Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Critique of Poetry, No. 1

Like many other evacuees-who-who-couldn’t-actually-evacuate during Hurricane Rita, I have been suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. My friend Shannon has been suffering, too (30 hours to Lufkin). I know it's pantywaist of me to complain, living as I do in the realm of Katrina victims, so I haven't been complaining. And I haven't been writing.

But in the interim, a bunch of interesting things about me (what else is this blog about? Remember I'm an Aries) have arisen. Some of these things are physically dramatic; some of them psychologically dramatic; some of them spiritually dramatic. Some of them all those things simultaneously.

Note: every other critique I've ever read about poetry inevitably capitalizes on the word simultaneously, annoying me to the point that I avoid critiques of poetry as often as I can. Even though simultaneously is how poetry works in truth. In poetry, all these different meanings about life occur simultaneously. It's uncanny.

That's what has been happening to me: all these different meanings have been occurring simultaneously.

Syllogism: In my life, all these different meanings have been occurring simultaneously. Poetry is meaning that occurs simultaneously. Therefore my life is poetry.

Note: See the John Malkovich/Gary Sinese version of Sam Shepard's play True West. It's unforgettable.

Note: This is not a critique of poetry.

Note: I sort of hate the word simultaneously.

Exhibit !


In high school, I was a varsity cheerleader. There was a football player with hair the color of scrambled eggs who loved me. I couldn't love him because his hair reminded me of food, which was too gross, and because we didn't have sustained chemistry. I did make out with him a few times in my 67 Blue Ford Ranchero, but then I had to call him finally and give him the spiel that it wasn't he, it was I. And that was true. Cliché as it may sound.

Girls who are cheerleaders inspire all sorts of stereotypical thinking, which is why throughout college and graduate school, I kept the fact that I was a varsity cheerleader for two years in high school under wraps. I sat by and listened while people made fun of girls who were cheerleaders; more specifically: made fun of cheerleaders. I don't think they thought so much about the girls, only the word labeling them. Some of the stereotypes I heard included "dumb" "perky" "loose" "fake" "popular", etc. I might have been all of those things at some point in my life, but I was never all of them simultaneously.

Recently, I visited an old high school friend who lives now with her husband and three children in Cypress, TX. She finds herself worrying, like any valedictorian-cum-mom who finds herself living in the Dante-esque world that is a Houston, TX suburb, about her three year old's impending obsession with cheerleading. This is the land, folks, of "Friday Night Lights." It's the home of Wanda Holloway, the cheerleader's mom who conspired to kill another cheerleader. I am not surprised my friend worries.

She wanted to know about my experience as a cheerleader. Normally, I'm embarrassed to talk about it because of all the group-think/resistance around this lifestyle choice. But I talked about it, because Kim was my best friend in High School.

In the 9th grade I found myself thrown into the cauldron of PUBLIC SCHOOL. Capistrano Valley High School, unlike the catholic high school 45 minutes away on the freeway, was a 10-minute car ride up the road. That's where my parents sent me because, they said, it was closer to home; therefore, I wouldn't end up dead on the freeway. Really, they sent me there because it was FREE. I went from going to elementary and middle school with the same 30 characters for 9 years, to going to my freshman classes with 30 different people every 50 minutes. There were so many kids at my school, my graduating class held 754 students. At my high school, the dress code was FREE DRESS. And I learned early on the primacy of first impressions and the power of clothes to speak meanings about one's self to other people. There was an atrium "mall" area in the middle of our classroom hubs, where live plants grew and the buzz of WASPs dominated the lunchtime feedings on chimichangas, soft pretzels, and one another. In truth, I felt the same way Mephistopheles felt when asked by Faust how he'd gotten free from hell; Mephisto looks at Faust in surprise: "Why this is hell [my friend], nor am I out of it." CVHS = Hell.

Note: In The Historical Tragedy of Dr. Faustus, Faust does intimate that "hell" may not be such a bad place to be, especially with a friend like Mephistopheles. It's bad, don't get me wrong; but it's not a damnation to be completely dismissed. There is no love there, true. But there is a lot of diversion otherwise.

Anyway, high school was hellacious. Specifically, it was for me because I had to come up with something different to wear every day. I'd been wearing a uniform for the past eight years; I didn't know how to construct myself yet in a good enough superficial way to communicate truly the meanings that I carried inside me. It required much thought, much artistry. And honestly, I didn't want to care that much about the surface. I wanted the uniform, so I could concentrate on other things, deeper things-- like boys and God and when I was gonna get my first kiss. When you haven't yet been kissed, the question of when you will finally be kissed is an all-consuming question. I don't know what I learned in school until I was kissed. It's like the academics before that moment in high school are a blur....

Syllogism: Cheerleaders wore uniforms; I wanted to wear a uniform; therefore, I wanted to be a cheerleader.

I tried out at the end of freshman year. I didn't make it. I cried for a day.

I tried out again at the end of sophomore year. I made it. I got to wear Adidas sweat pants and my cheerleading polo shirts to school nearly every day for the next two years. And I even learned to like wearing the cute little cheerleading skirts. They made me look cute, dammit. And I had boys I wanted to kiss! So many boys. I knew enough to know that boys know the cute when they see it.

But I was a good girl, which means, I was a virgin well out of high school. I'm glad, too. I think.

Ultimately, I think cheerleading helped me. I was painfully shy when I was young. PAINFULLY. Shy. People who know me now find this hard to comprehend. You can't really be a painfully shy cheerleader. Cheerleading helped me develop my social skills so that I could negotiate things like my virginity. I could use my very large brain to woo the boys, I could use my cute legs, too, but ultimately my very large brain would be the thing they saw, the thing they wanted to know in the Biblical sense.

I could be wrong.

Regardless, now in this time, I am simultaneously all the things I've been in my life: three-year-old, cheerleader, poet, mom.

"The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person," said Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish, Nobel Prize Winning Poet, in his poem "Ars Poetica."

Note: Read Czeslaw (Ches-lahv) Milosz (Me-lohzh). He died last year.

Milosz, too, was a kind of cheerleader. A spiritual one. May he rest in peace.

1 comment:

Pinky said...

I'm glad you're back, Mephista. Did you know that my cute mom was a cheerleader? A red-headed, 90-something pound cheerleader at Roosevelt High School in the Bronx in the late 40s/early 50s.
Did you also know that you can rid your blog of these obnoxious, solicitous comments? First, delete the ones that are already here. Second, enable the "word verification" option, which can be found on the Settings | Comments tab for your blog. (I lifted this text directly from Blogger Help.)
Stay sweet!