Wednesday, March 11, 2009

397. A Slice of Time in Barry Spack's Poetry Course (Poems Included)


It's easy to learn
How to do anything
Once you have something
Urgent to say.

Today I confessed to Barry Spacks my tainted past with "the real world" of writing. We discussed the dichotomies between the "sheltered university" and the "real world," in which the university, people become so oblivious and immune to the outer world, and in the outer world, survival requires some level of skills, and mostly connections, and a lot of luck of being at the right place and the right time. But it is always an interaction between chance opportunity meeting a prepared mind. They are both very different games to play, and being sheltered in the university certainly doesn't help. As Al Gore is in the 10th step of the 12-step Recovery Politician Mode, I myself am on the 9th or 10th step of the 12-step Recovery Writer Mode, after being exposed to the brutality of anonymity and apathy of the real world.

Barry mentioned that there is a Tibetan/Buddhist saying about two arrows. The first arrow hit/whacked my chest and then it fell to the ground at my feet. He then asked me what would happen to the second arrow. Me? Guess that? What? I first asked him how come the arrow did not penetrate my chest in the first place. He then stated that the saying wouldn't work if that happened. And I said, oh. Then I asked, can I do something to the arrow that fell off the ground. Why sure! he remarked. I scratched my chin, paused, then resumed to say that I would pick up the arrow and transform an object of pain to an object of solutions to the pain--an arrow that transforms negative into positive. Barry was impressed by the answer because the saying actually entails the notion on how humans tend to dwell in their negativity--the usual ending to the story is that people tend to pick up the arrow and stab themselves in the heart. I was shocked and mentioned that this was my mentality in high school--carrying the baggage of self destruction. But pain is important to go through because they make great stories once it is the right time for me to reflect upon these painful times.

At the end of our parting from a "typical," very engaging office hours chat, I gave Barry my final workshop poem which entailed a teaser:

The Barry Spacks Theory of Poetry

Astonish me,
But spare me.
There are no rules.
Anything is possible.

He mentioned that it was very nicely summarized--something that he tries to do in 4000 words is crystallized in four lines. I wanted to show Barry that I appreciate this advice, and that I was listening this entire quarter, though I had my periods of quietness (depending on what was going on in my life). I shook his hand, and I was off. I know this won't be the end of anything, though it was my last official class of the quarter. I know with Barry, this is just the beginning.

I thought this would be an opportunity, since it was the last day of class, to document a typical--or atypical day in class. On our Monday meeting, Barry asked us individually what we could do to improve the class, and he applied two or three suggestions instantly into this last Wednesday class. Like ten minutes of writing in the beginning of class, and an unexpected guest speaker! Unfortunately, I tend to crawl into class 5 minutes late, simply because I feel like I am behind in my mind, and then I show up late to almost everything I do. By the time I entered class, everyone received a poetry exercise handout. We all then went through a two-minute meditation of complete silence to empty our heads, and then started our exercise, which follows like this:

Jim Simmerman's poem-writing provocation "Twenty Little Poetry Projects"
8 Little Poetry Projects
1. Begin a poem with something specific but utterly preposterous (outrageous)?
2. Now, change direction: digress from the last thing you said.
3. Use a simile or metaphor.
4. Contradict something said earlier in the poem.
5. Go on a bit of "talk" you've actually heard (faking that you've actually heard it is allowed).
6. Make the speaker or persona or main character in the poem do something he/she/it would be extremely unlikely to do in "real life."
7. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
8. Close the poem with a vivid image that "echoes" an image from earlier in the poem (or simply repeats an earlier image).

I am very proud to say that within 7 minutes I was able to concoct a poem I would have never dreamt to have written if it weren't for this class. I have brinked the realm of unrealistic absurdity, and I am proud of it. I am always excited to discover and exercise new habits, and then work hard to break them, and find something new. So, here goes the poem:

Unlikely Parasites

A baby grew out of my sixth finger
and a nematode crawled under my toenail.
They were all parasites.
Lucky me, they were outside
my form.

Another baby grew from the split ends of my hair
and the nematode jumped to the other toenail.
It's quite unequitable, unfair,
for one to be supplied by cold blood
and the other by dead cells,
and even shields of organic armor!

