Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Dream Log: Poetry, Passion, Genius, Courage

I dreamed I was back at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, in the College Scholars' program of the College of Liberal Arts. In real life, I was a College Scholar in the last couple of years before my graduation in 1989, and was a few years older than most of the other undergraduates. In the dream, it wasn't clear what year it was or how old I was, but I might have been a few years older than I had been as a real-life undergraduate. I seemed to have a little bit more perspective on things, and even gave some fatherly or mentor-ly advice to some of the other College Scholars, which was certainly not the case in real life in the 1980's.

An example of my having more perspective: I never studied well for tests in real life. In my dream, I was taking a class on English poetry. Although I still had the tendency to space out when it came to preparing for tests, in the dream I was more concerned about this tendency, and struggling against it just a bit: I asked the professor what to expect on the final exam; then I apologized and said quite honestly that I had been spacing out during her answer, and asked her to repeat it. Even after she told me a third time what to expect on the exam, I was not clear about what to expect, and I began to wonder whether the professor herself had any clear notion of what the exam was going to be like. Or perhaps she just didn't believe in describing an exam in too much detail in advance. In any case, I had all of the xeroxed poems which she had given to the class, and was going to study them all quite closely before the exam. And I had my lecture notes, and not all of them were evidence of ADD.

The Knoxville campus is quite hilly. I was at a high point, geographically, on the campus, and I had to get to a low spot very quickly. I didn't have a car, but I had a bicycle. And it was raining very hard, so hard that visibility was impaired somewhat. Still, I told myself that I had to zoom downhill through the rain and thunder.

My bike was a road-racing model, not a dirt bike designed to go over bumps and jumps; still, as I zoomed downhill, I reasoned that if I went around the several flights of steps along my way, the grassy regions through which I would go might be muddy and treacherously slippery because of the downpour. So it might be safer to stay on the concrete all the way down, even if the steps were a bit of a jolt. So I zoomed over those several flights of steps, trying to make my arms and legs give a bit to act as shock absorbers and relieve some of the stress on my bike. I was also a bit nervous that cars and buses might emerge suddenly from the deluge and onto a collision course with me.

But I got through in one piece, and my bike's frame didn't bend and its tires didn't go flat. It was a thrilling, very fast half-mile or so.

Later, I was hanging out with a few of my fellow College Scholars in the Student Center. One of them, a tall, flabby lad with glasses, was particularly passionate about poetry, and had already begun to have his poems accepted and published by prestigious journals across the country. He was talking about poetry and getting a little bit carried away. When he said something about poetry turning everyone into geniuses, I replied that it obviously hadn't done so yet, and made a gesture encompassing the Student Center and its widespread mediocrity.

A couple of our fellow Collage Scholars snickered, and the bespectacled young poet looked crestfallen. I hastened to modify my remark, telling him that he was certainly right that poetry could have a powerful effect. Perhaps not with huge masses, but with individuals. Poems could and did inspire people to do better, I said: they could lend one person the courage to ask someone out on a date, give another person the courage to do something which was noble and good instead of what was easy, encourage individuals here and there to be more open to the beautiful and true things in life. They could encourage someone to write a brilliant poem him- or herself, or compose a song or paint a picture, which in turn could inspire who knew how much good and worthwhile effort.

I looked at the two of our companions who had snickered, and added, "I'm sure that even these cynical weasels have had moments when they've been better people, as a direct result of some poem or another."

I was saying these things partly because I believed them, and partly because I was afraid that I might have damaged the young poet's fragile spirit. Whether because they believed what I had said, or because they, too, were afraid that they might have hurt the poet, or both, or for whatever reason, the two weasels who had snickered said that I was perfectly correct.

I went on: it was a struggle, being any sort of artist, but the effort was unquestionably worth it. I added that things might seem more bleak for us because we lived in the middle of an enormous nation which appreciated poetry much less than did some other countries. In some places, huge passionate crowds gathered on a regular basis to listen to poets recite their works. Perhaps, in places like those, masses actually were converted into geniuses.

I went on: but what was genius, anyway? It was one of those words, like love, over whose definition people always seemed to disagree. In any case, I said to the poet, I was honored to know a talented artist at the beginning of a great career. I said that because I meant it, and the others said they agreed.

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