Why I'm Hiding in Thailand
by Walter Guest
It turns out I have this mental block concerning poetry. I couldn’t get over thinking poetry should rhyme. I know it’s stupid. I had that carefully explained to me. But I couldn’t get over it.
In the whole class I was the only one with that problem so I knew it must be me.
But I just couldn’t keep from rhyming. Not only would I get lousy grades on my stuff but the others were getting pretty hostile to me.
I knew I was the one who was wrong but I needed it explained to me why. So one day I asked in class, "So tell me, poetry that rhymes is bad, right? I‘m just trying to learn here," I added so they wouldn’t think I was attacking them or like that.
"No. It’s not bad. It’s just inferior. There are too many constrictions that don’t exist in free verse."
"Okay," I said. Now here I had to be real careful because I didn’t want them to get more hostile to me than they already were. "So what happened to all that old poetry? You know, the stuff that did rhyme that they used to think was good? You didn’t burn those books, did you?"
"Oh no, no." And here they forced some smiles and tried to look relaxed, you know, the way violent people do when they are trying to convince you that they aren’t violent. "That stuff is still around. It is good. It’s just not as good as it could have been."
"If it didn’t rhyme," I filled in.
I knew it wasn’t a put-on because I could sense their tenseness. Put-ons are relaxed. They were always up tight around me as if I were a threat to their beliefs. I know it sounds paranoid, but I always checked my car for a bomb when I left that class.
My work there was greeted with ridicule and loathing. No one would sit near me in class. Word got around campus. Students I didn’t know would snicker as I walked by. They called me "The Rhymer" behind my back. The professor suggested, in a sneering tone, that I should transfer to a song writing class. The students said I wrote greeting card poetry.
All the hostility and persecution finally wore me down. I couldn’t take it any more. I caved in completely. There was only one thing I could do and that was to write a blank verse poem. So I wrote one the regular way with everything rhyming, which was the only way I could write, and then I changed all the words that completed the rhymes. It only involved changing a dozen words or so. A typical stanza went like this:
The feel of spring is in the air,
Skies of brilliant blue.
Trails we walked, hills we climbed,
My thoughts are all of her.
My submittal was greeted with great surprise and pleasure by the instructor. He had taught me to unrhyme. He xeroxed my poem and distributed it to all the class. The other students looked at it with distrust, suspecting a trick. Once a rhymer, always a rhymer was their motto.
The professor was up front, going through my poem line by line, extolling its virtues. He was nearly finished when a guy in the back row stood up screaming, "It’s a trick! It’s a trick! He’s trying to make fools of us all!"
I knew I was in deep trouble. I stood up and dove for the door.
"Get him!" the professor shouted.
Four or five guys caught me and piled on. One punched me in the gut, knocking the air out of me. That hurt like hell.
"Don’t bruise him," the professor shouted. "We don’t want any marks on him."
They probably learned that from the last guy they lynched.
They held me while the guy from the back row went up front and explained what I had done, line by line. He must have been a crossword freak. He got it all right. "Then," he said, "this guy would tell everyone how we liked it one way and didn’t like it the other without any basic changes in the poem."
When he finished, the students started chanting, "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!"
The professor raised his hands for silence and kept them raised until he got it. He strode over to me slowly, as if he were savoring every step. He stood over me with his legs spread and his hands on his hips.
"Okay, asshole," he said. "I’m going to try to hold these animals in check for ten minutes. That’s how long you’ve got to get your miserable ass off this campus. If we ever see your worthless ass around here again, we’re going to kick the living shit out of you, comprendo?"
Wow. Those poets were a tough bunch. A little too anal aware but tough.
When I didn’t answer right away the professor kicked me hard in the ribs.
"Comprendo?" he asked again.
I nodded painfully.
"And then," he went on, "You’ve got 24 hours to leave the country. We don’t want your kind in our America. If you think I’m kidding, stay and see what happens to you and your family."
So that’s why I’m in hiding in Thailand. I understand there are still gangs of poets going around beating up guys who even look like me.