Not perfect, but progress, no?

2 comments:

  1. The good writers I know all have similar pasts. My creative writing teacher has told us about his black-cloth'd high school and early college days -- when he felt himself a brooding intellectual and "thought" he could write poetry, in his words. He turned a thick poetry anthology entitled "Artificial Gray" in to one of his professors, and was, in short, torn apart.
    The Humbling seems like an inevitable occurance for anyone who writes anything at all, and since hearing that story I've dreaded the coming of mine with a kind of cautionary paranoia. I've been trying to delay it by keeping my notebook closed and never turning in any assignment involving writing outside of the essay format. I'm hoping I will be able to recognize and pinpoint all my inadequacies before anyone else does; I prefer abusing myself to having it done for me.
    So I don't really understand the blog thing as a whole, but through Google searches I've come across too many to just ignore them anymore and I've felt obligated to leave long-winded comments on the ones I like. Your poetry and art commentaries/analyses are really interesting, and insightful, and inspiring in a way. And there is a fuck of a range of topics here, but I haven't read any of the others yet because I'm supposed to be explicating poems. In conclusion, I say, "Exquisite."

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  2. Hey, Joanna, thank you very much for taking the time for your kind remarks. Please comment again when you're so inspired.

    ted burke

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