Monday, January 26, 2009

Blast from the past

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a poem about a certain teacher who had squashed my poetry hopes and efforts 28 years ago. In fact, I wrote two poems. In one, I tried to be funny. In neither did I try to be nice.

Tonight, while going through old things, I found the evaluation sheet from that teacher. Why did I save it? In my 20s I frivolously saved everything.

In all fairness, it probably wasn't as disdainful as I remember it. I'm not sure. Tonight I just scanned it—at least, after the first part of the first sentence:

"None of your poems except probably number 3 is a total failure…"

Blast? Flattening.

If you are a younger or a newer poet—or any human being—and you encounter a comment like that, take a deep breath and wait a few days or a few years before you decide what you're going to do with it.

As I said, tonight I just scanned it—and it looks like the sweeping devastation ends toward the end. I'll wait a few more days or a few more years and then read through it. Maybe it isn't too late to learn something from that experience.

P.S. I was, after all, so lucky. A few quarters later, I wandered into Nelson Bentley's class and felt like I could write again. The memory stayed, but the poetry began again.


Michael said...

What a cool story. I suppose if we all think back to one thing or another in our past life, there is a lesson there for us all.

Thanks for sharing this story.

Dana said...

Here's what did me in in 1999 and led to my seven-year break from writing. (I actually planned to never, ever write poetry again, ever, because of this comment from my teacher at the time):

"Ventings of high school sophmore [yes, spelled that way]. A pastiche of chest-pounding "Ain't I hip, ain't I clever?" You're beating a dead horse with a broken stick."

Man oh man. That's one neat-o comment.

Joannie said...


Premium T. said...

Early on, I enrolled for a class taught by a visiting poet and was dismayed when, after submitting a MS, discovered that my name was not on the list of "accepted" students -- this was an undergraduate university class and I doubt that she really even had the right to reject students. Stunned, I knocked on her office door and talked my way into the class. What a mistake! She was the Queen of Slice & Dice, sending many students (both men and women) from the class in tears on a daily basis. I'm not sure what she hoped to achieve by her cruelty, but it certainly opened my eyes and toughened my poetic skin. I won't name her, but will admit I've not read her poetry since 1977.

Kells said...


his initials weren't DW were they? He squashed me in 1992. Another poet (LB) gave me my groove back. ;-)

Funny, my word verification tonight is "crumb" (as in throw me a ... )

Joannie said...

Not DW. It was a visiting poet (who, I think, didn't really want to be there at all).

But I'm so glad another poet helped you get your groove back.