They were all parasites,
but instead of plucking
and cutting them off,
I let them stay and grow on me
just for one full-moon day
just for one sun-dipped night
just to see how it was like
to hold life.

Even though they were parasites,
And just for this short bit of time,
They got inside.
They all got inside.

To be honest, I would have NEVER ever written a poem such as this if it weren't for this class. It's absurd, silly, and I could say that Ryan Hechinger, parasite guru, inspired me, because he decided to nurse a botfly in his skin. You only encounter these characters in the realm of biology and geology.

We started reading some residual poetry from the "samplers," given out. And I was thankful one student read my poem, Matrix of Metaphors, and everyone agreed, including Ingred Wendt, a very accomplished poet and surprise guest speaker for the day, that the poem was very dense, and she would have to read the poem a few times to get it. First of all, if you were a philosopher of science, or a film-maker, you would get it right away, because the philosopher of science would know about Aristotle and his explanation of metaphors--making comparisons of systems--whether they were figurative or valuable as scientific theory--or Truth. I beat Aristotle by two days. I wrote the poem independent of knowing what Aristotle thought, and two days later I found out through my reading that he made the same distinction I had. Talk about independent origin of thought!

Ingred is a very interesting character. She flew all the way from Eugene, Oregon, and will do a poetry reading at 4pm at the College of Creative Studies Little Theater. Ingred most noticeably admits that she has ADHD, which is an advantage for a poet, and then Barry asked whether you could buy some ADHD from the store, and which one? Ha! I only have ADHD post sugar-consumption. She has a very strong bond with a renowned poet by the name of William Stafford. A couple of noteable books include Sturgeonfish and In Her Own Image. Some interesting commentary and quotes below:
(1) I did not know the more that I drank the world of poetry, the thirstier I would get (positive feedback).
(2). At first when she strated writing, it was like running dry, you sit down to write and have nothing to say, which is sad. Over time, you have too much to say and not enough time to write.
(3). "I don't know who you are, you don't know who I am" a poem by William Stafford, lots of darkness in the world, more philosophical poem.
(4). "It sounds like I have done a lot of stuff, but you know what? I've lived a really long time!"
(5). The longer you live, the more opportunities you get. You gotta take advantage of them. That's your job."

So? Okay. The last thing before I talk about... the class being ajourned, Barry and I put our heads together and had a vivid talk about how to organize a chapbook. He discussed continuity, variety, with the first and last poems being very strong. He also mentioned a sequence of poems as a series of conversations. If it's a longer piece, it will be a series of sections. Things I have already considered are mixing short with long poems, rhyming poems with non-rhyming poems, varying the theme or angle for diversity purposes, as well as considering an order or progression of logic.

After the poetry class, I mozied on to the Graduate Student Association and snagged a cup of orange juice. I ran into Julian and we both buzzed about the upcoming Human Behavior and Evolution Conference up at Cal State Fullerton. He might be able to help me spin my AAAS poster into something workable within the framework of the conference. Maybe I should just attend. We'll see.

It's nice to document a snapshot of time from the Winter Quarter of 2009. If I did this every day, I am sure I would go nuts. Barry Spacks is most certainly one of the most profound and approachable professors I have met and interacted with on the humanities side. I feel a lot more level-headed now that I can filter the world partly through his eyes and mind. As he said, one day, Victoria, all the jitters will go away. Close to nothing will surprise you anymore. I want to keep being surprised, I just don't want to be so overwhelmed. On that note, and on superb dreamlike note, I will be volunteering for the Origins Conference (I had a strange dream last night about the conference, that I was at Arizona State University and they had this cubic-like zeplin ball that was remote controlled by graduate students and it was flying all over campus because there's nothing else to do out there in the desert. Don't ask me why I had this dream, but I know this is a repeat dream, and it was SO vivid) under the advisor ship of Jessica Lee and Lawrence Krauss. It will be a life-changing experience! I am so excited I want to call my dad, but he's in Arizona right now... frustratingly. *Sigh*

Thanks, Barry. One more time.

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