A fish, in the first person.
Yes, I know that is an abstract title. No, I’m not going to rewrite it for you.
I promise this will make sense if you read this in its entirety.
Recently, I have been rummaging through old papers and poems I have written. (I’m getting ready for grad school and I need to get my portfolio together.) To my delight, I came across a poem which I had completely forgotten about writing. This poem sent me on a trip down memory lane.
Four years ago, I was a student in Florida. I remember taking a creative writing class that, for many reasons, changed me. It shaped me into the writer I felt I needed to be me, not the writer I wanted to be. I won’t say that these changes weren’t for the best but they certainly came about in a way that was painful. Surrounded by elitism, I felt belittled by the other professor’s pets (in which I was included for a short time) and it ended up turning my beloved degree program in English into an arduous struggle to say the very least.
Now far removed from the everyday comings and goings of academia, I have, at long last, accepted I am a better analytical, expository writer than a poet. Conceding this point breaks my heart a little. It shatters more than one or two dreams but it is the truth. I poured hours and hours into writing intelligent, moving, otherworldly poetry. I would draft over and over, convinced my editing was never complete, laboring under my professor’s proclamation that “there is no such thing as writing — only re-writing.”
When I was assigned to write a short story, I put every ounce of effort into a twenty eight page piece. If anything ever represented all of my hopes and dreams mingled with all of my fears and doubts, it was in those very pages of paper. I remember sitting in my seat, tremulously waiting to receive my grade and to read through all of my comments and feedback from my professor. I beamed, in disbelief as I saw “A” scrawled across the front page. Imagine my devastation when the only comment came on the very last page, green ink scratching out “this didn’t spark or hold my attention.” I received an “A” because I had completed the assignment, not because it was any good. I set up a meeting to discuss what I had done wrong. I had to know what would make me better. Honestly, I needed to hear whether or not my professor thought I had any real talent for writing at all. In my brash, emotional state of youth, I felt it was too painful to continue on studying in a field where I would possibly never find work as a writer. I needed to hear raw honesty. I got it. His words thudded in my ears with violence. “Jennifer, you are too abstract for your own good.”
I began filling out papers to change my major to history.
Thankfully, my friends dragged me out of my pity-party and encouraged me to continue studying English. They assured me that one person’s opinion, even if it was the most important professor in the department, didn’t dictate the world. They were right. However, my professor was also right. I’m not a very good writer. Anyone who hangs around here long enough will agree that I’m wordy. My poetry really is terrible and I admit I’m abstract. I’ve learned (and have even attempted!) to rein in my defects in order to produce better quality pieces. As it turns out, all of those pieces have been non-fiction, non-poetry ( 😉 ). I’ve finally turned into the writer that my professor probably wanted me to be all along. I’m still not very good but I’m better.He’s a brilliant man and I am thankful for his tutelage.
Four years later, I am not a published writer but I am loving my job. I blog and journal to my heart’s content. Being “Freshly Pressed” was a total encouragment to me, as well as a surprise. No, my piece wasn’t the next great novel, nor was it a collection of poems that will win me the position of Poet Laureate. I have long since given up the idea that I may be a great novelist. It’s much better for me to write what I’m good at. It’s practical.
It isn’t very much fun though.
The poem I found was the last one I ever submitted for my creative writing professor. The assignment was to randomly pick out a photograph from a stack he had sitting on his desk. We had to write the poem based on the photograph. When it was my turn, I grabbed a picture of a school of fish. It looked very much like this.
What I ended up writing was ridiculous. It was an act of defiance. I rebelled. I had spent the rest of the semester trying to be more concrete and to be more concise. I worked myself sick trying to earn a “A” for talent, not because I completed the requirements. No matter what I did, I couldn’t spark his interest. So I decided to write what I really wanted. I was going to be silly and free spirited. I wrote as a fish, in the first person.
In my abstract mind, I imagined a very bright little fish going through an identity crisis. He wants to be an individual. Poor little protagonist fish! Not much alone time in a giant group. I envisioned him attempting to have a serious, existential monologue but being continually interrupted as his mates chime in, imitating him — anything to protect the group.
Anthropomorphism at its most ridiculous, I assure you.
I honestly don’t remember what my professor thought of this poem. I know that I enjoyed it. I showed it to a few friends and they found it amusing. They said it reminded them of one of my literary HEROES, Dr. Seuss. Many people didn’t understand what he was writing about at first. Critics thought he was a bit looney and abstract. I guess after all the ups and downs, I’ve landed in good company.
So without further ado, I present my poem
Here I am!
(…and I, and I!)
Yes, you are.
But I am here.
I am me.
I am me
and you, and him too.
And you are me,
in this sea.
One hundred thousand.
(…and you, and him too!)
Knowing and being
in circles and depths,
In numbers unknown.
I am blue.
(…and I, and I!)
As blue as the sea!
Yes, I am blue!
(and you, and him too!)