April 30, 2014
Even though it’s no longer National Poetry Month, we’re still going to share about poems, because why wouldn’t we? Today’s guest post comes from Lauren Eggert-Crowe, whom I had the pleasure of earning my MFA with at The University of Arizona; she’s remained a fine friend, generous collaborator, and all-around inspiration. Enjoy! —Nishta
My relationship with poetry has been like a marriage.
I started young, very young, single digits young. Back then, everything was rhymes about snow and rhythmic couplets. I wrote poetry inspired by whoever I was reading at the time, so there were a lot of little Shel Silversteinesque quatrains about misbehaving twins or Robert Louis Stevenson-style odes with big fancy words like “immortal.” I was easily and uncomplicatedly in love. I thought I knew everything there was to know about poetry. It seemed simple enough and I was happy.
In high school, I had an English teacher who I adored. He belonged in one of those Inspirational Teacher movies from the ’90s, that’s how good he was. But during the poetry unit, I hated him. Him and his stupid class. I was seventeen and pissed off and frustrated and defensive, and there was nothing more I wanted to do than slump behind the fortress of my folded arms with a glare that said, “Just *try* to engage me today. Just try.” He gave us a packet of xeroxed poems by Tess Gallagher, D.H. Lawrence, Wilfred Owen, etc. Some of the poems I liked enough but I could not bear another minute of raking through the poems line by line, unpacking their meanings and metaphors. I had a good marriage with poetry – why was he making me work harder at it? I didn’t want to deepen my understanding or think beyond the obvious. In hindsight, I know he was actually doing a good job, but I was a teenager who hated feeling like she didn’t understand something. So I resisted.
It happened again in college. My poetry professor was a warm, affectionate, spitfire. She loved her students with a grandmotherly charm, and she loved teaching us to love poetry. But she loved to talk smack about our favorite poems even more. Every day I would go to bat with her over my Holy Trinity of Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Marge Piercy. She goaded me to go beyond inspirational poems whose meanings were laid bare. I rolled my eyes. One day, when she floated an interpretation of Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” that I completely disagreed with, I protested. “You’re making this up! Stop!” When she had us mark the metric feet all over that whole poem, and “beat out” the rhythms as we read it, I said I didn’t think “Prufrock” was a poem that could be beaten out. “Oh, someone needs to beat the shit out of Prufrock,” she retorted.
At the end of the year, she nominated me for “Most Outstanding Sophomore.” Really.
At the end of college, I finally had a poetry class that made it click for me. Or maybe I had finally matured enough to open myself up to stranger, weirder poetry. Stuff that was more lyrical than narrative, that left me feeling unsettled at the end, unsure about what I had just read. I learned to be okay with the ambiguity, to even seek it. I started writing poems that focused more on imagery than epiphany.
I backslid a little bit in grad school, intimidated as I was by all my chain-smoking smartly dressed poetry peers who referenced John Ashberry and Frank Bidart and Milosz. I retreated a little more to what was comfortable. Workshops made me cry sometimes. I didn’t understand and I felt hopeless. I considered ending this marriage, jumping ship, defecting to the Nonfiction department.
I don’t know how it happened. Maybe with time. Maybe with reading. But I let the oddness in again, the scariness, the messiness, the “what-the-fuck-is-happening-here”-ness. I stripped away my punctuation and syntactic rules, little by little, until I was galloping and war-whooping through mazes of surreal prose poems. I started to see language as a marvelous raw material. Poems didn’t have to be an algebra problem.
Working for Kore Press certainly introduced me to the exciting developments in contemporary poetry. While I worked there, in 2007 they published Loveliest Grotesque by Sandra Lim, an Iowa Writers Workshop grad. I read her whole book in one day, as I often did back then, binge-reading poetry the way we now slam through Netflix series. I didn’t understand, but I did. Or, rather, I understood that there were multiple ways to understand. It made me want to write and write, to collage the hell out of words, to experiment with all the ways words could be jammed together, dropped, whipped, folded, buried, floated, flung, detonated.
Something Something Something Grand
Sandra Lim (originally published in Zyzzyva)
I adore you: you’re a harrowing event.
I like you very ugly, condensed to one
deep green pang. You cannot ask the simplest
question, your hold is all clutch and sinker.
Cannibal old me,
with my heart up my throat, blasting on all sides
with my hundred red states. Hidden little striver.
How not to know it, the waist-deep trance of you,
the cursing, coursing say of you. Embarrassing today.
Curiouser and curiouser,
your body is a mouth, is a night of travel, your body
is tripling the sideways insouciance. The muscle
in you knows gorgeous, in you knows tornadoes.
In an instant’s compass, your blood flees you like a cry.
You put on my heat,
(that’s the way you work) I’m a bandit gripping
hard on the steal. The substitutions come swiftly,
hungering down the valley, no one question to cover
all of living. I arrange myself in the order of my use.
You’re wrong and right
at the same time, a breathless deluxe and a devouring
chopping down the back door. You slap my attention
all over the dark. What’s in me like a chime?
Sometimes, sometimes, I come to you for the surprise.
I loved this poem in particular for its juicy muscular language. I didn’t know exactly what was going on. For awhile I was like, “Maybe this is a 9/11 poem? Or maybe it’s about writing. Or remembering a breakup?” But I knew I didn’t need to know. I could just lose myself in its urgent pace, its switchback metaphors.
I want everyone to fall in love with poetry and have multivalent marriages. When people make offhand comments about how they don’t “understand poetry,” I want to take their hands and let them in on the secret: You don’t *have to* understand it. There’s no “getting it,” there’s no secret code you have to decrypt like a hacker. I want to tell people they can experience poetry the way they watch a modern dance performance or the way they look at paintings. You can just let the images wash over you. Just gaze at the lines, at the movement. Get the hell in there and play in the sandbox. You don’t have to figure it out or map its every mappable part. You can just let it be beautiful. Or scary or sublime or dark or whimsical or naughty. Sometimes, sometimes, you can come to it for the surprise.
Lauren Eggert-Crowe is a poet, an essayist, book reviewer, food writer, and non-profit assistant in Los Angeles. She has been published in The Rumpus, L.A. Review of Books, The Nervous Breakdown, The Millions, Salon, Tupelo Quarterly, SpringGun, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. She is a contributing editor to TROP and is about to start a blog of poetry chapbook reviews.
No Comments »
No comments yet.