How I Understand Poetry

I remember in high school being forced to take poems apart line by line. We’d do a few together as a class, which took a better part of the hour, and then we would write one long essay over a more complicated poem on Fridays.

To me, there was something weirdly clinical about the whole procedure. It felt like I was being asked to venture into the wild, find a cute animal, and then slice it into bits. 

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After I’d disassembling it, the poem seemed to have lost a lot of its beauty in the process.

It was a lot like trying to explain a joke. If you have to tell someone why it’s funny, it’s not humorous anymore.

Not to mention I hardly ever saw the poem the same way everyone else did. 

I would read a poem, thinking it was about a dog being taken on a walk, when in reality it was about a woman escaping a fire. I was so astronomically wrong with my interpretations of what each poem was about, it was as if I had been rewriting it in my head as I read.

It was like we were all given the same map to Tulsa and I somehow wound up in France. 

The thing is, I didn’t mind being wrong about what the poem was about. I minded that my English teacher minded what I thought the poem was about.

During one class period, the teacher and another student got into an argument about the meaning of a poem we were discussing for the AP English test. I can’t recall which poem it was, but most of us were in agreement that the poet was trying to say one thing, while the teacher told us he was trying to say something else entirely. 

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The student, acting as the class representative, provided ample evidence to support our claim while the rest of us nodded our heads. However, the teacher sternly ended all discussion by informing the student that he was “just wrong” and there was no disputing this.

I am not a poet. However, I don’t believe that poetry requires a uniform meaning. In fact, I don’t think most artistic creations require a definite meaning either. I am of the belief that as long as the observer/reader can obtain some benign meaning from the piece, then it has done its job.

This is especially true of poetry, which isn’t always as straight forward as other forms of literature. There’s something more ethereal about poetry than fiction.

It’s harder to get a handle on.

It’s like trying to collect mist in a jar.

It’s something you experience rather than just “understand.”

I believe that poetry should be taught in schools. However, I don’t think it should be treated the same way math is where 2+2 always equals 4.

Students should be taught that poetry is freedom and not just another assignment.

Library Books: an Overdue Apology

Author’s Note: If you’re a librarian and you’re reading this, I’m sorry…

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I’m horrible at returning library books.

I thought my mother raised me right, but I guess society turned me to the dark side.

I used to be diligent about giving back borrowed items, particularly those taken from the library, but I’m pretty sure I owe more in fines at the moment than most people owe in student loans.

You know what the worst part is? I don’t even read most of the books I check out.

I just hoard them away like a psychopath.

I hide them from eager readers and leave them in the trunk of my car or my bedroom floor. It’s not like I don’t have good intentions. I’m interested in every book I borrow. The issue is I live in this fantasy world where I have hours of free time that I can devote to reading volumes and volumes of books. Usually, I’m lucky if I can read one novel in a month let alone the five 300 page books I usually check out.

I receive letter after letter from the library, passive aggressively begging for their property back. They usually wind up in a drawer somewhere, crumpled up and forgotten. 

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I think I should start a collection of notices at this point. If I cut them just right they’d go nicely in a scrapbook. I could purchase some stickers from redbubble.com and make them look nice. I’m not doing anything with the information on them anyway.

If you think I’m a terrible person by now, I don’t blame you. 

My flawed thought process is this: If I put them in my car, I’ll remember I’m supposed to take them back and everything will be taken care of.

Unfortunately, these are the times I usually recall I have library books due:

At 11 o’clock at night.

When I’m at work.

While I’m out of town.

When the library is closing in five minutes.

During rush hour.

After I’ve taken a shower and changed into my night clothes.

When I have hours worth of homework to do.

Can’t you just recheck them online?

Yes, stranger. I could do this. And I do. But like with most things in my life, I forget. Or I exceed the number of times a patron is permitted to recheck a book.

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I have another confession to make as well. I usually skip out on paying fines by doing this neat little trick called Using The Self-Checkout Kiosk Instead of the Front Desk.

You see, if I don’t make contact with a librarian they can’t ask me for money.

Why would you do such a thing?!

Because I am literally Satan.

Also, I am broke about 95% of the time. 

Believe it or not, I am sorry about my abuse of the public library system.

I actually returned all the books that I kept for so long and I plan to pay my library fines when I get my next paycheck.

Until then, dear librarians of the world, I apologize. I just can’t get enough of your books.

I Admit It, I Like Coloring Books

When I was a kid, I didn’t care about coloring books.

My mom bought them in bulk because she heard coloring could help improve my garish handwriting, but I hardly even touched them. 

For the most part, I’d color half a page, then get bored and draw things in the margins. I couldn’t really get into the whole coloring-within-the-lines deal. I just didn’t see the point in it. 

It seemed like many children felt the same way as, for a while, coloring books seemed to disappear into the ether for several years.

However, over the last few months, I’ve been bombarded with them.

When I went to Barnes and Noble about two months ago, they were everywhere. Only this time, they were being targeted towards adults.

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They featured Native American art, Scandinavian art, Celtic art, animal art, Indian art, etc. Some of them even came with their own colored pencils. They bore titles like “Art Therapy” “Stress Relief” and “Creative Coloring Inspirations.”

Inwardly, I groaned. As far as I could see, this was yet another attempt on my generation’s part to infantize themselves.

Being an adult is hard so let’s sit around the floor and break out a box of crayons. We’ve been saying things like this for years, but I never thought it would actually become a thing.

I anticipated more backlash regarding this movement. I searched the web for cries of “hippy dippy bullshit.” However, most were surprisingly silent or encouraging on the topic of this trend.

