Isn't it funny how all writers have strengths and weaknesses within their own craft? I spent this week teaching my poetry class about surrealism, using both visual (Magritte) and literary (Breton) art to explain my explanations. Funny, because some of the poems I loathe more than any other pieces of literature are explorations in surrealism-- they can so quickly become obscure for the sake of obscurity. In a way, psychoanalysis and the Jungian theory of our unconscious using familiar images and symbols to communicate deeper meaning from the shadowed parts of our minds is... annoying. Just tell me what I need to know. I don't want to connect the dots; I want to see the resulting shape.

It's been a struggle, I think, for my class to go outside what is real and in front of them. I wouldn't necessarily call that a weakness. But it's a struggle worth going through, certainly. In my poems, I enjoy staying outside of what is real. I venture inside realism every now and then, unfortunately, to write war poems and what I call "lady poems" that scratch the surface of how fascinating gender really is. But in the end, realism isn't where I get my high. Letter-writing goldfish, rats gone sailing in umbrellas, and women who grow gills are more stimulating; I write a good poem with one small surrealist twist and I'm on cloud 9 for, oh, I dunno, 48 hours.

Teaching the class has made me realize that my students and I share an opposite, and similar, struggle. I suffer from not feeling comfortable inside what is real. My writing has become, to me, the most beat-up pair of jeans you've ever seen: worn at the knees, wallet print on the back pocket, burn holes, scratches, busted zipper, ripped hems, and about three thousand pockets, each holding something worthless.

At first, that sounds romantic-- limited to the imagination. But, these days, I see it as unproductive and fearful. Poetry that tells a reader what is happening in front of them is powerful. Poetry that is real is powerful. Poetry that gives you the object without making you follow clues is powerful. And sure, I acknowledge the argument for imaginative / fantastic / surreal poetry leading us to new thought as well. I just wish I could write everything. And well. Poets who can grab true grief (or love, or passion, or oppression) by the neck and wrestle it onto the page astonish me.

If anything, I can spend this semester learning from my students, rooted in their personal experiences and unafraid of exploring it with language. I can gulp the fresh air that comes with forcing them outside their comfort zones too. Maybe I'll write what's real when I'm older and I'm more familiar with what it really is.


Here's a prose poem from today's scratch work:


We put our books down and rifle through the game drawer. Sorry is missing the red and blue men, Monopoly is ridiculous. Let’s play marbles, my younger sister says. Inside the leather pouch is a stick of chalk probably fifty years old, yellow-white, and a lot of pearls, bluish-white. They skitter out of the bag like mice. My sister picks one up to shoot. Maybe we shouldn’t, I say, These are pearls, not marbles. What do you mean, she asks, positioning herself lower to the ground, on her belly, a sniper on the slope of a ditch. They’re pearls, I say. I grab some from the undrawn ring. You’re cheating, she says. What if they were Mom’s? I say, hoping she won’t shoot. These are marbles, she says, They’re glass, They weren’t Mom’s. I snatch the pearl she’s about to shoot with and smash it with Jane Austen’s anthology. There is a sound of breaking teeth. I lift the book slowly and both of us, on all fours, stare at the powdered white. It’s glittering because it was glass, my sister says. I say, it’s glittering because it was worth so much.


Wow. I love this poem, and your thoughts on teaching the poetry class this semester are really interesting. I love your take on life! You rock!

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