As you can tell by my post last week, poetry is definitely not my forte. In general, I am not much of a fan of the poetic world. Of course, there are certain poets and poems that I do enjoy (holla, Shakespeare! Way to go on those sonnets!), but overall there is just far too much gray area in poetry. Incidentally, the whole gray area issue also happens to be one of the two reasons why I abhorred Psych100 freshman year of college. (The second reason is a story for another time, but suffice it to say I was downright fooled!) I sat in that Psych lecture hall three mornings a week for four months debating “is it nature? Or perhaps it’s nurture? Shall we discuss?” And believe me, discuss we did, day after day, month after month, and I STILL don’t know if it's nature or nurture.
To me, poems (and psychology debates) are like riddles, except you never find out the answer. And to top it all off, I am not a fan of a writer who tries to confuse readers by writing about something like a tree stump and some moss when they’re really talking about death. I’m always in for a rude awakening by the final few lines because in my mind I have created a cute little woodsy scene, complete with pinecones and chipmunks and perhaps a squirrel or two, because I am an optimist and also UNAWARE THAT A TREE STUMP IS A PARALLEL FOR DEATH.
I’m sorry. It’s just that I have been burned by a symbolism loving poet one too many times.
Senior year of college I signed up for my mandatory senior seminar. There were plenty of classes for English majors to choose from, but for some reason, and perhaps it's because the title just SCREAMED riveting, I signed up for a class entitled “Modernism in Post War Great Britain. The seminar was taught by the head of our English department, a very smart man who was educated at Yale, Columbia, and Cambridge. He knew his stuff, so to speak. To top it off, I was like the little sister of the class because 8 of the other 11 students were either 5th (or 6th…) year seniors. English is apparently a very rigorous major which sometimes takes ten or even twelve semesters to complete! I sat in my desk the first few weeks and the literary geniuses around me discussed intertextuality while I tried desperately to come up with something slightly more profound than “I like all the adjectives.”
And I will never, ever, as long as I live, forget the comment on the first assignment I turned in to that genius of a professor. I had written a thoughtful, detailed analysis of an essay entitled Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf, and the effect the essay had on American women's right to vote. I just knew it was BRILLIANT. A home run. My professor had scrawled in red ink on the last page…”Laura, this is very well written, but Virginia Woolf published this essay in 1938. And she lived in England.” Okay, so I was a little off on the countries, and women in America had already been voting for 18 years. But my sentence structure and use of transition words? GOLDEN.
I spent the first few weeks thinking "There is no way I can finish this class. I can't read all of the books that have been assigned. The professor is too difficult. I don't know enough about history. I can't do it." And when we were given the directions for the assignment that would be 60% of our grade--an incredibly long in class analysis of a POEM that seemed to be nothing more than a bunch of unrelated words--I was convinced I was a goner. I spent weeks poring over the poem and making page after page of notes. I didn't sleep for days before the test. I went to class that day shaking. And a few weeks later when the professor handed back our grades, I almost cried when I saw the A-.
As the weeks went on, I began to feel more and more comfortable in the class. I felt like I belonged there and I was able to hold my own in conversations about elements of postmoderism. That’s not to say I wasn’t relieved when the semester was over. Because I was, and I even got myself some celebratory nachos on the way back to my apartment after the last class, since nothing says "way to go, self" like some chips and queso. Despite my A-, that class certainly did not transform me into a poet or a poetry lover. But I learned more in those fifteen weeks than I can begin to articulate. I worked harder than I had in any other college course, but I also got more out of that class than any other. I was so proud of myself for the work I did that semester, and I learned valuable lessons about literature and about myself that I will never forget.
And don't worry, you can bet that one of those valuable lessons was that it' a good idea to make sure you have your countries and dates all straightened out before you hand a paper in to the man who holds your college graduation fate in his hands.