As I progress through my college years I’ve started to get a little more frustrated with stupidity. I realize this makes me a pompous jerk, but what am I supposed to do about it? I can’t avoid this feeling when the stupidity is staring me in the face, floating up from the pages of my used book. See, I’m taking a class in 20th century American Poetry this semester … and whoever last used the poetry anthology I’m using now was an absolute idiot, judging from the scrawled pencil annotations.
Except – wait, shit – those annotations are mine.
I’ve been given a rare opportunity. Freshman fall, I was told to purchase a collection of modern and contemporary poems for my WR100 class in (get this!) Modern and Contemporary Poetry. I remember when the book was handed to me by the mailroom employee, and how I gazed at its shrink-wrapped cover before releasing it from its clear plastic straitjacket. Then it taught me poetry. (Actually, Professor Tandon did. But in any case, that book was my new Bible.) I held onto the book because it was such a great collection – and now, I’m looking back at this handwriting that I never knew I had, wondering: what on earth was going through this girl’s head?
That first semester of college I met my favorite poem, T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I’ve read it so many times since, latching onto new phrases at different stages of my life, I’ve essentially got it memorized. When I was assigned to read it this semester I just glanced it over.
But I glanced over it in that old book, and I really don’t get it. How did it become my favorite poem back then, if I clearly had no idea how to read it? Did I have an idea how to read it?! Why would I just circle the word “smoke” and scrawl next to it the word “connection”? Will someone please tell me what I once thought this connects to?
It’s disconcerting to know that the words that have continuously mattered to you for three years have not always meant the same thing – it’s very disconcerting to be completely unable to recall what they once meant to you. All the reader I am now has in common with the reader I was then is that these words matter to me. Yet I have no idea what the foundation of that mattering is.
At the beginning of this year, I decorated my wall with Eliot’s words:
These words have been my mantra this academic year. There have been many, many minutes from this year to my freshman fall, and many, many visions and revisions since I first read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. But I haven’t erased or marked over the vapid, useless annotations that decorate the margins of that first page on which I read it. They’re pretty embarrassing, but they got me here – and that’s one of the visions I can’t bring myself to reverse in a minute.