'Ff'lo (fflo) wrote,

poetry like potty training

Okay, I've told this story plenty, so I'm sticking it behind a cut. It's about this poet Kendra, who was a visiting prof at my school (and the cousin of one of the writers). She was my thesis advisor, and my thesis was poems---which felt like kind of a cop-out, compared to extended criticism or taking the comprehensive exams, but if you had a certain grade point you had all three options (vs. just the last), and how couldn't I cash that one in. I'm not saying I wasn't into writing the poems. I was. But it did feel a little like a cop-out.

Now Kendra, in the classroom, used to frustrate some of us, the way she was encouraging to everyone about everything. It felt as if she didn't have standards, or something like that, she stood in such contrast to our regular dude, who'd trained us well not to be all gushily attached to the sacred products of our creative spirits. And it messed with our making fun of people writing about teddy bears and other equally "aw geez" schlock. (Lord knows what the teddy bear woman thought of us, though; perhaps she just had the good grace to keep her contempt to herself.) The workshopping didn't feel terribly woodshed roll-up-yer-sleeves, though. So, though we adored her, there were some question marks in our minds about Kendra.

Turned out, when you took a poem to her office, that was another puppy entirely. She was merciless. Or opinionated and firm, which felt pretty merciless, in contrast to her classroom cheerleading. There was some poem my friend L tried several times to get her to get behind, and, as I remember that story, K was consistent and adamant---telling L there were just some poems you should take, put up on a shelf [gesture of careful shelf-putting], and (basically) leave there forever. !! Just like when she nixed my ode to my odometer tripping 100,000. A significant moment for the odometer, you know? Later I realized, thinking back on what stuff she did like, that she had a keen sense of what had the potential to be halfway decent. To have something notable going on. I just didn't fully appreciate it at the time.

So, let's see. I graduated and moved to Baltimore, where Kendra lived, and babysat for her little girl a few times, and then we fell out of touch for a while. A few years later L was in town, and we looked up ol' K and went by her place, where we sat on the porch to chat and catch up a little.

A little more digression about this woman here---why not. She had (probably has) a charm without guile. Warm but not bullshitty. Direct but not ---well, why try listing adjectives. "Good energy" might do. One of her poems was about coming to accept---nay, embrace---household clutter. The poem was cluttered too. But she wasn't. When she cut her groovy long hair and a few of us, sitting on the floor in the hallway between classes, complained mightily, she said it was liberating, described the feeling in some persuasive detail, and told me I should consider doing it sometime myself. As she was talking, she parted my hair down the back with her forefinger and directed each half to the shoulder on its respective side. That was the first time I ever saw the appeal of chopping the mop. And I can still feel her fingernail on the back of my head, moving down to the nape of my neck, and the rearrangement that followed. Shiver me timbers. Mm.

I could digress more, but I'm trying to tell you that story I'm always telling. When we were sitting there on her porch, me and L and K, I wanted to inquire about her daughter, and, to be goofy, I asked how that potty training had worked out. When I had last seen the kid, during that babysitting, LK (the daughter) had been doing the whole special little potty seat on the big potty, Everybody Poops bit, but here it was years later, so ha ha. But Kendra paused at the question, then smiled and told me that, matter of fact, LK's potty training reminded her of my poetry.

It seems that LK had had some hesitations about making the transition to using the potty. When she was almost 5, and getting ready to be in school, K & hubby had thought they ought to try to nudge the child toward independence from diapers, but they didn't want to lay down the law & traumatize her. So when LK offered a deal, they took it. "When I'm 5," said the kid, "I'll use the potty."

So a few weeks later LK's 5th birthday came around. But she didn't use the potty that day, or the day after. Or the day after that. At some point they confronted the child about the deal, and she said, "I didn't say I'd use the potty when I turned 5---I said I'd turn 5 when I used the potty." And thus, in LK's mind, she wasn't really 5 yet, cuz she hadn't yet been using the potty.

I took some comfort that language play isn't the worst thing you could be accused of by your poet advisor. And hoped one day I'd grow beyond mere trickery. And suddenly understood, a whole new way, the dismissive gist of (merely) "clever."

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