When Erika Meitner visited our last class, we began with a small exercise: name the least poetic place you could think of. There were lots of bathrooms, gas/truck stations, bureaucratic places like the DMV and even a fridge. We all seemed to nod or laugh in agreement when we heard each person name their choice. My choice was the Valero gas station on Rt 63. It’s incredibly grimy and there the layout to pay inside is horrible (but paying 5 cents less for gas is an excellent perk). Nevertheless, why was this the first place I thought of? Why did others think of industrial or modern spaces?
Is a place unpoetic because it’s man-made? Public bathrooms, truck stops, DMVs, and fridges were once all innovative designs. I like that I don’t just have to eat cured meat because now I can keep uncooked steak in the freezer. And despite the DMVs red tape, I like the array of characters you can find in a unifying space. Are these places deemed boring and gross because of their routine and practicality. Which aspect (routine, practicality, man-made) makes a setting unpoetic?
Now the greater question you should ask yourself is what is the most poetic space you could think of? What first comes to mind? Is it a forest, a corn field, a snow day? Do we pick poetic spaces like the Romantics–something that’s made by nature and incites us with wonder? We may not write poetry formally like those guys but perhaps their influence has leaked into the 21st century. If you can figure out your criteria for a poetic space, then you’ll be able to figure out what makes an unpoetic space and then critically analyze the reasoning behind that criteria.
I liked that challenge to write about an unpoetic space to make it poetic. I think we can still find wonder in a bathtub or stand in gross awe at the aged candy lining the gas station’s shelves. To me, any place can be poetic which is why I find contemporary poetry challenging and fun. There can be amazing poems about stars and Walmarts; I love that the possibilities of space are endless.