Sunday, August 16, 2009

Poetry 'n Ocean

Two thoughts I want to get off my chest today. First off, today was the first time the entire summer I went swimming. I find this terribly sad for several reasons. Number one, it's less than a week before I go back to school. I've had the entire summer, as well as a semester before then that I could have gone to the Y and jumped in the pool, but I never did.

Secondly, I really like swimming. Or if it's not that I like swimming, then I definitely missed swimming. It's safe to say that the last time I was in a pool prior to this was with a bunch of screaming day care kids, so "swimming" was limited to whatever you could do in a wading pool with a nice pipe system spewing water in a few different directions. Before that, the last time I was in a pool was in Slovenia during the choir trip last July. We had one night in that country, and the hotel we were staying at (absolutely gorgeous, by the way) had a pool. I went up there after a long day of sightseeing and generally being touristy and had so much fun jumping in a nice, relaxing pool. And with friends, too. Fun times to be had by all.

Though, if I could have the chance, I'd love to have a pool to myself for a day. Or if not a pool, then a nice stretch of beach. For some reason, I just like to be out there, swimming. I don't exactly have an aerodynamic body, but there's a really simple pleasure to be derived from pulling one's self through the water. You just float there, letting your own natural buoyancy keeping you afloat. Then you thrust both arms above your head and pull them back down to your waist in an arcing motion, and you're gliding along on your back. Add in an appropriately timed frog kick, and you've got the elementary backstroke. Lather, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat, and you've got bliss in its simplest form. You glide over the water, and the water glides past you.

Way back when I was a Boy Scout (a chapter of my life I usually neglect to mention, for whatever reason), I would go to the summer camp each year. The merit badges probably didn't mean as much to me as the mile swim that'd take place every year. On Monday, those interested would swim a quarter mile inside the confines of the roped-in waterfront area. On Tuesday, it'd be a half mile. Wednesday was given as a day off, and anyone left who was still up for it (usually just me, in the years that I went) would do the full mile on Thursday. Rather than sticking to the designated waterfront area, the mile swim started by jumping off the dock and swimming outside the yellow rope perimeter, out into the Allegheny Reservoir, going from the green buoy to the red buoy (intended as markers for speedboats), back and forth several times before coming back in to the dock. There would always be a rowboat or two sticking close by for safety purposes, but aside from that, I was alone in my own little world. I would switch from breaststroke to side stroke (switching sides periodically) to elementary backstroke and back to breaststroke, relaxing the entire way. There was no rush to get done in a certain time, so you could conserve all your energy and mellow out in the water. Of course, traditionally, as soon as I would get back to the dock, I'd always get a foot cramp, but it'd be worth it. An hour of constant swimming, with nothing in your way... It was bliss. I think I did the mile swim at least three times (maybe four, possibly five, but I can't remember). And at a ceremony at the end of the week, they'd recognize you with the patch and card saying you did it, but who cares. It's an elementary joy fulfilled out in the middle of nature, where the only thing stopping you from enjoying yourself is the guy in the rowboat telling you you've veered a bit off-course. ...So? Let me be.

I don't think I could ever do competitive swimming. Soon after I earned my Shark patch from the YMCA, I received a letter asking me to join the swim team. Which sounded all fun and dandy, but I think I passed because of other time commitments. I can pleasantly say that I do not regret this decision. Swimming was always a fun thing for me, and I don't think I could enjoy adding a competitive edge to it. If it takes me a bit longer to swim the length of the pool compared to the guy next to me, so be it. I enjoyed the trip more than he did. Fine, so I'd never get my name up on the board of records mounted on the wall of the pool room at the Y, and fine, I won't end up like Michael Phelps, but that's a loss I'm okay with. I'll just get my gold medals whenever competitive blogging becomes an Olympic sport. (Look ma, I'm qualifying!)

During the summer, I'm a generally boring person. It's rare that I take a "vacation" of any sort, except for the ones that are required (choir trips, etc.), and they're really not true vacations at all. You could say that I'm a workaholic and don't want to leave my insignificant part-time jobs to spend away my hard-earned money, you could say that I'm just intolerant to traveling, falling asleep on hour-long car trips and waking up cranky. Whatever reason it is, I just don't get out and see the world as I probably should. So when a reviewer friend of mine, John Bardinelli, told me he was visiting some friends along the coast, I was genuinely jealous. On one day, he wrote to me and said that he was playing Dragonball Z against the ocean. "You know, where you stand your ground, let the waves pound you while you block and let it push you back in the sand. I withstood over 9,000 waves, and I am in pain. The good kind of pain!" Now, whether or not he actually stood in the ocean and faced incoming waves all day long while screaming for no apparent reason while his hair turned large and an aura of energy started to flare up around him, or if he just spent the day playing around in the water getting knocked back by the occasional large wave, I haven't the slightest idea, but in either case, there was nothing that I wanted more than to be right there at that moment. I missed water.

So this was probably the first time I've swam since last year. I had to leave the pool early due to other commitments, but I enjoyed every moment I was in there. I still got a bit of sunburn, despite putting on some lotion beforehand, but who cares. I was in my element for a while, and there was nothing that could stop me from enjoying it.

Pseudo-related: The I-fluid review finally went up today. I felt that I needed to include that, not just for plugging purposes, but also so there's a little more clearly-defined break between the first portion of the post and the upcoming second.

I can't say I really understand poetry. I know I ranted about my dislike of poetry before, but a new thought has crossed my mind regarding poetry, comma, what is. If I understand the basics of written language decently enough, then I think it's fair to say that the "opposite" (for lack of a better term) of "poetry" is "prose". Or, that which is not written in verse or meter or what-have-you is of the essay nature.

