Arts & Culture

Angetevka Days

In my twenties, I fancied myself a poet.  No one else did.  I labored under the delusion that I was, if not profound, at least mildly interesting.  I was not.  I abandoned all notions of being a poet some time … Read More

By / August 19, 2009

In my twenties, I fancied myself a poet.  No one else did.  I labored under the delusion that I was, if not profound, at least mildly interesting.  I was not.  I abandoned all notions of being a poet some time ago, and the world is better for it.  However, like a shocking and unexpected pregnancy (actually, not quite like that – I’ve had a few of those, too, and poetry is adamantly not like gestation and giving birth, even if poets will insist on making that parallel), a few words, half sentences, random thoughts popped into my head last week, and I gradually recognized them as the nausea of early-stage-poetry. The words "what if" were what started it off.  Sitting with my friend Gena and my son Daniel in a restaurant in Portugal, I was enjoying the last evening of a music festival. We were eating sardines and salad and smugly congratulating ourselves on our heart-happy meal when I posited the question, "But what if we’re wrong about it all?" "Doctors know these things." Gena, whose daughter is a doctor and is mean-fisted when it comes to Gena’s triglyceride levels,  was sure. l shook her head. "What if they don’t?"And it wasn’t just because I was slathering butter on my roll that I was asking.  Then, we moved on to talk about port wine and I said it pissed me off that we can’t carry Portugal port on board the airplane. Since it weighs down my checked luggage and I resent having to pay extra for an overweight suitcase, I probably wouldn’t be taking any back at all.  These airport security rules are just excessive and stupid, I declared. "They’re necessary," said Gena of the healthy heart. "What if they’re not, or at least not all of the rules are, and everybody knows they’re not but they have to pretend to agree with the established opinion?" I countered.  I hate being badgered into siding with popular opinion. Thereupon "what if" became my mental refrain, and the words took on an insistent rhythm – though not necessarily a rhythmic rhythm, despite my two week exposure to Mozart and Mendelssohn.  Caught in the grip of the urge for self-expression (some might call it self-indulgence), I jotted down the fanciful fragments, much as I had 25 years ago when an orange-red sunset or a broken love affair urgently demanded that poems be written about them so that others, who had never experienced them as deeply and passionately as I, could be enlightened. Pen in hand and mentally channeling the thesaurus, I finally realized that poetry, which I’d firmly squished any pretensions of harboring a talent for, had surfaced and, like a tick on a dog, it wouldn’t let go. Perhaps I’ve gotten better, perhaps now I can make words dance, I can transcend, I can capture the ephemeral, I thought.  Perhaps I wasn’t that bad back then, after all, and I should never have given up!   The truth is I don’t like poetry much.  Much of it bewilders me.  But writing poetry so as to inflict it on unsuspecting friends and demonstrate my depth is another story altogether, and so with an optimistic heart bursting with omega 3s, I set off to give birth to my poem.   I started with the intention of being mindful of meter and rhyme and alliteration.  In fact, I actually attempted to make the poem rhyme.  (I like rhymes.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.)   It was when I began to seek out words that rhymed with the last word in each couplet, (Whole?  Soul?) that I arrived once again at the dismaying realization that poetry is not my medium.  Poems are subtle, sometimes mysterious.  I’m not.  They should not state things dogmatically.  I am never so satisfied as when can state things dogmatically: "Airport security checks suck." (Hmm, rhymes with suck – Buck?   Duck? …) Yet, despite knowing that it would never stand up to any serious or even kindly scrutiny, the couplets kept coming, and this is my long apologia to explain what prompts this kind of/sort of poem called: What If What if: whole milk is better for you than skim? What if: you would do well to talk to strangers? What if: you do have a soul and this world is not so bad? What if: airport security is stupid and unnecessary and everybody knows but is colluding in the notion that the emperor is wearing clothes? What if: guardian angels exist and it’s not that complicated at all? I wanted to put in a line asking what if you questioned conventional wisdom and trusted yourself to fly out of the box of what "everybody knows", connecting this somehow with the angels, but I knew it was too didactic and dogmatic, and wouldn’t even make the cut into an overwrought Rosh Hashanah sermon, so I’m clunking it in here instead.  "Soul" was going to rhyme with "whole" (milk), but I reluctantly caught myself; however, you can see that I got "knows" and "clothes" to rhyme without much effort, for which I’m proud.    Oscar Wilde’s comment, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling," comforts me.