National Poetry Day: Blowing Out the Candles: A Poetry Trilogy by James Paul Gee
About National Poetry Day
National Poetry Day will take place on Thursday, September 28, 2017 and this year’s theme is “Freedom”. National Poetry Day is an annual celebration that inspires people throughout the UK to enjoy, discover and share poems. Everyone is invited to join in, whether by organizing events, displays, competitions or by simply posting favorite lines of poetry on social media using #nationalpoetryday. (From www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk)
About Blowing Out the Candles: A Poetry Trilogy by James Paul Gee
“I have spent my career as an academic,” Jim Gee tells us. “When I was young, to me being an academic meant being a secular priest. But my church is a fallen church. We no longer honor little things like truth, but only big things like money.”
There is enough about the poems to keep a conversation going in a class in the Humanities or Sciences for an entire semester, and the issues raised about the politics and ethics of representation, the demands of official ideology, and the inexplicable human capacity for good and evil, are more than enough to keep us all conscious of the increasing dehumanization of the age we live in.
“All of us humans think, feel, and speak in poetry when we hurt,” Gee continues. “Prick us, do we not all bleed in pulses and rhythms, in metaphors and pleas? When we drop pretense, we are incensed as humans at unfairness. We are incensed at anyone being left out, put down, or left to drown in sorrow.”
Gee’s poems are filled with the absurdities of life. They are paradoxical as well as quixotic. It is with great pleasure that Garn Press published a paperback version of Jim’s poems to delight readers as well as unsettle them. When events happen read the poems again, as if they are new – which they always will be – shining a light on our humanity.
Blowing Out the Candles: A Poetry Trilogy
Book Excerpt: Vampires (Poem)
Once, long ago, I wrote about a vampire.
Now I am a vampire.
Vampires can live forever.
Eventually they live so long they have no home.
Everything familiar has long disappeared.
They can barely recall the world in which they were born.
Some of them long for death.
All of us can be vampires now.
It used to take hundreds of years for a vampire to grow weary.
Now it takes less than a mortal’s life.
One lifetime is now a thousand years of change.
Not all vampires grow weary, I suppose.
Some of us old people want to live forever.
Some of us are asking biology for eternal life.
Some of us want science to heal frayed telomeres and cure old genes.
When I was quite young, I warped in time.
I went back hundreds of years.
You could do that then.
It took guts or fear or wanting to leave home.
Ironic now, isn’t it? This wanting to leave home.
In the warp, there was no radio.
No girls or women either.
In fact, they gave me a little black book that said:
“All girls and women have lust in their hearts”
(This I found out much later was sadly not true).
We rose at 6:05 and went to bed at 9:05.
We slept on straw.
We ate bad food.
We ate in silence listening to one of our kind read bloody stories about torture.
I took my turn to read.
Sometimes we secretly waited for the delivery man and begged for bread.
The library stopped in the 18th century.
Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza were banned.
So they weren’t there.
I found them, secretly, hidden, not in their own books.
St. Anselm had turned me on to them.
Though he didn’t know it.
I did once escape the warp world.
I hid under a blanket guiltily reading Kant in a very strange place.
Kant, too, was banned.
It was slow going, reading Kant.
Many years later I read Kant again in a philosophy course in college.
I went to my professor and said I could not be a philosopher.
I just read too slowly.
He asked me how many pages of Kant or Hegel I could read an hour.
I said two or three max.
He said “You are reading too fast”.
I saw both God and the Devil in the time warp world.
God, two or three times.
The Devil, only once.
Actually I did not really see the Devil.
Someone else did and told me.
To be accurate, he was more heard than seen scratching at a window.
I discovered the Cuban Missile Crisis when I found an old wind-blown page of a newspaper in our forest.
It said there was a crisis.
There might be Nuclear War, it said.
I had no idea how it had all turned out.
Perhaps the world had been destroyed, save for our forest.
I looked for a later page.
I couldn’t find one.
When I was very young I had a textbook called “The Evil Tree”.
It was a Catholic book.
It said Communism was the Work of the Devil.
Communism would Never Die.
Russia was the Eternal Evil Empire.
We needed Eternal Vigilance.
Now Communism is gone.
The Evil Empire is Dust.
So is the Catholic Church, trapped in a tar pit of its own making.
In one fell swoop I went from the time warp world into the 60’s.
