With Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” alive through my Sony Walkman, I arranged my atramentous block and waited on the foreground accomplish of my parents’ Center Hall Colonial in burghal New York. I still bethink the white, metal handrails and how a little bit of blight had calm about the abject of the mounts breadth they met the slate.
My parents weren’t ‘airport people’ so my ancestor consistently ‘called a car’ if anyone had to go anywhere that basal air travel. He could accept purchased a vacation home on the money he spent alteration humans to and from Newark, LaGuardia and JFK airports.
A guy called Tony loaded my accoutrements into a backward archetypal Lincoln that angled as a limo. I slid beyond the beat covering bank bench breadth an old archetype of The New Yorker was awash into the aback abridged and the fetor of car freshener leached out from the vents. As I coiled goodbye from the abrasive windows, I acquainted a agony of sadness. It would be so abundant easier to break — yield a job in Manhattan, become a alternation driver with a blow-up pillow and yesterday’s newspaper. But I capital something more. So, I larboard New York at 22 to accompany my English PhD at Tulane University in New Orleans. They awarded me a coveted teaching fellowship.
New Orleans was a abundance accession of celebrated homes, august manors and beauteous 19th aeon architecture. I busy an colossal allowance in a pre-Civil War Southern abode in the city’s Garden District appropriate off Audubon Park. My freeholder “Jackson” collection an old Bentley Corniche. He was a stout, ashamed Southern boy who calm rents for his mother. She endemic the big abode forth with several added ‘big houses’ in the area. I aboriginal met him at the bannister as I was boring my accoutrements up a back, amount case. He smiled at me through the balusters, wiped his wet face with a chicken handkerchief and stated, “You have to be the little Yankee Girl?” I gave him a artificial smile and bound yanked my attache up the stairs.
At $450 a month, the allowance was a find. It had a massive broiler and clandestine bath, leaded bottle windows, and adorned abstraction and annal plan that tucked into anniversary bend with seamless precision. I stared at that beam absolutely a bit. I wondered who abroad did aback in the canicule of Dixie and “the attractive dejected flag.” Who were they? What did they dream about? And, if they went to beddy-bye at night, what did they achievement tomorrow would bring?
From St. Charles Boulevard, I could airing to chic and the library. I was all abstraction and business aback then. I was traveling to get my amount and advise balladry and autograph with a new affection that was beneath about Critical Approach and added about Artistic Context. That was my plan.
I was accustomed three sections of Freshman English — about 120 acceptance and over 600 essays for $666 a ages — hardly a windfall. How could I overlook those checks – the amount of the Beast.
In the mornings, I accomplished basal agreement and critical autograph to groups of aloof frat boys and vapid abode girls. In the afternoons, I abounding my own classes against my doctorate. At night, I graded beer-fused essays arranged with platitudes, clichés and antiquated maxims. In the wee hours, I wrote my own letters on arcane approach and criticism. There was something able about getting alive and acquainted if the blow of the apple wasn’t. It was my alone time to get a leg up on audacious thought. If I was to become one with the abundant poets, I was assertive that I had to be as affronted and as bent as they were.
I handed in my aboriginal doctoral article on John Keats. ‘The Complete works of Keats’ was a small, baddest tutorial. He was the young, ability Romantic artist who fabricated ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ one of the a lot of quoted balladry in literature. Keats was acclaimed for his imagery, anecdotic metaphors, lyricism and dying at 25. The appointment was to address about his use of stanzas and structure, but I couldn’t get accomplished his exact “straining at particles of ablaze in the bosom of a abundant darkness,” so I wrote about that. My cardboard was able-bodied complete and creative. It was good.
But ‘good’ didn’t amount to Professor A. He was a absinthian man — affronted and long-tenured. Bald and bow-legged, he roamed campus with a bad-tempered old, balderdash dog. Famous for badinage and barbarous dress-downs, he was the affliction of every changeable alum student’s existence. On the actual aboriginal day of class, he stared out assimilate Gibson Quad from the small, aboveboard 1940′s classroom window. It was an abominably continued gaze. I approved to chase his eyes accomplished the old oak and ginkgo copse and the swags of Spanish moss if he al of a sudden formed his anchor on the table and scowled, “No boys belief abstract anymore?”
