Sunday, April 15, 2007

the emperor has clothes: everyone else is naked

thought of you a gajillion times this week. most fondly did i think of you when i went to a discussion session with a poet/critic who is a big fat deal everywhere, but especially here. since said poet/critic is on my reading list twice, i felt i should abandon the social anxiety disorder and go sit in the back of the room with a giant hat and sunglasses on.

earlier this week, i was bitching about this poet/critic: she's boring, she's not smart so much as she is disorganized which seems to be passing for "fragmented." additionally, yet again, a poet/critic has built a cult of personality based on opacity, cleverness, and postmodern chic. And yet...

when i saw her, i was charmed. she is a tiny woman, older than old, sensibly dressed in a properly boring new englandish outfit. around her, at a large conference table sat the graduate students and other tag-alongs dressed as if their appearance needed to be a poem published in the most fashionable rag. all haircuts, shoes, jewelry, scarves, glasses, "rag tag" clothes, adding up to a personal style that felt no more personal than a workshop-gone-bad poem-- each only slightly different than the next-- but all easily identifiable as part of a club. and a rather boring club, i'd say. i remember something different when you were around, but maybe i remember wrong. no i don't. we had the gamut: the lord of the rings pair, the button-up all american guy, D.D with socks with sandals and hemmed jean shorts, lord l.l. bean, and we (as a group) weren't really all that attractive, either (except you and me, dur). none of us had hip glasses yet.

but so. it's not about clothes, exactly, but what they mark: a very particular style of thought and language that often feels like a performance. a comment that purports to be "struggling with a concept" is not struggling at all, but is the bobbing and weaving of a voice that is of a particular tenor (not the one used at the bus stop) that says "i am complicated, i am modest about my brilliance, when i am done stammering, i will punctuate with a wrap-up that is not a question for the poet/critic, but a beautiful aphorism." and the poet/critic responds, kindly, but without the dressing, as she were at the bus stop telling the guy next to her about planting tulips.

i felt so apart, and for once, it felt so good. the students were smart, sure, but no smarter than me. i feel like i am, late in the game (i know), learning what i wish i had learned in jr. high, which is that the cool kids aren't so special-- they just wear matching clothes. and i've also learned that i should hold out judgment about poet/critics until i get to know their work and, better, them. because this woman was outstanding. she is considered a premier dickinson scholar-- who never went to college. never. never. just like emily. and, like emily, her work seems, on the surface to be something it's not.

all you poseurs can kiss her ass.

and you, sweet pea, can hold my hand and skip off into the sunset, triumphant in our dorkiness. and also our smartness.

and so. please forgive my usual rant about the state of affairs in academia. it was a visit with Uncle Tom that reinforced my belief in the off-the-beaten-track way to learn. you've learned it. i'm learning it too.

missing you terribly,

1 comment:

pea in a pod said...

wishing i were there to pass notes and count bad analogies.

miss you so much, dork of my heart. you are splendid in every way.