Here is a poem that I actually got published. Seriously: check out the citation at the bottom. Sure, it was thirty-four years ago, in a social-work publication of minuscule (if not nonexistent) circulation, thanks only to a good friend and former favorite professor. But it’s a publication (one of three as it has turned out so far). I wanted to use it because it continues our trips-through-time theme from many previous posts. I wrote it on a bad day during my first year of teaching. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher (I felt kind of like Anaïs Nin, the spy in the house of love—an intruder into the halls of learning). Throughout my career, for the most part, I really liked my students (even then and there—1975 in Ft. Madison). But on a bad day everything seems sour.
I really did have a print of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving of Erasmus on the bulletin board in one of the classrooms where I taught (being the newest on the faculty I got the most preparations and no classroom home; I still remember clearly sitting in a little cubby-office off the school library working on lesson plans—or more likely writing poetry). I really could some days smell alcohol and pot smoke. And as most of my former students know, I really did have a thing for chalk…
On the brighter side (to return to yesterday’s poetic theme), during my first year teaching drama at Ft. Madison, having no syllabus or curriculum guide in those excellent old days, the students guided me with their ideas and improvisations into writing my very first play, the model for all the Andrew spring plays to come, “Brick Red and the Seven Dwarfettes,” which is going to head out for a play publisher just as soon as I finish editing and formatting it. The students and I worked up scenes during class which I then revised and typed in the teachers’ lounge/office after school, piecing ideas together until I had a relatively coherent script. Since we performed “Brick Red” last spring as my final high school play, some readers might even be familiar with it—after Everybody, the most produced of my plays, having seen the stage in Ft. Madison, for IHSSA Large Group contest my first year in Andrew, as the first spring play a few years later, and once again for spring during the 1990s.
Considering the huge popularity of Shrek and all the other fairy-tale mangulations, I just wish I had published it back in 1976.
But now, back to the teacher and his students…
Erasmus resides upon a posting board
for gaudy adolescents to gawk upon
(they don’t won’t can’t);
his somewhat pupil, chalk in hand, paces,
prepared to lecture youth about the subtleties
of career education, mass media and
rudiments of composition, all ignored:
the seedy, snide and stupid students bored,
their betters bound and fettered by these monkeys
dressed in pseudohuman form,
reeking of cheap beer and marijuana—
brains which function not, eyes that cannot
see. The foolish lecturer prates on,
uncovering dross his jeweled (nearsighted) eyes
perceive as gold—his pupils see it not at all,
uncaring or distracted or both at once.
Erasmus, luckily, is dead, and only
a shadow of a shadow remains to mock
the pedagogue and condemn the class.
Ft. Madison — published in Iowa journal of Social Work, vol. VII, nos. 2 & 3, August 1976
17 December 1975
This poem seems pretty straightforward to me, so I am not sure what to explain. I note that I liberate myself from the chains of teenage free verse to incorporate an almost regular meter and some not quite random rhyme. At this time I started experimenting with sonnets and the villanelles you have already seen. Considering its subject, I like the very dry tone and language here. Considering who published it, I was consciously emulating his own articulate poems that I had seen in Design, the Iowa Wesleyan College writing magazine. Perhaps he enjoyed the flattery or else felt comfortable with a style likened to his. He published one other poem of mine in that issue; I don’t think it was quite in the same mode. If I can find it, we’ll post it here one day.
(And I hope you see the end of “Details, Details” very, very soon, the other half of “Why Wakdjunkaga” not long after that.)