While flipping through some of the poems in one of the journals Ben Aleshire brought in for today’s YAS, the title of one poem by Robert McKay got my attention. “To be a tourist in your own city,” I read. In my experience poetry is never just “skimmable,” however since I had both a strong desire to read the poem and listen to Ben share his stories and theories I had to ignore my past experiences.
make your eye a nomad,
go up to churches and strange
cathedrals in the midday heat
of a weekday and press your face
against the windows. Act like this
toward every part of your city,
like an infidel, a barbarian,
like someone deliberately lost.
Forget how to speak. Enter
the restaurants and order
the strange names with gestures.
Taste those alien words like fruit,
like the fruits of another planet
on which you are marooned,
these fruits which may bring death,
or visions, or eternal youth.
– from Cities of Rain
Wow, I thought. I really liked that – simple as that. I read it again, but this time I envisioned the “city” as the campus, and the “church” as Gunnison, and the “restaurants” as the Pub and Dana. Ben said regarding his typewriter poetry that people have told him after receiving their poems, “Oh my God! That is exactly what is going on in my life. This is me.” It’s like when you listen to a song on your laptop or the radio and find ways for the words to relate to yourself. Maybe the words never related to you until that moment. Perhaps, one of the beauties of art is that even though something isn’t intended to speak to you personally (because the artist doesn’t know you), you make it speak to you personally; it’s as if the poem was written for me or the song was written for me. I suppose I made this poem written for me. I envisioned myself walking around campus by myself with the intention of wandering: no obligations or care for the time. I am not speaking, rather I’m using all of my senses to engage with SLU non traditionally, by touching the buildings as I walk by or tasting things on the menu that I’ve never ordered. I pretend I’m a visitor who only has one day on campus.
The semester – the last one for the seniors – is almost coming to an end. As Ben quoted, people can sculpt their own realities; poetry isn’t just about reflecting on “what is.” This poem calls me to action, to embrace my last few weeks here until summertime. I encourage you to find a poem, or song, or story that was made for you. Be a sculptor.