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There was a time when I genuinely believed God intended I be a poetess. I regret everything about that time.
This delusion was the result of a prolonged encounter with the poetry of T.S. Eliot, the release of The Downward Spiral, and a break-up with my high school boyfriend who had recently become gay. It was a cocktail of angst further stirred by the Novelist then teaching my creative writing class.
He was an odd one, the Novelist. A decade after the publication of a short work of tepidly-received fiction, he’d fled the City to assume a post in the English department at a Southern land-grant university famous for its engineering school. Though his claims to fame were dubious, the Novelist’s fluorescent silk shirts were dazzling and, given the ubiquity of flannel and coveralls, I mistook them for the height of urban chic.
We would meet in his office, the Novelist and I, to discuss my Future in Poetry. We both of us sincerely believed I had one. The Novelist looked at lines like “your delicate saccharine hatred/pounding through the torn lace veils of my blackened mind” and he said my poems would take me far. He pushed me to do better. He knew I could.
At the time, I thought there was nothing in the entire world more enchanting than the Novelist’s assertion that, as artists, we must craft “verbal word pictures of opaque transcendency.”
Opaque transcendency. I didn’t know what the hell it meant, but by God, I was going to do it. Now, I wonder if maybe he was on drugs.
My poems were not all bad. There is one. It is satisfactorily mediocre. It is, as they all are, about my high school boyfriend being gay.
That’s the fundamental problem with adolescent poetry: there’s a relatively limited well from which to draw. Not that this deterred me in the slightest. My high school boyfriend’s being gay was my only poetic life experience and, hand on heart, I sucked that thing dry.
The Novelist praised the poems for their realism and honesty, but I had embellished. I was a virgin and our physical contact had consisted of the simple, chaste holding of hands. Even that, I admit, had been arduous.
But the poems paint an altogether different, violently sexual picture. Had I purposefully set out to assess every aspect of my relationship with my gay high school boyfriend through the context of the “Closer” music video, I could not have done a more thorough job. There was so much sucking and fucking and dripping and fingering in my oeuvre that my narrators were only ever in bed or on their knees.
In the span of 39 days, I wrote 115 poems. Let that be a testament to their quality.
This was the heady days of the early Internet, when sharing was suddenly so easy, just a single click away. And so, professors, friends and family, none were exempt. I shared the poems with everyone I knew. When boys expressed an interest in dating me, I insisted they read my poetry, so they would know who I really was. Like, on the inside.
Alas, my high school boyfriend was not spared. With the Novelist’s words ringing in my ears and visions of opaque transcendency dancing in my head, I spent the night before Christmas break alone in the dorm printing my poetry. With “Fake Plastic Trees” on repeat and four forbidden candles lit, I loaded the tractor-feed paper one sheet at a time.
Bundling the pages with a yellow ribbon, much as a cat lays the carcass of its catch at the feet of its master, I packed the poems in a box and sent them to my high school boyfriend, who had recently come out.
We stopped speaking. Immediately.
I wish I had not written poetry in college because, in college, you aren’t smart enough to tell yourself to shut the fuck up.