In my twenties, I had an embarrassing secret. One day, I chose to share it with a teenaged drifter named Sam, who was crashing that week at a local shelter before lighting out for Seattle.
I had been interviewing Sam -- on a purple couch, in the game room upstairs -- for a newspaper story on homeless runaways. He was an angel-faced boy of seventeen and had been showing me his poetry. It was handwritten and earnest. Oh Sam!
"Do you like poetry?" he asked. I paused, considering my secret.
"Some kinds," I said vaguely.
"Like what?" Sam asked, looking like a cross between James Dean and a puppy.
I eyed him levelly. The hell with it.
"I like poems that rhyme," I confessed.
Shock, confusion, and disappointment played across Sam's porcelain features. "Oh," he managed to say. "Yeah. Well . . ." Probably Sam had to get going. His life story was being penned by a slack-jawed idiot. Rhyme!
For this faux pas, I blamed one Edgar Allan Poe. Back home, on the bookshelf next to the medical treatises available to anyone who might want to become a doctor, was an American literature anthology. Inside, at around age ten, I found the best poem ever written. It was called The Raven.
It was the epitome of good poetry: a brilliant person, showing off. No one I knew could do anything like it: "The Raven" was so right, it seemed like God had written it. Yet it was just some syphilitic drunk with a pen in his hand. This was the magic of a good poem-that-rhymed.
As an English major, I was assigned less Poe, more Gloria Anzaldua: a Chicana poet from Texas who mined the themes of race and identity. As I was not interested in my own, rather colorful ethnicity (Indo-Hungarian-American), I was hard-pressed to care whether anyone else defined herself as a mestiza in free verse. It was just not my cup of tea. (Sorry, Gloria!)
I liked poems that rhymed.
Last year, I got on a kick and wrote a lot of poems. They came to me while I was driving to work or doing the dishes -- in rhyme schemes that were nothing fancy (couplets, etc), but got the job done. A handful of these seemed kind of good, or clever anyway. Maybe I should read them somewhere?
A local group hosts poetry readings twice a month, on Thursday nights. By 8 p.m. Thursday, my kids are at their dad's, so theoretically I could attend. In reality, I'm exhausted by the time they leave. If Poe himself were at the Open Mic, there is a 50 percent chance I would stay home, take a hot bath, and watch Maroon 5 videos in my kitchen.
The other thing is that -- unlike other people? -- I like poems that rhyme. When I envision standing up to speak, the first words I say into the microphone, facing a roomful of strangers, are:
"Er, this a rhyming poem. Sorry."
[Eye rolls, snorts of derision. Hey, you in the back -- is that -- Sam?]
That, in short, is my poetry problem. To which the answer is: Go anyway.