High School Poetry

Since most of us are closet megalomaniacs, we are sometimes tempted to Google our own names. Out of equal parts boredom and curiosity, I find this little secret search entertaining, especially when I discount everything Dears-related and Blog-related. What I’m left with is a handful of old things I wrote, mostly from when I was among the first-generation of the now rampant “bitter music journalist.” But then there’s this nugget, this little, mini scrap from my past: high school poetry. I will have you know that “Bowl of Trail Mix” was selected as the “Cool Poem of the Week,” but really I can’t think of anything less cool than being the author of a poem deemed cool by teachers.

I have a philosophy that I stand very strongly by: that we are all forgiven for everything we did from birth to the age of 18, with an emphasis on the period that spans across the teen years. At any rate, my grade 12 English class, taught by Mr. Pendergrast, participated in some kind of electronic writer’s workshop, back when computers were just invented and class handouts were still being printed by hand-operated mimeographs in the teacher’s room. Ok, not that far back, but, seriously: almost. So a few of us major nerds in English class would bring in our poems, and give them to Mr. Pendergrast. He would then type them up and actually send them by EMAIL to this Writers In Electronic Residence (WIER) message board (or BBS, as they used to be called). Other students from across the province (Ontario) would then read and comment on our poems, and we would do the same for our peers. Anyhow, I remember I thought it was so amazing that, in addition to other students, real, published authors would read and comment on my work! So I basically felt legitimised as a writer, and sailed out on a downward spiral of romanticism. I mean, really, aside from a career in academics, what the frig are you going to do with a degree in English/Creative Writing? What, become an author? Undergrads, listen now and listen hard: other than a valid reason to drink heavily, a degree in Creative Writing will only make you want to put down the pen and never write again. Who needs a bunch of middle-class ding-dongs critisizing your art? I mean, that’s what Pitchfork is for…YEOUCH!

But my bad high school poetry story doesn’t end there. August, 23, 2007: it was a rainy night on the patio of a Toronto hipster bar, where my friend Amanda unveiled the dark secret that was not meant to leave the realm of Google search results: she had stumbled upon a fellow WIER writer, who remebered my crappy poem. So my next project is to somehow reconnect with this person, who I recall conversing with a decade ago, via a strange, pre-internet medium.

To Be Continued…

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5 thoughts on “High School Poetry

  1. Holy crap, Susan Musgrave gave you feedback?! Now that’s truly cool. I hope you manage to get in touch with the writer of which you speak!

    I completed a BA in Creative Writing AND Philosophy. Because CW didn’t seem weird enough on its own.

  2. > we are sometimes tempted to Google our own names.

    Hello Natalia:
    My name is Trevor Owen, and I am the founder and current program director of the Writers In Electronic Residence (WIER) program. As it happens, I keep a “Google alert” running so that I can see what sort of activity there may be about WIER, so your blog entry popped up.

    First, then, many thanks for your insights. There are a couple of things that struck me about your comments that I thought you might be interested in knowing, so I am writing to offer these, and to respond with a few thoughts of my own.

    I’m sure everyone shares your view that:
    > I have a philosophy that I stand very strongly by: that we are all
    > forgiven for everything we did from birth to the age of 18, with an
    > emphasis on the period that spans across the teen years.

    I recall seeing an interview with Bruce Cockburn (on CBC, I think) in which he was asked to reflect on his body of work, and whether he was embarrassed by any of his earlier writing. He said he wasn’t because he had always done his best, and this seems to me to be a worthy insight into one’s past work.

    Another, which I don’t have here (but which may be at the WIER office) is a lovely poem by Lionel Kearns, who was the first writer in electronic residence (in 1988…) that considers the value of destroying one’s past work in order to avoid embarrassing oneself (which, happily, he didn’t do!) If I can find this, I will try to remember to post the information here for you. (I can update now—it is “Silences” in a volume of Lionel’s poetry called “Ignoring the Bomb.”)

    In any case, a couple of thoughts. When you say:
    > But then there’s this nugget, this little, mini scrap from my past:
    > high school poetry. I will have you know that “Bowl of Trail Mix” was
    > selected as the “Cool Poem of the Week,” but really I can’t think of
    > anything less cool than being the author of a poem deemed cool by
    > teachers.