But what's really the difference between the two? The reason I ask this is because last night, I turned on the radio to A Prairie Home Companion while traveling to the Warren County Fair. Oops, sorry, I meant to give a few moments to acknowledge some fun times I had at the fair... And we're done. So I turned on to the radio to PHC, and I recalled in the adverts airing earlier in the week that said this was (I think) their annual poetry show, with much of their skits, songs, and guests dedicated to things poetic and bardly. I turned the radio on right as William Farley, the 2009 winner of Poetry Out Loud, was announced to read Langston Hughes's Theme for English B. It was an interesting poem, but the thing that caught my ear was how he read it. The poem didn't seem to have any rhyming scheme or set meter, so I wondered, if someone were to come in right when the poem started, having not heard the introduction and knowing that it was a poem, would they be able to tell it was a poem and not just prose?

Consider the following sentence: So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the chickens. It's an awkward sentence yes, and that's not even counting the punctuation I tried adding in. That poem, presented above in "prose" form, is presented again in its original "poetry" form:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

William Carlos Williams, everyone. Let's give 'em a hand. That was XXII, or The Red Wheelbarrow, depending on who you ask. I'm not going to try to elaborate on the meaning of that (cough) poem, I'll leave that to someone else's blog. Besides, I've already told you that I can glaze over poetry like any piece of prose, so I'm now left to ask, what's the difference?

Modern poetry (ie, just about anything that wasn't written on the title page of a Berenstein Bears book or by Shakespeare himself) seems to relish in the free-form poem, where rules of rhyming and meter go out the window, as well as proper grammar, capitalization, and spelling. This seems extremely unfair to me, as I have had numerous English teachers in the past who have asked me to write poetry, expecting proper meter and rhyming. I had one teacher who deducted a point or two for a "near-rhyme", something like trying to rhyme "elation" with "devotion", where the last syllable rhymes (or, it is the same), but not the preceding syllable. "Elation" and "decoration", perhaps, but "devotion" just wasn't going to cut it. Come freaking on, what did you really expect from us? I would have loved to have written a paragraph about my dog (which I never had), then broken it up into random phrase segments with punctuation peppered in like... well, like salt, and handed that in to the teacher. But no, everything's gotta be either AABB or ABAB. (There's an ABBA joke in here somewhere... Poetry is my Waterloo?)

The rules of what poetry were and weren't changed as we got older and started to experience more exotic writings. Things weren't as cut-and-dry as a Shakespearean sonnet anymore, and this is probably where my hatred for poetry started. There was no longer any defining line for what could be considered poetry, so long as, and I'd recommend reading this next part as though you were a high school drama teacher, it had emotion. So long as it was flowing from your heart to your paper, it was poetry. So now, when asked to write poems, we (or at least, I) had the impression that it had to be some lovey-dovey bag of sap in order to be poetry. I now know better, but when you're asked to "write from the heart" about something you don't really care about, it's really hard, and almost a bit painful.

I apologize for going a bit off-topic, what I really wanted to discuss was what the difference between poetry and prose was. My answer: There is no difference, it's just how drunk the guy running the printing press is. And in order to prove my point, I thought it would be totally neat to write this entire blog post up to this point in rhyming iambic pentameter, with ABAB rhyme scheme. It wouldn't be very pretty. In fact, most of the end-of-line rhymes would be mid-sentence or possibly even mid-word, but so long as every tenth syllable held some sort of rhyming power, who would care. Of course, to prove my point, I wouldn't reveal this until now, and then I'd include a portion written in proper iambic pentameter form, just to show you what I had done right underneath your nose without you realizing it. But I have nowhere near enough rhyming skill to be able to pull that off, so the idea was quickly dropped.

But coincidentally, while looking up the name of the poem and whatnot that had appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, I noticed that a listener had written in to Garrison Keillor, asking why rhyming wasn't a part of poetry anymore. GK's response, which I strongly encourage you to read, gave a fun-poking answer to the question, putting much of the blame on the listener's hometown of Berkeley, CA. However, it was done in rhyming couplets. There doesn't seem to be any meter, but every pair of lines rhyme. However, if you took out the spaces and extra capitalization and read it as a paragraph, you could get the exact same response, but without the jerky stop-and-go of a poem. I really wish I could quote the poem here, because he goes on to elaborate on the actual nature of poetry and what it's intended for, but strangely, I truly feel afraid to post something here for the first time because of legal reasons, knowing I'll somehow mis-cite it, and this is the first poem from someone still alive that I would've posted in this blog, so I know he can still sue me for it. I do strongly encourage you to go and read the letter with the title "No Time for Rhyme?" here, and if you're reading this some time later and the post has disappeared from the front page, find it in the July '09 archives, second one down.

The bottom line: Poetry confuses me in uncomfortable ways. If not by the deeper meanings of a lot of poems, then by how they're supposed to be written, read, and enjoyed. The rules of poetry have been bent more than an overused paper clip, and the line between poetry and prose is becoming so thin, it's practically non-existent. I'd like to think this is one of the reasons why I find it so hard to get an emotional rise out of poetry, and a lot of other songs and lyrical media. I don't know how to elaborate further on these thoughts, but just know that I would be more than willing to jump into your swimming pool this week if you have one available. (Nice dodge, that.)

1 comment:

ksekelsky said...

There once was a man from Nantucket...

(I will read all of this latter. just had time to skim it while at work)