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Friday, October 07, 2005

CLOWN Chapter 28: Boxing

Chapter 28. Boxing.

Tamai insisted on paying for lunch, which was cool, and I went to back to work first so we wouldn’t be ‘outed’ by Karl.
After about an hour in the closet Alex came in to share one of his poems with me. Alex is a good kid. He looks kind of like an elf. He’s short and skinny and he has a triangular, super-fair face and red hair. Plus he has a triangular goatee on his triangular chin. For some reason I imagine elves look like him. Anyway, he’s well convinced that he’s already a damn good poet and someday he will be a great one.
I let slip that I was working on The Epic one day and he told me how he was published. I guess a few of his poems were accepted by magazines or by those companies that publish your poem if you agree to buy the anthology of poems they’re going to publish. I’m the jealous type, and I never wanted to see any of his poems after he told me he was published because I didn’t get published until I was a grad student. Even then I was only published by my own college’s literary journal, and I was an editor on the journal.
Then he showed me a couple of his poems. They sucked pretty. There are different kinds of good poems. There are poems that are good for high school kids. Generally they are cliched but serious and tackle important themes (to high school kids.) There are poems that are good for college undergrads, which means the students successfully do basic things like avoid gerunds and use meter and pay some attention to form. Then there are poems that are good for literary grads, which means that they are polished, very well executed, but often passionless. And the students usually seem to be showing off.
Then there are great poets’ poems. I don’t know if I’m explaining this right. Imagine a high school kid who can fight really well. Just a kid who likes to fight and does it well. There’s your high school poet. Now imagine a kid who has some talent and walks into a gym his freshman year and busts his but for five years and wins his state’s Golden Gloves championship. That’s your college undergrad. Imagine that kid is from a fighting state like Philadelphia and he won the Golden Gloves. He’s got a shot at a national title, he’s special. That’s your grad student poet. Now imagine that kid turned pro (whether he made the Olympics or not, doesn’t matter) and became a champion in his weight class. That’s your genuine poet. Imagine Roy Jones Junior and you’ve got a possible Great Poet.
I mean the discipline has that kind of depth. There are phenoms in poetry that are the exceptions to the rule, but in general the learning curve is long and torturous. Alex was like a high school kid who had boxed at the local gym for a couple of years and I was a professional fighter. I wasn’t a champion, maybe not even top ten, but compared to Alex, well, it was a joke. The thing is, if we were boxers I could get in a ring with him and he’d be humbled (and better off for it) in about thirty seconds. But poetry doesn’t work that way.
If Alex ever approaches my level of understanding of poetry then he’ll start to understand how ridiculous it was for him to approach me with his poetry as if we were peers. I’m not a snob, I’m being honest. It is offensive when someone who hasn’t put a hundredth of the work into something that you have pretends they are your equal at it. But I’m not good at expressing myself that way, and I don’t want enemies at work, (don’t crap where you eat, right?) so I generally just said what I thought he wanted to hear. It was faster that way, anyway.
So after I read the poem he brought, (I can’t remember it exactly, and even if I could I wouldn’t victimize you with it) I said:
“Excellent. Reminds me of E.E. Cummings.” It was obvious he’d read a few e.e. cummings poems before he wrote it.
“Really? That’s funny because I don’t think I’ve ever read him.”
Bullshit. “Wow. Don’t read him then, otherwise it might mess up your voice.” Nobody who knows jack about poetry would let a blatantly patronizing statement like that go by. Alex ate it up.
“Okay. Thanks. So I got accepted into U.W.”
“That’s great.”
“Yeah. I think I’m going to major in Librarianism.”
“I thought you wanted to be a poet.”
“I am a poet. But, you know, I think I’ll do that on the side.”
“I want a steady income, you know?”
“Yeah. Poetry is a great hobby.”
“Well it isn’t going to be a hobby. I mean that makes it sound like it won’t be important in my life. I don’t think you have to give up a normal life to be an artist. I don’t think you have to judge yourself as a person by your poetry in order to consider yourself a poet.”
“That’s where we disagree, I guess.”
Karl walked in then. “What’s going on, guys?”
Alex answered. “Clown’s saying that if I choose a major other than poetry I won’t be a poet. Clown thinks that if you write poetry and also have a separate career then poetry is just a hobby. He thinks you have to be obsessed with something to be an artist.”
“I don’t say all that.”
“I think you implied it, at least” Alex said.
“I just think that poetry is huge. It’s an entire world, and that if you aren’t going to go all the way you shouldn’t call yourself a poet. And I think an artist is, by definition, someone who values themselves according to how good their art is. Otherwise you’re a craftsman.”
“Well then-” and Alex said something. I had stopped paying attention. I was already wishing I hadn’t gotten into the argument. If Alex and I had been boxers I could have just knocked him out. Then Karl says:
“Sounds like a bunch of semantics to me, fellas.”
“No it isn’t semantics,” Alex said. “It’s important.” And Alex began one of his long “I think - blahblahblahblah...” arguments.
I realized that, as much as I despised Alex for thinking he and I were equals, compared to someone like Karl we were equals. Karl goes through life without ever thinking about poetry, or art, or being an artist. I don’t know what Karl thinks about. Is Karl like a dog, just a bunch of instincts? Is it:
Karl want eat Karl must work. Karl want acceptance Karl make nice.
I mean is he just a bunch of impulses and obedience to those impulses? Wouldn’t that mean he IS just instinct? Wouldn’t that make him about the equal of a dog? And wouldn’t that make it just about okay to kill him? I mean it isn’t okay to kill a dog, but it isn’t the same as killing a person, right?
I would never consider killing Alex. I mean he at least has the potential to contribute something, or to appreciate something. He fits my definition of a real human being, I guess, whereas Karl just seemed like something much much less.
“I think you need to worry less about that stuff and more about filing, Alex. You understand?” Karl asked. I didn’t know what Alex had said but it had upset Karl somehow. As usual Karl’s response was to pull rank.
“Yeah,” Alex said. “Okay.”
“You get me Clown?”
“The sooner you leave the quicker I’ll be back in the zone.” I could see Karl was trying to figure out whether or not to be offended so I said “Catchu later Alex. Take it easy.”
Alex left. Karl still wasn’t sure about whether or not I needed more chastising.
“I don’t mind you guys talking and all,” he said, “but there’s your time and there’s their time. You know?”
“Okay then.” And he left.


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