A Poem about the Greeks That Worked Out Just Fine

I will go back & write about my South Carolina travels, but first I want to tell you about how I ended National Poetry Month. On Thursday, April 28, I visited an undergraduate English class at Adelphi University, a class that for many is their first significant exposure to studying poetry. Though we'd never met, Professor Kimberly (Kimmy) Grey invited me out of the blue some months back with kind words and the promise of students who had each purchased a copy of I Was the Jukebox. I said yes, without fully processing the logistics of driving to Long Island and back within 24 hours.

To be honest, folks, the month has been as exhausting as it has been exhilarating. As you may notice, things are changing: not only the blog design but the launch of a Twitter feed, an Author page on Facebook, and a general uptick in online activity. This has come after a month of nonstop touring, and feeling the cost in every possible way--body, soul, love life. I've had some hard deliberations about how I choose to spend my time. Why go from reading to reading, when I could probably make as much money hunkering down and freelancing in the comforts of my Washington apartment? How does one tread the fine line between reaching people and, um, pandering out of an addiction to an audience? We respect authors for the former; we judge them for the latter. I fully expect to stumble en route to finding a balance between the two. 

But if I fail, I'll fail in the trying. 

When you're feeling low, there is nothing more restorative than to walk into a classroom like Professor Grey's. They'd read the book, and thought about its themes and motifs. They listened. They laughed. They cared. They made requests. They had questions, one of which picked up on my Shakespeare references, one of which pinpointed a contemporary influence out of nowhere (yes, you can hear Billy Collins's poem "Litany," in "Love Poem for Oxidation"). Thanks to Professor Grey's leadership--what an amazing teacher she is, clearly delighted by the act of teaching--they'd looked up definitions of any words they didn't know, and they knew about the sestina form. And at the end, -everyone- lined up to get their books signed, even though it meant some of them were late for their next class. That never happens!

Many of the students had presented on my book via memorizing and reciting poems. This in itself is a labor of love, especially when taking on a 39-line poem such as "The Platypus Speaks." But one student chose to work through a poem visually, not verbally. She chose one of my favorite poems to share with undergraduates, one which I often introduce using "the doorstep premise." By "the doorstep premise," I mean that a leap into surrealism can be introduced by many everyday actions--such as opening the door. What if it's not the expected guest on your doorstep, but someone (or something) completely out of place? Such as...a Greek warrior? What happens then?

Without further ado, here is the ILLUSTRATED version of "Another Failed Poem about the Greeks," courtesy of Adelphi University student Emily Frisbie. You can look at this linked version (via W. W. Norton) or in I Was the Jukebox for the original line and stanza breaks. I've taken them out here, to focus on the pace of the images.

"His sword dripped blood. His helmet gleamed. He dragged a Gorgon’s head behind him. As first dates go, this was problematic. He itched and fidgeted." 
"He said Could I save something for you? But I was all out of maidens bound to rocks."
"So I took him on a roller coaster, wedging in next to his breastplated body in the little car. He put his arm around me, as the Greeks do. On the first dip he laughed."
"On the first drop he clutched my shoulder and screamed like a catamite. 
When we racheted to a full stop he said Again."
"We went on the Scrambler, the Apple Turnover, the Log Flume."
"We went on the Pirate Ship three times, swooshing forward, back, upside down, and he cried Aera! waving his sword...."

"...until the operator asked him to please keep all swords inside the car."
"He was a good sport, letting the drachmas fall out of his pockets; sparing the girl
who spilled punch on his shield...."
"...waving as I rode the carousel’s hippogriff though it was a slow ride, and I made him hold my purse."
"On the way home he said We should do this again sometime, though we both knew it would never happen since he was Greek, of course, and dead, and somewhere a maiden rattled in her chains."

There you have it. A successful poem about the Greeks. Someone liked one of my poems enough to live in it for a while, scene by scene, and that offers glimmers of hope that I'm doing the right thing, even if the right thing doesn't make for the most comfortable or   consistent of lifestyles right now. Thank you, Emily! Thank you.