Last Wednesday my poetry professor gave me an assignment: Keep a poetry journal, write a poem a day, or write poems at different times of the day. See what happens in the pages over seven days.
This assignment was inspired by the Hotel Wentley poems written by John Wieners over the course of a week in a rundown San Francisco hotel. I read them before I started my journal. He’s deep. And talented. He wrote things like “I held love once in the palm of my hand. / See the lines there.” Seriously. This guy had soul.
I signed up for Writing and Reading Poems (21W.756) because I thought my writing skills could carry over to all genres. This is embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I write poems. Most of them are awful. Sometimes, however, I hit the literary nail on the head and produce something good. I know this because last semester I showed one to my poetry professor and he said “It’s good.”
I took this class to help me home in on my inner poet. I imagined that by the end of the semester I would be sitting in coffee houses with a French beret, smoking a cigarette, and arguing with other budding poets about the last line of Sylvia Plath’s “Medusa.”
Organic Chemistry II made me better at organic chemistry. Differential equations improved my math skills. Poetry class turned me into the worst poet ever.
The Wednesday I received the poetry journal assignment, I left campus ready to become one with my feelings. As I biked over the Harvard Bridge, I noticed that the sunset was quite exhilarating. I called The Tech to tell them to send a photographer out. While the office phone rang, I thought of how to describe the light to whomever answered the phone.
“Hello, The Tech,” they answered.
“Hi guys, it’s Sarah. Send out a photographer RIGHT NOW. The light is …” I searched for the perfect literary phrase, but couldn’t find it. “Beautiful!” was all I could come up with. I wasn’t off to a good start.
When I got back to my apartment, I penned the most awful poem that has ever been written. It included the line: “The sun set / a large tangerine / over _______ buildings.” I left the blank there because I couldn’t think of a word that I wanted. If I had been Sylvia Plath’s daughter and she hadn’t asphyxiated herself at the age of thirty, she would have after reading that poem.
I asked my roommate to read it. She is never harsh, and I figured she would reassure me that I did have literary talent.
“It’s a little rough around the edges.” Ouch.
I was inspired the next day by the streetlights shining in through my window. I got excited because I imagined that for the next week my motif would be light. I would write about darkness, sunsets, natural light, and ambient light. Literary critics would be talking about my fascination with light for the latter half of the twentieth century.
The second one was more awful than the first. I ripped it out and threw it away, but I remember an awful line about lurking streetlights. I shiver just thinking about it.
I graduated high school thinking I was good at science and math. MIT made me rethink those talents.
It would have been nice to still be confident in my writing skills. But I guess the point of MIT is to make you realize that in every subject there are people who are smarter than you. After three years here, it seems my value stands at about one share of Lehman Brothers.
My downfall started with MIT taking away time for romance. Easily accessible french fries at Cambridge Grill took away my beauty. Stress took away my youth.
Now, I have lost my penchant for language.
Romance, beauty, youth, language. I’m pretty sure those have been the four main subjects of poetry throughout history.
ladies and gentlemen, is how
I discovered that I am not a poet.
For a poet would end
with food for thought.
But my verse
is for naught.