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Thursday, November 20, 2008
Poetry Readings (or, how to test a marriage)
There's a line in one of my son's favorite movies, National Treasure, which goes like this: "Albuquerque. See, I can do it too. Snorkel." It's said by bumbling, wise-acre apprentice treasure-hunter Riley Poole (actor Justin Bartha) in response to the main character, Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage), who is deciphering heavily cloaked clues in a century-old series of codes and ciphers. Gates is spitting out answers in a rapid blitz, and while he's correct, it sounds random, like this: "Key. Stain. Silence. Iron. Pen. Prison." That's when a confused Poole cracks, "Albuquerque. See, I can do it too. Snorkel."
It's also what my husband sometimes says when he comes along to a reading where poetry is on the agenda as well as prose. After a poet has concluded a particularly sketchy poem, built on esoteric language and unusual phrasing, a range of seemingly disconnected images and what sound like disjointed word combinations, that's when my husband turns to me – all the while clapping and smiling – and says, "Albuquerque. Snorkel."
He's not being snide. Any spouse who takes over parenting and household duties for weeks so his partner can attend an MFA residency, or spend weeks at an artists' colony, is never snide (at least in their spouse's presence) about creative writing. The thing is, there are poets and poems which I still find it difficult to listen to aloud. Even two years ago, when I first began to write some poetry, it still puzzled me. And, it often still does, though I no longer think it's a matter of tossing any old eclectic combinations of words on the page. (Now abstract painting, that's another matter….)
Maybe I hope that at some reading, some time, some poem will strike him as interesting and compelling not because it's "strange," but because it's good – to his ears. Not that I think I will be the one whose poem will transform my husband from poetry skeptic to poetry lover. Ha!
But this weekend, when I'll be reading my poetry in public for the first time, he won't be in the audience. I'll miss sitting next to him as others read their poems, so that I can lean my ear in close (during the applause, so others won't overhear): "I could do that. Albuquerque. Snorkel."
I'm sometimes tempted to say, "If you think it's so simple, go ahead and try." Then I remember that's what someone said to me a few years ago when I was a nonfiction-only snob who would never write poetry. Ever. See where that got me?
Anyway, he can't come because he'll be with the Cub scouts touring the Old Dutch Church and Sleepy Hollow cemetery. Shall I tell him Washington Irving also wrote poetry? Nah.