Friday, October 01, 2004

On jealousy

So far in these far-flung conversations we've been having, we've mostly centered upon envy generated between peers who aren't necessarily our neighbors, who are poets we read about but don't always know. I'm going to turn the way-back machine all the way back to grad. school. What better breeding ground for ugliness, right? Well, not always. At SIU, the environment was healthy, supportive, and generally a good place to be. My last year there, my third, I took one last workshop, mostly to hang out with a friend who had just started her MFA there. So my expectations for the class were pretty low-key. And the workshop moved along for, let's say, the first two months without incident. However, one of the poets began turning in a series of poems in which a characted named Paul began dying various increasingly bizarre deaths. The first one was something I noticed, of course, something that raised an eyebrow, but not something I gave much more thought to. A few more followed in the weeks after that and with them that poet's critiques on my poems began to grow more and more personal in nature, nearly seething. The last night I ever attended that workshop his poem ended with the wack-o image of Paul popping a zit, getting brain fever, and falling over dead. In concert with that, he launched into the most blatant of his broadsides. I still remember the line that set him off:

Here comes the lapidary lank of summer

The alliteration drove him mad because no one was criticizing me for using it when it seemed every other time someone else used it it was criticized. Of course, there was no injunction against alliteration. He couldn't seem to grasp there were good and bad uses of it, of any poetic device, and that it was all in execution. Which is not to say the above line is particularly great. From there on, he began to rant about how "Paul is allowed to get away with things in his poems" that no else could and that there was a "double standard." He probably went on for five minutes while the workshop tried to steer him back towards talking about the poem. He fell quiet for a moment, then launched right back into his screed. Finally, I said, "Do you have some problem with the poem or is your problem with me?" He didn't say anything at first, then, unbelievably, began to start up again. I don't get angry easily. At all. Those of you who know me well know what I'm like. But I couldn't sit there anymore so I said, "Look, you've made your point. Very well. Why don't you shut your mouth." All the air rushed out of the room and we took a hasty break. I left and never went back to that workshop.

If only that were the end of the story. The next couple of weeks he went around telling people that I was a "tyrant" in workshop and that I'd stolen his lunch money and told a lot of jokes about his mama. Well, I'm kidding about the lunch money and the mama jokes. I didn't say anything in return. I didn't want to be any more involved in drama. Shortly thereafter, a friend had to talk this poet about some matter unrelated to all that. I can't recall what. He was agitated, saying he couldn't talk, he had to walk to X., the same place my friend was going. So he walked with him and it's here that the story turns truly strange.

All of a sudden, he spins around to face my friend, jabbing his finger in his face, his voice high.

"I want you to know that I pray every night for Paul to die."

My friend was taken aback.

"He will never be a poet, he is nothing, he is a crap-a-zoid in a metal container."

Italics are obviously mine. He stormed off. The tale of woe continues on from here, devolving into more absurdity: the department wanting absolutely nothing to do with it or about it, except pretend it didn't happen; the police showing up at my door after my neigbor, who I'd idly mentioned it to in a would you get a load of this sense, called, concerned; the department, only then, looking into it, scheduling a meeting with a University lawyer. The solution? We had to sign, in essence, a gag order, that we wouldn't talk about it to anyone or talk to each other. Which was ok by me and I held to that agreement. But he didn't, as people, who knew him, began to shun me, and those who didn't would ask me in the halls what was happening. I told them I couldn't talk about it.

All this helped ruin my last year of grad. school. It does not really contribute much constructive to this discussion except to say, jealousy between poets? I got that covered right here.


What a nutty episode, and a touch disturbing. A crap-a-zoid in a metal container. An unwell mind, I suppose.


shanna said...

oh. my. goodness. that is more that a "touch disturbing." that dude sounds completely unhinged. i'm glad it was just bluster!

Paul said...

Isn't that just nutso? Geez.

Victoria Chang said...

Well! I love your story and the dialogue. Perhaps we have a fiction writer trapped in there somewhere. What an a$$. Well, that fella can shove your lovely book of poems up his a$$. I think we have similar demeanors you and I, but this one would put me over the top. Don't you worry, he'll get his (if he already hasn't). We all love you, don't we?

aimee said...

ho-leeeeeee molee.

Paul said...

Oh, God, fiction. I couldn't do it. All those words! Memoir, maybe. Friends have often encouraged me to write one and I started last summer. But I got bored. And there were poems to write. :)

Eduardo C. Corral said...

Gosh, what a nightmare! Either he had an unhealthy crush on you, or he realized his writing was never going to be as good as yours. And your department did nothing? That scares me as much as the actions of this nutty guy. O my gosh, what if he reads your blog? Great, we all could be on his shit list now. In that case, I'm Matt Shindell. Not Eduardo C. Corral. Yes, call me Mr. Shindell.

Paul said...

That's right, Mr. Shindell. And I'm, umm, James Tate, yeah, that's the ticket.

Seriously, I didn't know this guy all that well. A lot of people have suggestd the crush; he was gay, yes, but I've never assumed it was crush-related. Maybe so.

Yeah, the dept. totally wanted to sweep it under the rug, essentially hoping it was all a bad dream. When my neighbor, concerned, reported it, that's only when the dept. sort of did anything.