It was a bigger warp to the 60’s than it had been from my home to the warp world.
I walked right onto a Sunny beach in a Sunny college town.
There were long-haired hippies, surfers, and beautiful girls in bikinis the size of napkins.
When they weren’t wearing nothing at all at Nude-Ins Against the War.
I came on the scene wearing a black suit, a stiff white shirt, a thin tie, and a crew cut.
My small British mother was with me.
The hippies, the surfers, the girls stared.
It was, after all, the 60’s.
They were very nice to me.
The surfers came to trust me with their girlfriends when they were out cheating on them.
They knew I didn’t know what to do.
I bought a book about women’s bodies.
It was all line drawings.
I could make no sense of it at all.
I have always been bad with maps.
That’s why today I believe in Doing before Reading.
That’s why I believe in gaining images and actions before words.
Reading bodies before reading about bodies.
The Philosophy Department Head asked what I had come to study.
I said Metaphysics: Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza.
That’s what you get when you ban things.
He said no one did Metaphysics any more.
That was all just History now.
I had arrived too late.
I had really wanted to make a contribution to Metaphysics.
I asked what THEY did now.
Wittgenstein. Austin. Ryle.
I admitted then I had not been able to get into any classes anyway.
They were all full.
I had failed to mail back some little cards.
I hadn’t known what the cards were for.
So I had stood in long lines to get courses.
But the courses were all filled by the time I got to the front.
And I had no priority.
I had been in the warp world too long.
The Department Head said all that was left was his Plato class.
But it was a graduate class.
Not for undergraduates, especially not new ones.
I was desperate.
“Could he help me?”
“Well, have you ever read Plato?”
Sheepishly, I said: “I have only read him in Greek”.
I thought you were supposed to have read him in English.
It somehow seemed more modern. Not time warped.
In the time warp world we read Greek and Latin.
We also ate meals silently, listening to stories about torture, as I said.
He said, “You’re in”.
And we read Plato in English.
That ocean place and time is now long gone.
A bank got burned.
And in America you don’t burn banks.
Not even way back then.
Soldiers filled the town with guns, gas canisters, and dump trucks.
A helicopter and a dump truck once made me hop on one leg back to my room.
I was caught in the dark after curfew.
A light shone down on me from the sky.
A voice spoke out of the light.
It told me to STOP.
I thought it was God, for the third or fourth time.
But it was the helicopter.
It told me to wait.
A dump truck full of policemen with masks and shields and guns came up behind me.
The helicopter told me to start hopping.
The town in which I was born is long gone now too.
Once despised, it found love when it discovered Silicon.
Those of us born there could no longer afford to live there.
It had become fancy and we had not.
I became a university professor because the time warp world had disappeared.
The old stone buildings were torn down.
The forest was leveled.
Concrete was poured
A suburb was born.
The time warp world was buried underneath it.
There was a sign that said it had been there.
The sign may be gone now too.
Once it took hundreds or thousands of years to bury worlds.
Now one lifetime is more than enough.
The university was the closest thing I could find to the time warp world.
In the time warp world they told me that if anyone earned a PhD, he would lose his FAITH
(Remember, no women, so no pronoun problem).
I earned my PhD in another Sunny place.
Once, in graduate school, my main professor left to take another job.
Her name was Joan.
I felt bereft.
The new one was not coming for a semester.
His name was Tom.
I needed someone to study with.
Someone as good and special as Joan.
Not just anyone.
I shared my concern with the Department Head.
Her name was Clara.
She told me to pick anyone in the world.
She told me to consult with Joan.
Clara would bring whomever I chose to me.
So I could work with them while I waited for Tom.
I picked a famous professor from Paris.
His name was Richie.
Clara called him in Paris right in front of me.
When Richie came, I was the only student in both his classes.
One was a small seminar.
I had to give the first student presentation.
There were no other student presentations after that.
The other class was in an old large lecture hall.
Richie lectured from a lectern on a high wooden stage.
I sat alone in the hall, near the front, way down below.
Richie stopped every once in a while, looked down, and asked whether there were any questions.
Often there were.
The University is gone now too.
It is just another bank.
The ratio is not one to one.
The professors are Automatic Teller Machines, with fees.
And America is gone too.
Oh, I know I am not supposed to call it that.
I know there is a South America.
And a Central America.
Even a Canada.
But America is what we called it back then.
When it was still there.