Poetry is Cool. Who Knew?


By Carlos Portocarrero

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Honestly? I always thought poetry was a frail and boring thing, even a little feminine. You say things within certain rhythmic parameters and cut off your sentences at illogical places and you have yourself a poem. Bid deal. And this is from someone who loves to read/write fiction. Poetry was always something I would shrug off with a chortle and an “it’s not for me.”

In grad school, I mistakenly signed up for a class (I can’t remember what it was called, but it wasn’t called “Poetry 101″) that was basically a poetry workshop. That meant I wouldn’t only be writing it, I’d be reading what I wrote out loud to my classmates. The first day the professor told us, “Anyone else in here that didn’t know this was a poetry class?” And I raised my hand along with a few others. Oops. Part of me was like “this is going to suck.” I remember telling M when I got home, “You know what, I’ll just try it anyway. I’ve never really written poetry so this will be something different.”

And different it was. The class opened my eyes to the world of writing poetry (the reading part I’m still working on). It’s a different mentality and a totally different way of writing and expressing yourself. It was like turning on a part of my brain that I never used, and when I started to write fiction I could feel it active and pushing to make it’s way through. I may not become a poet, but I know poetry has made me a better writer. Not sure if the professor purposefully called his class something other than “Poetry Workshop,” but if he did that man deserves to be inducted into Ninjahood.

Everyone out there can enjoy poetry, no matter who you are. You just have to find the poems that will hit you the right way and get the misconceptions out of the way. Today, I’m a fan of poetry, but I still won’t buy a book of poems. You don’t read poems the way you read fiction, but that’s why the Internet is so fantastic. Tell me you don’t enjoy reading Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken or Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven — I dare you. Well, there are other cool poems out there just like them. Take Robert Service, for example, a guy that was born in 1874. I first heard his poem, The Men That Don’t Fit In, being recited by a bouncer in the sweet documentary Bounce — Behind the Velvet Rope:

If you watch the whole movie, you’ll really get the full impact of the poem, which is awesome. He has a bunch of other great poems too, like My Friends. And if reading isn’t your thing, go to Google and type in “Spoken Word” or “Def Comedy Jam,” and you’ll see videos of what I call “performance poetry.” Some of it is really good.

This is the part of the post where I ask you to chip in with your best “if I was trying to convince someone that poetry is cool than this is the one poem I would have them read” comment. Let’s see if we can’t get some people to start taking poetry seriously.

One thing about the poems I wrote for that class — I thought they were great (something that doesn’t happen often in my fiction). Reading them in front of the class was also great because it’s almost like a little performance and I got some great feedback — it was as close to stand-up as I’ll ever be. I was so excited to have discovered the poetic side of myself that I polished a few of these poems and submitted them to some poetry journals. Just like my fiction, they were all rejected. One place, an online journal whose name I can’t remember, said they wanted to publish them and then they never did. Anyway, I still think they are good so I’m publishing them here and now since this is my site and I can do whatever I want. Without further ado, here are four of my best poems:

Over the edge

I’m sitting at the kitchen table
with my glass of water.
The ice cubes are still bobbing,
the water is getting colder.

My mother is looking at me,
yelling.
Her face is red and loud,
I look away.

There is a noise outside,
daddy’s home.
I look up at my mother,
I see myself in her face.

He walks saying nothing.
I am looking at my glass of water,
some beads are starting to gather,
my water is perspiring.

He looks at
her and yells.
She is quiet and he is not.
He yells and yells and yells,
then storms upstairs, that’s enough.

We’re left alone at the kitchen table.
The overhead light shines yellow on us.
Me and my glass of perspiring ice water.
My finger pushes and pushes and pushes

to the edge of the table,
and when it can go no further
I nudge my glass of water

over the edg

e


The Something

Why don’t you write anything happy?
she says.
I never really thought about it,
I tell her.

But then, later,
alone,
I pay close attention:
she’s right.
Why don’t I write anything happy?

Now I’m worried.
You should try to write a happy poem,
she says.
I won’t be told what to write
by anyone or anything, I say.

But something,
somewhere
is telling me
what to write.
I can feel
it.

Why don’t you
write anything happy,
she says?
Ask the something,
I tell her.
Because I don’t know.

And do I even want to know?
This is a little scary,
I think.
This is a little scary.

Why don’t I write about that summer in
Paris?
Or anything about baseball?
About The Lake or South Street?

But it doesn’t listen.
Is something wrong here?

I don’t know what to tell her
when she asks,
Why don’t you write anything happy?
But it makes me think,
when I’m alone,
what if I can’t

be?


Frozen

There’s this guy, this bum. He hangs around the back of my building. You may have seen him around. He looks like you or me only without a place to live, without
clean clothes. Without a sense of time. He doesn’t make sense; he mutters to himself. When you look at
him up close he looks, like, far away. Removed from the time and place where we all live.

I know why.

The world froze — literally stood still —– for years and years. Maybe forever, and only for him, nobody
else. He doesn’t know how long. It’s tough to add up the years when not a second goes by. He saw it all.
Everything the world has to offer. He was there. It was like being immortal, he says. He could do
anything, he says. He did, and it drove him crazy. Now he’s a bum.

I ask what kind of stuff he did. He just smiles, looks through me, and says, “Everything…everything.”

Time is the only thing that keeps us from doing everything we’ve ever wanted to do, he says.

All this he says to me; his eyes wild in his head. It makes you think, doesn’t it? What would you do if your
world froze? Think of the questions you would want to ask and how it would feel to have no one to ask them
to.

I ask him what he did after he ran out of things to do. That’s when his face turns sad and he looks like
any other bum out there.

“Wait, he says. “I waited.”

Starting Over

The last thing I remember is walking out into the back alley behind my building. I was in a rush and just
walked right out. A car hit me. I remember thinking, oh no. My legs got knocked out from under me and then I braced for the windshield, helpless. I didn’t expect my head to break through like that. I lost
consciousness in a mist of glass.

When I woke up, I was in a haze. There were shapes gathered around my bed. My eyes hurt and I had a
little trouble getting used to the light. A woman stepped towards me out of the haze, got down to a knee
beside me, and cried. The sounds all sounded muffled, far away. A man in the background put his arm around a girl’s shoulder and squeezed. After that squeeze it all went black again.

Slowly, gradually, the haze lifted. The shapes came into focus and I could understand their sounds. The
shapes were crying.

I kept my eyes closed because of the light. I heard the woman, between sobs, ask why this had happened.

“I got hit by a car,” I whispered, and the crying stopped.

I tried to open my eyes.


3 Responses to “Poetry is Cool. Who Knew?”

  • John Forman Says:

    I can definitely appreciate what you’re saying here. I really had a fairly negative view on poetry as a kid – probably because it was forced upon me in my school lit classes. But then I found myself writing it while I was in Army basic training, of all places. It wasn’t very good or meaningful stuff, but it was a start. Over the next ten years I continued writing. At one point, when I was about 25, I wrote two poems in a relatively short period of time that made the women for whom they were written cry. That floored me. I even wrote a 13 stanza sequel to The Raven using Poe’s exact same structure, which was pretty complex. Unfortunately, in one of my moves I lost all of the stuff I’d written, and I haven’t been inspired to write any verse in quite a long time. You’re absolutely right about writing poetry making you a better overall writer.

  • Sheri Fresonke Harper Says:

    Loved your title, I think it may be a coming of age thing, I liked the second best, I think it is hard to write super happy poems. Nice article :) Sheri

  • Nut Says:

    Thanks Sheri, I appreciate it!

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