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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Formative (3)

So the decision to be a poet took root in me and determined the rest of my life. I continued to read fiction assiduously, but studied poetry quite intensely. I wrote, of course, but I had this naive notion that you also had to know about the art form itself. I was already a little professor. I studied X.J. Kennedy's textbook. My dad had some anthologies like Oxford Book of American Poetry and English Poetry. I wore out a copy of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

I went through an intense Cummings phase, like probably every other kid who likes poetry. I bought the paperbacks, individual books that were not expensive. Then I saved up to buy his collected poems, which I think cost all of 12 dollars in the early 70s. I moved on to WCW, Berryman, and then to all the New York School poets.

By Junior High I no longer read children's books very much. (The "Young Adult" category did not yet exist, thankfully, or existed but held little interest.) Our class would in elementary school would order books from scholastic. I would be given the box to carry my books home in, since I would have 15 or 20 compared to one or two for the rest of the class. Soon, though, I put aside childish things. I devoured Bradbury & Vonnegut.

So you could say I was "formed" by about 14. The entire stage from ages 8-16 was when I taught myself what I would need to be a professor. The missing element was language study. I actually learned the rules of French prosody in High School from a very traditional teacher, but my French was unsteady. I began Spanish in college, starting with a summer course slightly before my 17th birthday. I had a selected Neruda at home, that I had read before I knew a word of Spanish.

Many people are talking now of GGM being a formative influence in getting into this field. In college those of us who were interested in Spanish wanted to read all of García Márquez, Cortázar, etc... This was close enough in time to the boom that the boom was still actually occurring. It was not until I went to Spain that my interest shifted to peninsular. I would have been a Latin Americanist, but I went to Stanford and the Latin Americanists there were dogmatic Marxists with a deep contempt for literature. I was forced back into peninsular, because it was what I already knew. I had read most of Galdós, except for the 36 historical novels.

I could have been a classicist. I excelled at Latin in college, then took an intensive Greek workshop. I promptly forgot ancient Greek because I was going to be a modernist, so my timing was off. I didn't care for grammar-translation, the method for teaching classics that still persists today. I could have been an English professor too, but it seemed to me that I already knew that tradition. German was not attractive to me, though I was a great reader of Kafka. Italian seemed to small and narrow. I knew modern French poetry fairly well, but I didn't like the ethos of French students: they seemed more ethereal to me.

6 comments:

clarissasblog.com said...

This is the best series of posts ever. I still can't resist a good Bildungsroman. :-) Will you continue the series?

Jonathan said...

Yes. TB continued...

profacero said...

This is why I cannot stand my department: dogmatic folklorists and applied linguists with deep contempt for literature and anything theoretical or analytical ... and dogmatic nationalists for whom literature is worthwhile as expression of national soul, y punto. And YET they think it is imprescindible that students know the canonical authors and the most standard line on their importance.

Jonathan said...

If they were actual folklorists that might be interesting. I assume you mean something else.

profacero said...

Yes -- I am not saying they are not interesting as folklorists, at least to some extent.

Andrew Shields said...

GGM and Kundera are probably why my doctoral thesis is on novelists rather than poets. I kept reading poets and getting distracted by novelists, as it were.