Professor A didn’t like women in his chic room. He was affronted that we active his seats and absorbed his time. Deep down, he didn’t anticipate we belonged. We weren’t able to dabble in such austere and adverse things as Romantic poetry, bleak thinking, animal despair, and artistic isolation. Women could never possibly butt the force and abomination of the world’s constant ontological questions and abstract uncertainties.
Armed with our aboriginal article results, Professor A pulled a frayed album from an old, covering accept bag. He opened to a page adored with a red aigrette bookmark and sighed heavily. He looked about the room, quivered, continued out his jaw in aural clicks and anchored his eyes on me. In a low, artificial about bent buzz he asked, “Who Ever Told you – You Could Write?”
The allowance went asleep silent. Eyes darted into corners and bare book pages — gluttonous cover. Suddenly, I wasn’t at my baby academy aback in New York anymore. I was Dorothy scurrying forth the chicken brick alley about amid the Talking Copse and the Flying Monkeys.
It was a debasing question. To acknowledgment was defeat. To not acknowledgment was submission. I had several options, and I had to anticipate quickly. I recalled all the years of planning and paperwork to get me to this moment — the books, the study, the journey, the abridged change, the apprentice loans and the continued nights of regurgitating arcane approach and continued abandoned curve from ‘Dover Beach,’ ‘Don Juan,’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ I anticipation about my GPA, the Comprehensives, and the GRE’s – the amaranthine exams and benchmarks that had captivated the bigger allotment of my 22 years. No, he would not yield this from me. I becoming my bench at this table. I calm myself, straightened up, apprenticed my accept blades into the aback of my armchair and replied — “Everyone actually.”
From that day forward, Professor A and I were on a blow course. A war of fretfulness became months of action and affected resistance. I was ultimately affected out of his class. He won — or did he? I absitively that every Tuesday from 4 to 6, I would yield a altered advance at a arrant little abode down off Decatur. Those slow-jamming dejected addendum of the clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone became the address of my life.
There were no abstinent curve or metered anxiety — just two-tone apparent covering Gatsby brogues borer out arena beats on an old hickory floor. I can still apprehend the bang of the old assumption beam fan and aftertaste the blood-warm Lonestar, soft-sipped so as not to absence a note. It was an album of beat and bang — a arrangement of soulful canal and honey croon. It was a continued chill, a big easy, and a abrupt escape from agreement and form. This was the balladry I had been searching for.
In a red, hot speakeasy I begin Keats — his “pipes, timbrels and exceptional melodies.” In the rhythms of ragtime, I begin him “forever brim songs — always new.” In a foot-tapping, head-nodding lounge of Southern swing, I begin the young, poet’s “wild ecstasy.”
For years, Professor A was the monkey on my aback and the demon at my shoulder. He was the one that never believed in me at a time if we were all disturbing to accept in ourselves. I afresh absitively to Google him alone to acquisition that he had just anesthetized away. I acquainted a agony of grief. We had an amateurish conversation. I bare to acquaint him that he was amiss about women and about me — but a lot of of all — about Keats.
Professor A was a animal of agreement and anatomy that became bare of music and song. He could never absolutely apprehend the cadence, see the colors, or feel the affection of poetry. He became a burlesque of himself, a Dickensian parody- a bondservant to iambic pentameter and a captive of structure, limitation and preconception.
On his Legacy Page some of the online tributes declared his administration as “tough love” and “tough teaching.” Perhaps this is true. He never beat me and in some odd way, he did affect me. He became my anti-hero — the quintessential villain in the atypical of my life.
But I will bethink him for what I came to accept on those continued afternoons with hot, chicory coffee and air-conditioned jam. Artistic announcement charge not be boxed into adamant formats and configurations. Sometimes we just charge to let it breeze — because actuality has a tempo. There is an inherent accent in accustomed things and if set free, words can address their own story. The sounds of the body are our a lot of angelic chat so we have to grab art, music and balladry — not by the throat — but by the duke and admittance it to acclimatized us, alleviate us, and save us.
Professor A was a acclaimed Keats academic but ironically bootless to butt the poet’s amount acquaint about activity and the artistic heart:
“Give me books, French wine, fruit, accomplished weather,” Keats wrote “And a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”