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Comment of the Fortnight
2 September 2000

Miscellaneous Items

Two items before I proceed to the main topic for this Comment:

  1. Happy Birthday, Mom!

  2. I've written another article for A List Apart, a weekly webzine for web designers. The topic is Beyond the Browser.

  3. Poetry

    One of the local high schools had a vacancy for an English teaching position, and I have been substituting in that position for the past week. On Friday, I had the freshman English classes read a poem by Eve Merriam, Reply to the Question: “How can You Become a Poet?”.

    I've decided to have the students write a poem on Tuesday. Since my poetry-writing experience is almost certainly as limited as theirs, I know they'll need a structure for the poem. My instructions will be as follows:

    Write a poem about any of the following things: clouds, a tree the sun, the ocean, wind, fire, a door, a window, a pen or pencil, a butterly, a skateboard, a CD player, or a chair. You may also write about an event, such as: eating lunch, taking a test, talking on the phone, going to a movie, or playing a sport. If none of these subjects appeals to you, choose a subject you like.

    Your poem must have one or two lines about how the object affects each of your five senses. That is, your poem must talk about the look, sound, feel, taste, and smell of the object or event. Your poem must also have one or two lines that tells how the object or event affects your emotions; how you feel about it.

    You may arrange the lines of the poem in any order that makes sense to you, so you don't have to start with sight if you don't want to. You may write either in rhyme or in free verse as you wish.

    Obviously, I can't give this assignment if it's something I can't do myself. It has been literally years since I've written anything even remotely resembling poetry, and I certainly won't claim that these are worthy in any sense whatsoever. I did, however, have fun writing them, and I hope you enjoy reading them.

    The Pencil

    I chew on my pencil as I think,
        and taste the wood;
    My nose fills with the rubbery smell of the eraser
        as I remove the pencil from my mouth to write.
    As I write, I feel its point bending slightly;
      I know it will break if I press too hard.
    What a pleasure it is to see the words flow out
        as I hear the pencil skritch across the paper.
    For what was just a thought in my head
        is now written for all to share.


    Taking Out the Garbage

    As I carry out the garbage, I feel
        the garbage can's cold metal smoothness marred by the sticky dirt.
    I hear something bumping against the side, and glance down
        only to see the half-eaten sandwich and the rotting apple's core;
    Their putrid smell rises up to punch me in the nose.
    How could they have tasted so wonderful yesterday at lunch?
    I'd better dump this out before I get sick to my stomach!


    Fixing a Flat Tire on My Bicycle

    I press on the valve, to let the remaining air hiss out,
        and smell that strange but wonderful musty, rubbery odor,
        which, strangely enough, has a metallic taste on my tongue.
    My fingers press the tire lever against the pliable tire,
    Revealing the tube beneath.
    And there I see it -- the thorn in its side,
        the source of all my troubles.
    All the while, I curse and wonder;
        why is it the tire on the wheel that's hardest to remove
        that always goes flat?

    Let me know what you think.

    Addendum on 3 Sep 2000: Thanks to M. DeMello of Rice University, who suggested restricting the poem to two or three of the senses, which allows the writer to focus on their interplay rather than becoming entangled in all five.

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