Sunday, January 14, 2007

My First (and Last) Poetry Class

When I was 17, fresh out of the loving arms of the Oak trees, I wanted to be a writer. Not just any kind of writer, but a Poet. Writing poems just seemed so meaningful, so connected, so mysterieux… I was either going to apply to the UVic writing program or become a Russian spy (cover: Katya Irina Kalinka the fiercely passionate Olympic ice dancer). Both seemed completely do-able at the time. I had to make up my mind. I quickly constructed a pros and cons list to decide. In the end, Con: “I am not Russian”, tipped the scales in the direction of a writing career. But to keep the dreams alive, a compromise was made: Major in writing, minor in Slavonic Studies, Figure Skating, and Foreign Espionage. University credits towards graduation: 0.0.

In order to apply to the competitive writing program, I had to submit 25 of my most heart-felt poems. Immediately, I thumbed through the pages of my well-loved journal: An embroidery covered book I bought from Chinatown for $2, embellished with glued-in collages of pressed foliage and whimsical travel photos underscored with William Blake quotes: “To see a grain of sand…”

To cut a long story in half, I was accepted into the program. Heidi Klum would say, “Lisa’s poems were IN and obtaining Russian citizenship was OUT”. And so it began…

Writing 100. First term: Poetry. Perfect. Expected grade: A+ Well, I was the best poet in my entire high school English class (and it was Honours), so… yeah… I was basically a poetic prodigy. I wrote my first poem about breaking-up with my boyfriend. Tragic. My pain and tears became words and flowed onto the page. My first poetry assignment was a bedazzlement of structure, rhyme, and metaphors about dying flowers and eagles (and they’re pretty much extinct so… yeah… painful). First grade received: C -. What? In all my life I had never received such a crappy grade ever. Well, to be honest I wasn’t so hot at Maths or Potions. 10 points from Gryffindor.

The “receiving of the crappy grades” continued throughout the term. I just couldn’t get a grip on what my professor wanted. What was I to do? I was failing miserably and I had to get an A+ on the mid-term poem or I would be dishonourably discharged from the writing club. The mid-term poem was the last and only link to discovering where the kidnapping terrorists were hiding Jack Bauer and some sort of large nuclear device. Wait. I digress momentarily.

Back to Poetry 101. The day before mid-terms my teacher singled out “her favourite young writer” to come before the class and present his life-altering poem “Jesus is me”. Set to a subtle pulsing strum of an out of tune guitar, the poem went something like this:

carry me?
A wish
lost in me
lost in Jesus
I am He.

Blink. Nod. Yes. It all snapped into focus. That A+ was in my grasp now. So here, for the first time ever, I present my first and only A+ poetry assignment (for sadly, this was to be the last poetry class I ever took):



disconnected wooden shelves
filled with red jams
sticky lids
handwritten labels
blackberry, raspberry, strawberry
dated and stacked
“this November”


they’re half coloured in
like the story of you and i.
half finished.
half loved.
half baked.

when i was little i had an easy bake oven.

tiny round cakes cooked with a lightbulb.
crispy on the outside, soggy in the middle
just like you.


it's kind of salt.tea
bitter even. how u
realize after the fact.

but here i stay – (with a) silver spoon
beneath the chandelier

step off
twisting. sailing the 7 seas.
wd u like a cup of tea?

-- this entry is dedicated to Jessie and her love of broken, stream-of-consciousness poems written on thick handmade paper crafted from bark, flowers, and bits of carrot. Lovely.


Heatherness. said...

I can relate to this.
In grade 12 I got the highest provincial exam mark in BC. I thought I was English HOT SHIT.
My first semester at UVic I too expected nothing less than an A+, but lo and behold got a B-.
What. The. Fuck. Is a B-?

Apparently I overused cliches and my jargon was so passe.

Needless to say I majored in Art History instead.

Lisa said...

Impressive. I hope that title came with a large certificate and some sort of official luncheon with the Premier.

On the B- Seriously, I don't even know why they bother with the minus on a B.
The C- , I can understand "You passed, but you're a loser".
The A- is the university gold standard for receiving the small byline "with distinction" on your diploma (loves it) and getting into grad school.
But the B-, is just a huge bitch slap. "Your work was almost, kind of goood, but not exactly good. Err... honestly, everything about you is just plain mediocre. B-."

Plus the minus is devastating on the Uvic 9-point scale. Damnable 9-point scale. Ouch.

At least now you can unleash your cliches and passe jargon onto the world-wide web for all to see.

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