One of my favorite meal-time stories revolves around this poem. For after I wrote it, and read it to my 9th grade English Class, I wound up being asked to stay after school. In trouble? That’s what my fellow students thought. Instead, I was offered a career in an government agency that found interest in my love of codes and disciphering, my dabbling in speaking several foreign languages, and thought my plans at the time to be a foreign missionary would be a perfect cover to my “real” job. I’d tell you the rest of that true story, but then I’d have to kill you. (thats a joke!) Don’t want to risk my cover! In the end, after consulting with (duh) my parents, and even an “agent” of a foreign missions organization, I turned the offer down, including a scholarship to a college of my choice. But I have always been flattered that an agent on leave from the field, teaching high school English for one year as an undercover recruiter, would select me as a candidate. There’s more to the story, that must be saved for telling in person someday.
But the assignment was to write a sonnet – 10 syllable lines, and 14 total lines, of course. I wrote mine in mere minutes, and when I raised my hand and told the teacher I was done – he said I could turn it in in two weeks, or read it to the class now and he would “rip it to threads.” I found that option much too tempting, and in my youthful boldness, I chose the public shredding. I walked to the front of the class, and read my sonnet, which I still have memorized to this day:
A poem thought I’d write for thee from I,
In English old to help the time pass by.
For in this class whist I am now enrolled,
Learn I of poems that for years been told.
I find them boring and of little use,
Except on students boredom to induce.
Although I try they come across quite dull,
I’d rather blast a tape of rock n’ roll.
They call this form of lit’ature an art,
And then waste time to tear it all apart.
If it can not express in just one try,
Then leave it in the books and let it die.
But need I end this now say not I’m mean,
But of lines sonnets have but just fourteen.
Karl Bastian – 1987
Of course, the class liked the “rock n roll” line, even though I was not much of a rock n’ roller, unless early Mike Smith and Petra count! (good thing we had one sylable “tapes” and not two sylable “CDs” back then!) But the poem had a point I was trying to make. That we were often studying poems that even when they were originally written years ago no one knew what the author meant, and I believed that if the author wasn’t understood in his own time, it was silly to be studying him now. I’d rather be studying the prose, vocabulary, culture and purposes of a poet that was understand and appreciated in his own time, but that had lost that understanding only because of changing language and culture. Anyway, the teacher said only, “I’d like to see you after school” and the rest, well, I’ve already told you too much.
Gotta go, the phone in my shoe is ringing….