Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Back By Popular Demand

Poetry & Self-Identification

One of the perks of being a graduate student was a valid justification for keeping odd hours. All night vigils were common as I waited for an unaccustomed silence to give me respite from "dumbfoundry". Pulling all-nighters in search of a thesis, as though somehow the archetypal stream of consciousness was freer in the wee hours of the morning, was a common occurrence. Inevitably, the next day’s start would be delayed and often graduate tutorials were scheduled as late afternoon classes so as to accommodate both my professors and myself. My mind was never sharp in the mornings anyway. A very good argument might of course also have been made for bouts of afternoon obtuseness.

My afternoon starts meant that my departure toward a downtown university campus coincided with my father’s return from work. As I walked out the door I could see him making his way down the left side of the street. Sometimes he would emit a soft but audible whistle as I crossed the road in a huff hurrying toward the bus stop so that I might make my tutorial on time. But no matter how I cloaked it in that rationalization, it was a clear attempt at avoidance. The truth lay more in the fact that I was so preoccupied with breaking out of a “working class” mold that I even tried to physically avoid my working class origins.


Kathy Lou Schultz seems on the money when positing that with respect to university, “not everyone enters such a program with equal amounts of privilege and completing a degree while providing for the acquisition of particular cultural capital is not a great leveler.” (1) Albeit, education is mistakenly seen by the working class as a “way out” of the quagmire of this caste. But sometimes it’s more like owning a tuxedo with no place to go. Or as Schultz describes her own sense of marginality: “Amphibious, we live in both worlds, but belong to neither.” (2) And though we are indistinguishable from the “genuine” article in a Zelig type fashion we are always wary that we might be found out. We fret that “they” might see through us and realize that we really are vapid and uncultivated because we secretly prefer the Doors to DeBussy.

Still we want to be part of an intellectual community and/or a writer’s community. Wanting to be a poet only exacerbates the dichotomy as poetry and working class ethics seem to be diametrically opposed. There is little room for the quiet contemplation that is necessary to foster a rapport with the poem in the survivalist mentality which pervades the working class experience. Parents inevitably want their children to attain degrees that tout their professionalism to relative and neighbor alike. For my efforts I have a B.A. in Anthropology/ minor in Sociology and a M.A. in Sociology. My father still, to this day, doesn’t know quite why he sent me to university for and how to describe my educational achievements to significant others.And no, he doesn’t quite know what to make of my poetry either!


1&2 from "Talking Trash, Talking Class: What's a Working Class Poetic, and Where Would I Find One?" by Kathy Lou Schultz . This essay first appeared in tripwire: a journal of poetics, no. 1, Spring, 1998.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005



When you arrived in Athens
you discovered the Acropolis
was never named after a diner
down on Second Avenue and
the Parthenon could never fit in
your hand the way it always did
with coffee to go in a paper cup.
Your hotel was just blocks away.
At night you sat on the roof staring
at the ancient ruin, lights shining
on it—lit up like an old man
on good wine.

The next day you toured the Acropolis
so amazed you kept taking photos
of the Berilie gates, a few
columns, next the east cella, another
of a blonde in tight shorts. You pick
up a stone to put in your pocket
as a souvenir and to weigh you
down against the wind that kept
knocking your cap off like a bully
from the grammar school near plaka.
Below the east pediment stronger
gusts blow dust off the ground
spinning it into a statue of Athena
who stares into your face until
another gust blows her way.

In the Acropolis museum
a young statue of a sixth century
boy holds onto a calf that is
draped over his shoulders like
a sweater. You admire him since
you were never able to hold onto
anything for that long in your life.
Near him is a maiden with the kind
of curves in her stone you couldn't help
noticing. Even with her hands missing
along with a bit of nose, she still
looks hot and hasn't put on an ounce
of marble around the hips for centuries.

Outside you look down at Athens
that in the distance under the bright sun
looks like a path made of white pebbles
and beyond it the sea. You decide
to go for a swim and now
that you are convinced it takes more
than one god to run a universe,
you are able to jump up on a wall,
step down on rooftops and stroll
all the way to the Aegean.

© by Kevin Pilkington


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Revenge of The Herniated Disc. (Or how one bad disc corrupted the vertebral neighborhood.)

During the past decade or so I have battled with bouts of "sore backs" that have kept me inactive for weeks at a time, but never pain like this. This time, I’m in pain with a capital “P”. And no, it’s not emotional or spiritual or even creative in nature. (Although I could do with a little of the latter I guess – strife being good for the creative juices and all…) This is a throbbing, pulsating waterfall of pain emanating from my lumbar region [L4-L5 to be precise]; down my left leg ensconcing itself in my left foot. This is the pain, I surmise, that they must have been imagining when they coined the idiomatic expression: “Hitting a raw nerve.”

Thirteen years ago; (and no (even now) I do not suffer from “triskaidekaphobia” actually it’s a lucky number in an Italian’s book.), I was diagnosed with a herniated disk [L2-L3] and had a diskectomy to rectify the situation. My experience in hospital at the Montreal Neurological Institute had impressed on me how much the quality of one life may vary from another. Watching patients in glass-walled cubicles as they were constantly monitored by staff for any aberrant behavior lent a surreal, almost Orwellian tinge to the experience. The patient that affected me the most was a woman who in preparation for her surgery (I logically assumed: for a brain tumor) had had her head shaved and her scalp mapped out into quadrants (for obvious surgical purposes) much like something from a Clive Barker movie. The upshot being that Alighieri had it wrong: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory can all concomitantly exist – sometimes even in the same room.

Note: Thanks to those that e-mailed me to inquire as to why I had not been posting as often as “usual” whatever that is. I’m glad you noticed. Mille grazie.

Saturday, November 05, 2005