Captain, my Captain
May 26, 2007

Once upon a time, there was a book called Sound and Sense. And every Friday during my senior year of high school ... we worked on poetry in English class.

With all apologies to poets and would-be poets and enjoyers of poetry ... I friggin' hate most poetry. I adore Stevie Smith ... some Yeats ... ee cummings ... not a whole lot else. So, naturally, I was not ... shall we say ... enthused ... by English class on Fridays. I dutifully read ... considered ... and ... was mostly boreded. not because the words didn't move me, necessarily, but because poetry tends to be the last bastion of HIDEOUS conformity in American high schools. There is, according to many (but not all!), teachers of high school English, just one canonical interpretation of that poem.


That's not what poetry is supposed to be about. It's about free-thinking, free-association, non-conformity, not just thinking but BEING outside the box.

In short, poetry does not belong in the hands of the average English teacher. (And I say that as a former English teacher who taught for nine years.)

In fact, my high school English teacher (who also taught at the local university), thought that I was something of a screw-up who didn't necessarily belong in AP English.

The truth of the matter was that I had already learned a lesson which was of vital importance to some (but not all) students. School, ultimately, doesn't matter. It wasn't my life, although my mother wanted it to be ... although I already knew I wanted to go to college and grad school. Playing the game of School was not so important to me as finding my own way was.

So ... I'm watching the commentary to Dead Poet's Society, and I go to Wikipedia ... as I am wont to do ... and discovered something that made me laugh.

The hideous "excrement" that Mr. Keating has the boys tear out of their poetry book ... is ... in fact ... nearly word for word an early chapter of ... you guessed it ... Sound and Sense.

Now, what really cracks me up about this ... is that I was, as usual, boreded. That class was just nothing to me. Another 55 minutes when I really just wanted to work on my novel and ignore the class, like most of my classes senior year. (Umm, since about third grade, actually.) I did the work. I did the reading. I regurgitated what we were supposed to regurgitate. And, going through those Friday exams as quickly as I could ... I began writing a parody of the poem we were critiquing (after I'd written the required interpretation essay of the "real" poem, of course).

My teacher, bless her, told me what most of my teachers told me through the years: "If you'd just slow down ...."
Of course, that was before ADHD was recognized, really. I was going as slowly as I knew how ... but writing a parody of the poem was far more interesting to me than writing the "official" interpretation of the poem.

Eventually, though, I got boreded with that as well and began using that time to write poetry of my own rather than restricting my thought to simple parody of the poem in question.

One Monday ... as our teacher was handing the tests back ... she began talking about one student's interpretation of this poem. I believe it was called something about Mr. Z ... and it was a poem about being black in the United States. And she talked about how one student interpreted the deliberateness of the title as Mr. Z feeling like he was last in society because of his colour. Yanno ... Z is the last letter?

Apparently this was a somewhat novel interpretation.

She first attributed it to Kyungah. Then Susan. She went down the "rank" of smart kids.

Each one said they hadn't thought of that.

In truth, it was me. I waited for her to remember. But she just about when down the list of students by GPA.

Because high school is not about free thinking. It's about conformity. And I managed to not conform on a regular basis. I wasn't a jock, exactly. I wasn't what we called a "drama mama." I wasn't a nerd. I wasn't the typical honors kid, even.

No matter how often people wanted to put me in a box and shut it, I had a tendency to unseal the seams and combine jock and drama and honors and slacker ... all together in one chaotic and yet truthful package.

In short, I tried very hard to seize my days ... to think.

And so I wasn't terribly surprised when Mrs. Ward couldn't seem to realize that I had come up with this "novel" interpretation.

But when Dead Poet's came out just two short years after I graduated from high school ... I was surprised that another writer had tapped into "my" brain so very well. Had tapped into that desire to both please my parents and be myself all at the same time, impossible though that was.

Captain, my captain.
I stand before thee
before you all

and scream my barbaric YAWP
from the top of my mountain
from the top of my desk

It's not what I say
It's not what I saw
It's what I choose to do

It is not that the sheet which leaves the feet cold is too small
It's not that we stretch it and pull it
It's not that it covers aught but our face

It's that we try
It's that we do
It's that we are.

It is not Captain my captain.

We are our own captain.
We must own our decisions.
We must own our lives.

Posted by Red Monkey at May 26, 2007 1:00 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


jodi said:

The whole school system needs to be trashed..Of course I thought this back in the day and see it more and more with my children...
We bore them with the musts and skim by on what they may enjoy as it is not "normal" protocol for school...
We hide the realities of life with over protection and laud the works of so not modern realism..
As you know poetry is what seethes inside me, yet I see life as poetic all the time. I just place it into words..just thoughts on paper. We all have them and it should not be wrong how we express them. WHo says we need a style? Why can't we all have our own...a big frustration of my own in my battle to write as I see fit not as some professor(present company excluded) tells one too.. Yeah Yeah proper this and format that. THe foundations, the basics not something that should hammered with a fist. Ahhh but you get all this...
Great post endy!

May 26, 2007 8:52 AM


Noe said:

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June 16, 2007 5:55 AM
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