I have a way of always picking really time-consuming HASS classes. This semester, with two of them, Roman History (21H.302) and Reading/Writing Poetry (21W.756), I’m almost as stressed out about my HASS classes as lab and 8.06. I really love both these classes though. I’m this walking encyclopedic source of knowledge about the trials of Ancient Rome covered in yesterday’s assigned reading, and I’m feeling more well-read every day with these contemporary (-ish) poets that I’ve never heard of before. Take today, say, I got up at 5:30am to start studying for my 8.06 midterm tomorrow, but, writing a response to Robert Creeley’s “A Wicker Basket” just seemed way more attractive, so I did that instead. The poetry class I take is small (4 students, one prof, total), together we make a writing major, a physics major (that’s me), a mechanical engineer, a premed (I think), and a poet. Bill, that’s who teaches the course, taught a class 2 semesters ago that I took called Writing and Experience (21W.731), that turned out to be my favorite class that term (the others were 8.04 8.044 18.703 and 7.013, which, actually, all were pretty good– that was a good semester for me). Anyways, that’s why I’m back. Also, I really like poems.
Every class day (which is Mondays and Wednesdays- that’s today), we read a new poem and write a short essay response, which we read aloud in a class discussion. It usually takes me about 20 minutes to digest the poem, and between 45 min and an hour to write the response, usually, in writing out my thoughts on the poem, I’m able to make connections that I couldn’t make just in my head, and I find the poem unusually compelling. Well, I just read and responded to my favorite poem this semester so far. Just about 20 minutes ago, so I thought I’d share it. It’s by Robert Creeley. I keep calling him John Creeley because of “I Know a Man”.
A Wicker Basket
Comes the time when it’s later
and onto your table the headwaiter
puts the bill, and very soon after
rings out the sound of lively laughter–
Picking up change, hands like a walrus,
and a face like a barndoor’s,
and a head without any apparent size,
nothing but two eyes–
So that’s you, man,
or me. I make it as I can,
I pick up, I go
faster than they know–
Out the door, the street like a night,
any night, and no one in sight,
but then, well, there she is,
old friend Liz–
And she opens the door of her cadillac,
I step in back,
and we’re gone.
She turns me on–
There are very huge stars, man, in the sky,
and from somewhere very far off someone hands me a slice of apple pie,
with a gob of white, white ice cream on top of it,
and I eat it–
Slowly. And while certainly
they are laughing at me, and all around me is racket
of these cats not making it, I make it
in my wicker basket.
– Robert Creeley
We’ve also read, so far, Alan Ginsberg, and James Schuyler. Here’s my response:
I love the tone of this poem. It’s intimate, and soft-spoken, yet behind his words clearly lies a forceful personality. “I Know a Man” had a very different feel. So different, in fact, that I have trouble tuning into the pace of one while the other is in my head. Where “I Know a Man” is assertive and rambling, “A Wicker Basket” is quietly observing. The poem wanders as he does through the deserted streets at night– is spacious, like the sky with its huge stars, like “no one in sight”. Yet, has no pretense, talks to the reader like a friend, confides rather than preaches; consoles, almost, un-self-conscious, un-embarrassed.
This poem is very comforting to me. This is really more my style. I love this.
I find myself wondering what it is about a poem, really, that reaches the reader. About this one in particular. Perhaps it is the sense of meandering loneliness that really speaks to me, or the refuge of an old friend, even for one night, this “Liz”, who opens the door of her cadillac to him, who, “turns [him] on”. This casual sexual admission that speaks to me intimacy more than lust, or a lust built upon intimacy– a sense of security embodied in the wicker basket, like a baby’s cradle, with its soft, woven walls and the shape like a womb, that he lives in. That he gives as the title to his poem.
Perhaps it is the message of the poem. That, there will come a time, yes, when it’s later, and when the game is up, and all your distractions, perhaps your youth, is gone; when the streets outside are dark like night yet you must walk them. But even as you do, while the world is mocking you for your clumsiness, you will retain your dignity, as he does, and you will be safe, as he is.
Anyways, I like poems. I’m going on vacation. I promise pictures of the telescope. Later.