Tom Montag is busy putting together a course on nonfiction writing – his first time behind the lectern in a college classroom. Meanwhile, Fred First comes back from the undead as a reincarnated professor of biology. Some of the other bloggers I read faithfully, such as Lorianne and Elck, teach college more-or-less full time, as I understand it. With all this in my head, I guess, I had one of those “back to college” dreams last night: you know, it’s final exam week, and you just realize that you completely forgot that you had signed up for Physics 666, and now you have to read and understand the entire textbook in a few hours. If you don’t pass the 8:00 a.m. exam you’ll have to return to high school. Where everyone will laugh at you, because in these “back to the future” dreams you are always your present age – a spry 38, in my case.
“NO! I’m too old for thees boollsheet nightmare! I will slay the dragons of anxiety and insecurity the only way possible – by becoming a professor myself!”
Ha. In your dreams, buddy. Or: in your blog . . .
Herewith, then, my proposed syllabus for a ten-week course in poetry. I’ve given this lots and lots of careful thought, as you can imagine. Please note that everyone who signs up will get an “A” automatically. If you don’t want to do the work, god bless you. Cash up front.
1. Welcome to Poetry (De-)Composition 101. Mina Loy said, “Poetry is prose bewitched; a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” Class dismissed.
The rest of the week: play with your words. Play with other people’s words. Mix and match, but no alcohol.
2. You know enough, already.
Get shit-faced every night, and blow off all your classes – including this one.
3. William Carlos Williams was right. An abstraction in the middle of the poem tends to turn into one more object. It can make the whole poem. So, devote your energies to proving Williams wrong. Read Basho and the King James Bible in tandem until your eyeballs bleed.
4. Never carry an umbrella when you leave the house. If it rains, you’ll get wet. But don’t count on that, either. Forget a life, will ya?
5. Stand on one foot: easy, right? Now close your eyes and try to keep your balance.
Think about this for a while, then write a poem about storks.
It would probably help if you’ve actually seen a stork. But without “the stork” you wouldn’t be here, now, would you? Write about that stork.
6. That lamppost where you stand to catch the bus – notice everything about it that seems strange. When you get on the bus, do the same thing with the bus, then with everyone who gets on the bus, then with everything that you can see from the bus.
Practice being a stranger to yourself.
And always take public transportation.
7. Never write as if your life depended on it. This is a grotesque self-indulgence. Writing exists of necessity on the periphery, in the margins. Poetry is superfluous and therefore full of grace.
Construct a life-size natural history museum using nothing but scissors, paper and stones.
8. Always write as if your life depended on it. Because it does, you know. Without grace, you are mere consumer, taxpayer, chipped tooth aspiring to the level of cog.
Take everything you’ve written so far this semester with you on a three-day backpacking trip. Every night, use your poems to start the fire you cook your suppers over. Cook everything you eat from scratch.
9. When you start, be sure to have no clear idea of where you’ll end up. Or, have an idea, but don’t think about it for longer than a heartbeat without saying inshallah, “God willing” – even (or especially) if you don’t believe in God.
Learn how to draw.
10. Everything you have learned is wrong. I am partly to blame for that, of course. As your teacher, it has been my solemn and sacred duty to confuse, bewilder, lie, cheat, cajole and hoodwink.
As Blind Willie McTell said to his future wife the first time they met: “Take me until you can do better!”