Cocking A Snook Too!

Independent, Irreverent Unschoolers – or at least one – Take On the Universe

Poetry Day – Part Deux February 15, 2007

Filed under: College Stuff,Literary Stuff — Meredith @ 5:49 pm

Look closely at the two Barbara Hamby poems I mentioned previously (Trigger Tries to Explain and Noli Me Tangere, Stupid) and see if you notice something I didn’t (at least not until it was pointed out to me – as my beloved/academically tense friend Julia would berate, “How simple are you?”). Go ahead, look. I’ll wait.

They are both written in a poetic form known as “ABCdarian”. Each line of Trigger appears in alphabetical order, thus:

Aw, Dale, he didn’t mean it when he said I was the

Best thing that ever happened to him. If he even said it,

Chalk it up to the RKO publicity machine.

Isn’t that cool? Noli Me is a little different, every other line is alphabetical (unless there are formatting issues in the version posted to this site, in which case I apologize. You are all intelligent enough to discern where the line breaks should be in such a situation, I assume).

Both poems are from her entirely ABCdarian collection of poetry, The Alphabet of Desire, the only copy of which I was able to grab from the school library (ha!). Ms. Hamby spoke of her love for the ABCdarian format today in class, as I sat there, to the best of my ability transcribed her lecture, and felt I should be wearing this t-shirt.

She said she began as a free-verse poet, but wound up moving farther and farther into form poetry because the format, ABCdarian in particular, allows her to uncover things she wouldn’t have.

“{ABCdarians} Just work for me…..You can have the best laid plans, but when you’re writing it jst happens in a moment…..I get into the zone so fast this way. Something in the form just works with my inner mechanisms.”

“If you find something that works for you, you stick with it. I like the mining analogy – If you’re a miner and you strike gold, you don’t say, ‘oh, okay, I’ve struck gold, I think I’ll go over to the other side of the mine now and see if I can strike gold there….’ No, you stay and you mine that gold!”

She acknowledged, though, that what she calls “double helix ABCdarians” (where the first letter of the each line is in alphabetical order and the last letter of each line is in reverse alphabetical order) does tend to “turn you into a kind of psychopathic nerd.”

But she made sure to emphasize the importance of a form freeing you in a way you wouldn’t expect. “You read it and you never think about the form…..Freedom and restriction work in tandem.” I’m reminded of a dance quote I can only half remember, about how you have to study, train for years, adhere to every minor detail, and then the lights come up and as you dance, you’re supposed to forget all of it. Excess within control.

She also discussed Trigger and Noli Me, as well as the whole Alphabet of Desire, in more detail. (“I sent it off {to the publisher} and as soon as it was in the mail I thought, ‘this is such a piece of shit’.)

“Does anybody know what Noli Me Tangere means?” she asked. “Anybody go to church?” As it turns out, “Noli Me Tangere” is what Christ said when raised from the dead and the disciples wished to touch him. It’s Latin for “don’t touch me.”

She talked more about her eighth grade class sneaking out to see Lysistrata. (“In those days, nobody ever told their parents anything.”)

“Is anyone familiar with Lysistrata?” she asked. As is often the case, my hand was the only one that went up. “Yes? Could you summarize?” she asked politely. “It’s really an anti-war piece,” I offered. “In which the women withhold sexual favors until the war stops.” “Yes, very good,” Ms. Hamby said, as the class murmured over a reference that suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense than it did five minutes ago. “That’s a really good idea,” I heard the girl across from me whisper, impressed.

Of Trigger, she says she wrote it the summer Roy Rogers died. She said she knew an English professor who said that “every poem needed a Trigger,” something to move it along, a theme, a touchstone – “I needed my Trigger,” she told us, fondly smiling over the pun she’d made for herself.

She said this poem was just the kind she enjoyed writing: “Pop culture with high culture…..I’m an omnivorous reader, my knowledge is really shallow, but wide.”

She also read both poems beautifully, obviously, how they are meant to be read, as opposed to last Tuesday’s sub, whom the entire class characterized as “awful”. As she read “Whoa, don’t get excited, Trigger,” the ‘whoa’, came out a neigh, a whinny, and I couldn’t help but smile.

“I tell my students they can write about anything. If I can write about a horse…..”

The most remarkable quote, though, was on the nature of poetry itself, and the nature of doing something for its own sake. And since I can’t really think of any other way to work it in, and I really really want to, I shall close with it.

“One of the great things about poetry is that there’s no money in it…..even in fiction, there’s the possibility of money. Poetry, there’s not, so you’re just free.”

Ms. Hanby’s other books are Delirium (1995) and Babel(2004). Her next collection is in the works and her tentative date of release is late 2008. (what am I supposed to do until then?)


One Response to “Poetry Day – Part Deux”

  1. […] college English, and can’t wait to get all to herself in some writing seminars: Poet Barbara Hamby makes words tango.. .makes icons tipsy, forgoes introductions, and forces perfect strangers out […]

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