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Future Poet Laureate*

written Easter Sunday, 4/8/2007

Mad Rhymer, Recital #1

At the Louisiana In Words book signing (mentioned in my last entry), I chatted with authors of various backgrounds. Dave, an author and UNO grad student, caught my attention since he stands the same height as I. He mentioned 17 Poets!, a weekly poetry reading series at the Gold Mine Saloon in the French Quarter. Intrigued, Sunday & I attended a few Thursdays ago.

We arrived to catch the last several works of the “featured poet.” I don’t remember her name, but she must have been pretty good because her profound words soared right above my head. None of her verses even rhymed, for goodness sake.

A crowd of several dozen populated the dimly-lit bar. I couldn’t tell whether the moderate clapping after each recital indicated politeness or sincere admiration.

For the life of me, I can’t discern “good” poetry from total crapola. The presentation usually determines my level of enjoyment more than the words themselves.

An open mic sign-up sheet circulated throughout the bar. I think Sunday is probably quite a skilled poet, because her stuff is often too deep for me to comprehend. However, she didn’t bring any of her pieces with her. Even if she did, I could tell that she wasn’t going to be convinced to share them with an audience of strangers. It didn’t take much coaxing for her to convince me to sign up, though. Sixteen of the seventeen available slots were already filled. I scrawled my name in the very last available slot.

Math contests make me nervous. I feel I have a reputation to defend. However, a poetry reading is completely out of my element, so I had nothing to lose in making an ass of myself.

Still aching from my advances being repeatedly spurned by the OoMA (Object of My Affection), I chose to share a couple appropriately-themed poems dealing with the subject of rejection. I initially intended to recite them with the tongue-in-cheek tone in which they were written. However, I received inspiration from the sixteen open-mic bards preceding me. A few cleverly incorporated humor into their pieces, but most exhibited the type of brooding self-seriousness that makes many a layperson lose fondness for “poetry.”
Poetry reading #1

Fittingly wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt, I decided to assume a dark persona as well. When my turn to approach the stage arrived, I adopted my best deadpan monotone. “good evening, my name is jerome white. math teacher by day, mad rhymer by night. this first poem is one that i wrote a few years ago after briefly dipping my toe into the dark murky waters of online dating. it’s called ‘dear online babe 3445: why must you resist?’”

The crowd seemed unsure how to react, but quickly caught on to the joke as I orated the words to the poem that provided the basis to my first completed Flash animation (a.k.a. O Beckoning Babe).

I was encouraged by the moderate laughter and applause.

Again, in gloomy monotone: “this second poem is one i wrote just last month, as valentine’s day approached. i know a pretty young lady who’s made it clear that my feet need to remain firmly planted in friendshipland. this poem was my last ditch attempt to gain a passport into forbidden territories.”

I proceeded to recite the Valentine poem I had written for the OoMA (see 2/20 entry).

“thank you for laughing at my pain,” I quipped, appreciative that my perpetual lack of romantic successes could at least earn me a few chuckles.

Mad Rhymer, Recital #2

I returned to the Gold Mine the following Thursday, toting a video camera borrowed from school. Sunday accompanied me once again, agreeing to camera duties so I could obtain a record of how “I make my mama proud.” The crowd was slightly smaller than last time – maybe 30 or so. Like the previous week, I signed up near the end of the open-mic list. I opened with “Thank You Miss,” the poem from several years back that I animated last year. The response was a little lackluster, and I wondered whether the audience didn’t realize it was intended to be humorous or whether it simply wasn’t as funny as I thought. I then recited my verses for the White vs. Depp Final Showdown. This piece earned more laughs and applause.

Poetry Reading #2
Video in Apple Quicktime format (8 min 23 sec)

Click here for Windows Media Player format

Video of the reading is included here. Prior to my performance, I had consumed a few beverages that contained alcohol, totally unbeknownst to me. That’s my official excuse for why a few foul words slipped out. So sorry.

Most of my poems are private jokes. I’ve already shared almost all the ones that I think are suitable for general audiences, and thus my open-mic poetry days may have already run their course. Even if that’s the case, I fondly remember those couple evenings in which I got to share my lyrical genius with a small slice of the literary world.

Note: I’ve temporarily suspended any ambitions of learning digital video editing well enough to add subtitles to the White vs. Depp Final Showdown footage. Accordingly, I’ve added the unedited Final Showdown video at the end of the first section in the 2/20 entry. Be warned, the audio quality is pretty bad.

My Summer Plans: An Unexpected Twist

For months I’ve been intending to pursue some sort of math study to occupy part of my summer. I guess lack of genuine enthusiasm explains why follow-up has been slow. The few leads I’ve pursued for math programs or classes have come up dry. I desperately miss the passion I felt for math back in my days of secondary study. As with personal relationships, I’m finding that such love affairs cannot be forced.

Several weeks ago, the director for Teach Greater New Orleans suggested I apply for a writing program run through University of New Orleans. Although flattered, I dismissed Karen’s idea.

The following weekend I attended the Louisiana in Words book signing (3/22 entry). Most authors had just one page number listed on their name tags, but I noticed one man apparently had two stories published in the compilation book. I struck up a conversation with Richard Louth, essentially asking what makes him so special. It turns out he’s an English professor and the director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project. I mentioned Karen’s name, and found that she participated in this writing project a few summers ago. Assuming this was the same program that she recommended for me this summer, I asked Dr. Louth for more details. He emphasized that it’s an institute for educators, under the premise that helping teachers become better writers will help them teach writing more effectively in their classrooms. The goal is to help teachers further develop their own writing skills in whatever genre of writing interests them, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or something else. The program is meant for educators of all disciplines, and he was particularly interested in including the perspective of math and/or science teachers.

Dr. Louth’s pitch intrigued me, and he offered to mail me a couple books with some writings produced in previous years’ institutes. I’ve since read about 100 pages into one of the books, and become rather excited about the prospect of broadening my skills through such an endeavor that’s outside of my mathematical comfort zone.

Oddly, it turns out that this is not exactly the program that Karen mentioned to me. Dr. Louth runs his program out of South Eastern Louisiana University (SELU), in Hammond, Louisiana. Located sixty miles northwest of New Orleans, the distance caused me to cringe. The program Karen suggested is the Greater New Orleans Writing Project, run through University of New Orleans (UNO). Both programs operate under the broad umbrella of the National Writing Project. Karen enthusiastically praised Dr. Louth’s SELU program, but acknowledged the long commute. She’s not quite as familiar with the UNO program, but rightfully assumed that the proximity would be attractive to the handful of TGNO members she recommended it to.

I interviewed and was quickly accepted into the Greater New Orleans Writing Project. Sunday is also joining the program, causing her to speculate that we’ll become quite sick of each other by the end of the summer.

I’m a little intimidated at the thought of sharing my skills amongst “real writers.” I’m most often reasonably pleased with my own writing efforts, but the process is usually painfully laborious. I look forward to an opportunity to grow in this field.