I keep my visions to myself

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2020-06-25 03:36:02

    In the first poetry workshop I ever took my professor said we could write about anything we wanted except for two things: our grandparents and our dogs. She said she had never read a good poem about a dog. I could only remember ever reading one poem about a dog before that point—a poem by Pablo Neruda, from which I only remembered the lines “We walked together on the shores of the sea/ In the lonely winter of Isla Negra.” Four years later I wrote a poem about how when I was a little girl I secretly baptized my dog in the bathtub because I was afraid she wouldn’t get into heaven. “Is this a good poem?” I wondered. The second poetry workshop, our professor made us put a bird in each one of our poems. I thought this was unbelievably stupid. This professor also hated when we wrote about hearts, she said no poet had ever written a good poem in which they mentioned a heart. I started collecting poems about hearts, first to spite her, but then because it became a habit I couldn’t break. The workshop after that, our professor would tell us the same story over and over about how his son had died during a blizzard. He would cry in front of us. He never told us we couldn’t write about anything, but I wrote a lot of poems about snow. At the end of the year he called me into his office and said, “looking at you, one wouldn’t think you’d be a very good writer” and I could feel all the pity inside of me curdling like milk. The fourth poetry workshop I ever took my professor made it clear that poets should not try to engage with popular culture. I noticed that the only poets he assigned were men. I wrote a poem about that scene in Grease 2 where a boy takes his girlfriend to a fallout shelter and tries to get her to have sex with him by tricking her into believing that nuclear war had begun. It was the first poem I ever published. The fifth poetry workshop I ever took our professor railed against the word blood. She thought that no poem should ever have the word “blood” in it, they were bloody enough already. She returned a draft of my poem with the word blood crossed out so hard the paper had torn. When I started teaching poetry workshops I promised myself I would never give my students any rules about what could or couldn’t be in their poems. They all wrote about basketball. I used to tally these poems when I’d go through the stack I had collected at the end of each class. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 poems about basketball. This was Indiana. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. I told the class, “for the next assignment no one can write about basketball, please for the love of god choose another topic. Challenge yourselves.” Next time I collected their poems there was one student who had turned in another poem about basketball. I don’t know if he had been absent on the day I told them to choose another topic or if he had just done it to spite me. It’s the only student poem I can still really remember. At the time I wrote down the last lines of that poem in a notebook. “He threw the basketball and it came towards me like the sun”