The Lost Poem

As you may know, I've just started reading Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled, since SF is worthy of reading even if he is just writing about the seventeen types of mud.

Anyway, since the Easter Triduum* is upon us, and since I'm feeling a bit confessional as a consequence, I'll tell you a slightly personal story. When I was a very young man, younger than I'll ever be again, I used to write poetry.

I had no intention of being a poet, because poets don't drive the sorts of cars I prefer, nor do they go swanking about in bespoke gentlemen's apparel, nor do they tend to vote like right-wing maniacs. To compound things, I was pretty ruthless in the matter of meter and rhyme, both of which were in short suppy in those putatively enlightened days.

I may have had an inner poet, but my inner capitalist had him well in check.

That said, there was a certain element of the population of young ladies who appreciated it when I went from Bard to verse, and it would have been monumentally impolite -- to say nothing of inimical to my plans -- to deprive them. Most of the stuff I cranked out for semipublic consumption was, er, done with a level of...uh...calculation.

But, I actually kind of liked writing poetry. Relax, I have no samples to inflict upon you, even if I wanted to; this is the story of how I stopped writing poetry. Whenever the purpose of a poem was to not aid me in inflicting my society upon someone, these were actually pretty good, as what we enjoy doing -- and have some technical skill therein -- tends to be.

At school, in my last year, there was a poetry contest (there were also contests for short stories and essays, etc.) which I entered. I had been scribbling verse for some time and I had become pretty proficient by that point. So, I did something very unusual for me (both then and now) in that I actually expended effort. Rather than letting whatever natural talent I had carry me to wherever it would, I sat down to write, rewrite, toss, eject, prune, polish, scrap, restart. By the end of the week I was very pleased with myself. More than usual, which is no small trick considering my ego has two NASA satellites orbiting it as we speak.

The typewritten poems -- those being the days of ribbons and carriage returns -- were posted up on some large-ish cork board for all to see, the authors' names in the back, so as not to prejudice anyone. Several of my teachers (current and from previous years) came up to me and told me "That third one from the right is yours, I can tell. It's good." I, as honestly as I could, didn't see how any of the others stood the remotest chance; utter drivel they all were. I was confident because a) mine was very good, and b) the others were complete [dung].

At this point, you can see where this is going.

The day to award the prizes arrived and when time came to announce winners mine came in nowhere. If it had been a car race, mine would have the car that burst into a cloud of flaming splinters at the starting line.

I had expected laurels and parades and accolades from all fronts and got bupkis, zip, zilch, nada, nil. To make matters worse, my teacher (then the Chair of the Dept.) asked me to come and read mine on stage. I suspect that, this being the late 1970s, someone had slipped a recreational pharmaceutical into his coffee, because he seemed to be under the delusion this was an excellent consolation prize. It wasn't. Partly, I was in shock. One of those once-in-a-lifetime** shocks that comes from a complete reversal of expectations. Partly I felt humiliated*** and partly I was incandescent with anger.

But one has a fair idea of what Jesuit justice is when meted out for insubordination and, thus, I acceded to the "they hated the poem, so come and read it out loud" request. I got up and gave my first and last poetry reading. That it went over more spectacularly well (a happy combination of the brilliance of the writing and the state of mind of the reader at that precise moment) than anything I have ever performed -- while the three prizewinners got nothing but crickets chirping -- was of no avail. It was no use. I tore up the paper into pieces as tiny as my patience allowed and conscience demanded and tossed them as angrily into the wastebasket as one can throw what amounts to a small handful of very irregularly-shaped confetti.

I regret to admit that I treated the winner with such contempt that I actually felt compelled to apologize to him for acting like a complete, raving [jerk] to him.

And that, people, was my fling with poetry.


* Whatever Poppy's crowd is doing, we're doing, except that she is singing at every bloody event and we're not, and she's High Church Anglican and we're Roamin' Catholics; which is pretty close, actually. But it'll give you an idea what we're up to. Oh, and she's in a Cathedral and we're here, albeit without the Hollywood stars groping each other.

** I've since had worse shocks, but as yet none bigger; and I pray every night I never do.

*** This was the first time of two in my life I have been humiliated. My attitude at the moment was "So this is humiliation."


Stomper Girl said…
May I make a confession here? I. just. don't. get. poetry.

Nontheless; Great story. Really enjoyed this.

Have a happy Easter.
shula said…
I remember my mum telling me a similar story of a fancy dress contest where she went as Carmen Miranda, and considered herself a dead cert to win. But the prize went to a girl dressed as a knitting bag.

30 years later, she still hadn't forgiven anyone.

And I say to you, there is no justice in the world.
Joke said…
On the upside, can you imagine this blog if everything rhymed?

My float said…
Why, dear J, your blog IS sheer poetry.
Joke said…
Now that I am pleased to hear
It gladdens quite my heart
That so opines someone not near
who eagerly takes my part

I pray that you won't think me terse
Were I to cease this stupid verse.


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