Furthermore, many psychological experts have fully supported the coloring book movement, and have provided sufficient reasons as to why coloring is beneficial to peoples’ mental health. Coloring, they said, helps alleviate stress and has proven to be a healthy activity for those with dementia or alzheimer’s.

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The more cynical part of my brain was weakened after reading some of these articles, but still not completely satisfied. It was just the principle of the matter. Coloring is for children. Adults should do other activities to relax. Then again, I thought, some of the things adults do to unwind aren’t always healthy.

Thoughts of coloring began to seep into my brain like some sort of virus.

I caught myself thinking about coloring while listening to an audiobook, or sitting in class. Hmmm, it’d be cool to be able to do something with my hands while I listen. Like many from my generation, I find it difficult to devote all my concentration to a single task. Maybe coloring would allow me to satisfy my ADHD side, while also permitting me to retain what is being said.

One fateful morning while I was gift shopping for a friend, I finally caved.

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I browsed the broad selection of adult coloring books until I found one that looked interesting. It was more expensive than I had hoped, but I tried to console myself with the possibility that it might be worth it. There were pictures of animals with intricate patters woven into their faces, menageries of fishes and sheep, dragons too.

After purchasing some colored pencils at Target (and feeling as thought I’d brought great shame onto my family), I went home to test out this new craze.

To my utter dismay, I found that I enjoyed it.

I liked performing the menial task of filling in the blank lines with color while listening to audio dramas. I enjoyed the waxy smell of crayons and how simple it all was. I found a small sense of accomplishment after each project was finished as well.

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More than that, I found my retention was greater while listening to audiobooks and coloring than when I was just sitting in my chair or playing games on my iPhone.

I’m not addicted to coloring. When the day has been hard I don’t feel the call of Crayola the same way alcoholics might their booze, or druggies their narcotics. I can’t see myself sitting around a table with my friends, coloring in pages of animals as we talk about our days.

However, I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of anymore.

It’s better for your mind than TV and it’s definitely healthier than drugs or alcohol.

If someone approached me and told me that what I’m doing is juvenile, then I couldn’t really disagree with them. Afterall, I came from the same mindset.

But at the end of the day, does this activity really hurt anyone?

I, personally, don’t believe so.

My handwriting still sucks, though.

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Dear First Draft: a Breakup Letter

Dear First Draft,

Remember how I said I needed some time away to think about our relationship? Well, I’ve given myself some breathing room and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that we should see other people.

I know this must be heartbreaking for you. It’s difficult for me as well. In the beginning, our love burned so brightly. I was completely beguiled by you. I thought you were the most unique snowflake in a snow storm of literature. You were so strong, so smart. I’d even go so far as to call you sexy. But now that I’ve allowed our little fling to cool off, I realize that we can’t maintain this relationship any longer.

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For one thing, you’re more gabby than I remember. In the past I was absorbed by your every word. Each sentence was tailored like a tapestry. You were beautiful and intricate. Now that I’ve reread you, you just dither on pointlessly about scenery and give a bunch of exposition nobody cares about. I don’t know why you thought giving the custodian five pages of backstory was good idea. Considering he only does one thing that has any bearing on the plot, this seems more than a little pointless.

Secondly, you’re unstructured. You don’t know who you are or what you’re doing. You’re like a goldfish with Alzheimer’s. You can’t seem to remember what the main character’s motivations are. Sometimes you’re lucky to remember what day of the week it is. You said it was Friday one day, and then the next day too.

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Also, as much as it pains me to say this, your grammar sucks. Seriously, it’s bad. Maybe it was the wine that made me see a comma where a period should have been. Who knows? Perhaps it was my love for you that blinded me to your faults. In the past, I wanted to show you off to everyone. Scream my love for you from the rooftops. Now I want to keep you in a closet where you can’t embarrass me anymore.

This is hard for me to admit, but I’ve been seeing another draft behind your back. I feel horrible about it. Nonetheless, I can’t deny there is more chemistry between he and I than there was with us.

Sure, he has his flaws too. He isn’t quite sure what he wants either, but he doesn’t write “your” instead of “you’re” and he doesn’t talk forever about birds or how much the sun is shining.

I feel like he understands my train of thought more. We’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future.

In fact, I think he might be the one.

I know this is difficult for you. But we had fun, didn’t we? It was chaos. It was messy. Nothing made sense. But it was fun.

Though our love has come to an end, I will always remember you. And you will always have a place in my heart…..

And in a desk drawer where you’ll never been seen by another living person again.

Sincerely,

Writer

The Writer and The Deadline

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing noise they make as they fly by,” -Douglas Adams. 

I have a deadline today.

You probably have a deadline too.

So why are we still on the internet?

Because we writers are free spirits, that’s why. We can’t have our lives dictated by something as minuscule as a date written down on a sticky note. That’d be ridiculous. When the project is meant to be done, the muse will hit us….

………….any minute now.

This is usually when the panic comes in and we’re forced to contend ourselves with the fact that Muse has skipped town along with her lover, Motivation, and likely isn’t coming back.

Now we’re forced to sit ourselves down in front of a keyboard and type.

We must bleed ourselves dry for ideas.

The sad truth of it all is that writers need deadlines (probably). We love doing what we do, but we’re so distractible, aren’t we? We’re free and creative and fun. But, more often than not, we aren’t punctual.

If we didn’t have deadlines, we would probably be worse off than we are.

Even the fear that takes hold of us with every ticking of the clock is better than never finishing what we’ve started.