A to Z Style

5I’m taking an excellent class at Poets House right now, led by the inimitable Dr. Emily Moore. We’re all teachers in there and are exploring poetry in its many forms and guises with an eye to the classroom. I’m loving the many exercises and the chance to think as a teacher by first working like a student, going through my sonnet and enjambment paces.

Late this afternoon we were visited by the poet Kimiko Hahn, who began her hour and a half with us in the most wonderful of ways: by listening and, in turn, reminding us of the certainty of listening to each other. I hear again how much I can and do learn from the teachers around me, equally as from those at the front of the class. On Thursday we’ll be joined by the poet Jason Koo. I’m excited to see what that brings.

It’s interesting how creativity can come from imposed limitations. It’s the same for writers as lawyers, the latter for whom a law school graduation inevitably brings a speech intoning “these great rules that make us free.” So we arrest people and, hopefully, we can write about them. Or we get arrested and, maybe, all that time in a small space can open things up. Sometimes if all you have are reams of blank paper, the endless expanse can feel like its own kind of prison. So if you put a few strong lines down on the road you can get your car started and drive away for a while.

One treat from the morning came as we were given about 20 minutes to write a short story, the only rule being we must start each sentence following the successive letters of the alphabet. 26 sentences total, A-Z. The challenge of conformity was a great foil to the thrill of resolving. I’ve shirked writing prompts in the past but I’m coming to think that was just me being lazy, or a snob, or both. Anyway, here’s what I came up with:

Approaching the counter at check-in, I knew I was way over the limit. “Bags cannot and will not exceed twenty pounds each,” the sign read. Can that really be legal? Don’t want to think about it. Even though I have to. For sure I’m more than 20 pounds each. Got to be more like 50. How’s that for flagrant disregard? Ignore a rule like that and you’ll miss your flight for sure.

Janitors came sweeping by, stooping for butts. “Keep in line!” an airport official called. Little bit further, I’m nearly to the front. More time. No more time. Opiates have a particular weight. Perhaps the tape and thread of re-sewn seams added a pound or two. Quit thinking so much—you’re a dead giveaway.

“Returning again soon?” the man asked, taking my passport and ticket. “Slide your bags up here please.”

Thunder in my chest, the spinning numbers on the scale. “Unfortunately you’re a bit over the weight limit. Venezuelan customs law. Would you mind opening these up please? X-ray machine’s right over there. You’ll have to get back in line but I’ll look out for you. Zander’s my name.”