New Recruits Episode 8: Becky LaRue Reads Alice Burdick

Welcome to 8th episode of New Recruits! If you’re new here, check out Episode 1 for more information about how this thing works.

Becky was one of my most brilliant 12th grade students (now she’s just my brilliant friend). Also, Becky is not her real name— she asked me if she could participate in this series anonymously. I teach English in the summer at a private school in Thornhill, Ontario. Becky was the first student in my class on the first day of school this past July. She got to class before I did and I spotted her reading a heavily annotated (sticky notes and pencil marks galore) copy of Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. By the end of the semester, after I told her that absolutely you’re allowed to swear in poems, she read her own poem, full of “fuck”s, out loud in front of the whole class. Maybe one of my proudest moments as a teacher. I mean, I was equally proud of the essay she wrote on the Freudian resonances in Hamlet, but poems are more fun.

Have you read Alice Burdick’s Book of Short SentencesBecause this book had me actually yelling out loud to nobody in my empty apartment. Specifically the second last poem in the book. I don’t even want to spoil it, spoil the surprise, but its content and placement had me yelling at nothing and oh my god you have to read it. But read the whole book because it works in sequence and then you get to the end and you’re alone in your apartment yelling “What the fuck, Alice? Where did that come from?” to nobody in particular in the best way possible.

I didn’t give Becky that poem. I gave her “Escaping the landscape,” from the middle of the book. Here she is reading it:

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

I thought that the poem really captured the mind of a person who seemed to be bored with the same people he aquatints himself with (both romantically and family/friend wise) and wants to escape the cycle of trite conversations and people.

You refer to the speaker as “he,” did you know that this poem was written by a woman but you perceived the character as male? Or did you just assume the poem was written by a man?

I perceived the character as male: from my observations, most males tend to group emotions into happiness or sadness while most females (I say most because I’m dense to emotions as well), can better categorize their feelings and identify other feelings and it’s less black and white.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“Yo-yo describes you, a wide arc / of changeable wide smiles and disintegration.”

Why?

I too feel that people these days don’t dive deep into their emotions and they only show two extreme emotions: extreme happiness and extreme sadness. It allows themselves to discover what they’re really feeling and if they show those two emotions, no one will question them and they are left to themselves.

What does this poem make you think of?

This poem makes me think of myself before I discovered that I too have different emotions. Before November 16 (what I will refer to as my Climax), I only displayed two emotions: happiness and an occasional sadness. Other than that, I didn’t dig deep into my emotions and suppressed all other emotions (which included the suppression of crippling anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts – all later discovered after a series of unfortunate events). This poem of this voice explaining how the landscape blends into the background, it reminded me how I blended my emotions into a black and white area of happiness and sadness (whereas I now know that that is hardly the truth).

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I have never encountered a poem like this before (even though I love poetry, I don’t dedicate as much time as I’d like to reading it).

Do you have any questions for the poet?

I would like to know if the poet is pondering if other people are blending into the background or has she been the one blending and is criticizing herself.


Becky LaRue is the alias of an 18 year old lady who loves reading. She has recently applied to many universities and she does her best to be happy.

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