    I want to note that it is the writers, and not the teachers, who submit student writings to “The WIER Tap,” our annual online publication, from which selections for our “Cool Poem of the Week” feature are drawn. Judging from the writers who responded to you in this case (Susan Musgrave, and Daniel David Moses) I would assume that either, or both, of them selected your work. To my mind, that’s high praise. (Indeed, didn’t you have two pieces selected for the Cool Poem feature?)

    Over the years, I think I have received two requests from former WIER students to remove their work because it didn’t represent who they were now, which I have been happy to do, of course (and I appreciate that you have not done this), but usually—overwhelmingly, really—we receive much more positive response, like this one, from poet Souvankham Thammavongsa, who wrote to say:

    “When I was in high school our creative writing teacher signed our class up for WIER. My poem was chosen as the Cool Poem of the Week. I thought I should share with you the news that just last year I had my first book of poems, Small Arguments, published by Pedlar Press. I wanted to say thanks for setting up a community where we can get feedback from practising poets. It’s hard to find someone who will take you as seriously as you do when you are young.”

    which I see as consistent with your remarks:
    > I remember I thought it was so amazing that, in addition to other
    > students, real, published authors would read and comment on my work!
    > So I basically felt legitimised as a writer

    as it is WIER’s aspirations. (That said, I appreciate that you are also making another point about the value of studying creative writing, at least insofar as the influence of this on future work is concerned.)
    > At any rate, my grade 12 English class, taught by Mr. Pendergrast,
    > participated in some kind of electronic writer’s workshop, back when
    > computers were just invented and class handouts were still being
    > printed by hand-operated mimeographs in the teacher’s room. Ok, not
    > that far back, but, seriously: almost.

    Well, you are not far off, that’s for sure! WIER opened in 1988, well before the Internet was ubiquitous (which I think most agree happened in the mid-1990s), and there is no question that participating teachers went to extraordinary lengths to bring their students in to WIER, particularly in its early years. Happily, things got much better technologically, and now pretty much anyone who wants to participate is not seriously impeded by technological limitations. I remember Mr. Pendergrast well, and appreciated his efforts.
    > Other students from across the province (Ontario) would then read and
    > comment on our poems, and we would do the same for our peers.

    I will add one correction, and note that by the time you were participating, WIER was a national program in Canada, which it still is today (indeed, WIER will celebrate its 20th. anniversary in 2007-8!) Even in the first year, it involved schools from Ontario and B.C.
    > But my bad high school poetry story doesn’t end there. August, 23,
    > 2007: it was a rainy night on the patio of a Toronto hipster bar,
    > where my friend Amanda unveiled the dark secret that was not meant to
    > leave the realm of Google search results: she had stumbled upon a
    > fellow WIER writer, who remebered my crappy poem. So my next project
    > is to somehow reconnect with this person, who I recall conversing
    > with a decade ago, via a strange, pre-internet medium.

    I think that’s great, Natalia. I hear about this sort of thing from others as well, now and then. In fact, I have recently (really, just) opened a Facebook group for WIER alumni and others who have been involved from time to time. If this interests you, please send a note to me there, and I will add you to the group.

    Cheers
    Trevor

    Trevor Owen
    Program Director, Writers In Electronic Residence
    http://www.wier.ca/

  3. A quick note to let you know that WIER has opened a Facebook group for WIER alumni–students, teachers and writers–as well as staff, friends and supporters who have been associated with the program.

    The “Wired Writers” group is available at http://www.facebook.com/ under Organizations – Academic Organizations. Please join us.

    Cheers
    Trevor

  4. Hello Natalia, and greetings from Glasgow.

    Writers In Electronic Residence (WIER) is celebrating its 20th anniversary with an event on Nov. 18, 2008 (4:00 – 6:00) and I’d like to send an invitation to you. We are using “eVite” for this, so if you could contact me via the WIER web site, below, and let me know where to send it, that would be lovely.

    We expect a number of authors, teachers, and other WIER alumni to attend.

    Hope you can make it!

    Cheers
    Trevor

    Trevor Owen
    Program Director, Writers In Electronic Residence
    http://www.wier.ca/

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