“In English lit I ran into a teacher that was deep” – Barry Hannah

by Nick

In English lit I ran into a teacher that was deep. Her eyes twinkled with arty secrets, and it didn’t hurt anything that she was lovely of face and had the figure of a schoolgirl. She read poems with a nice, calm movement of mouth. I don’t know why she was at Dream of Pines, which was known as a tough school. She was the only good teacher there. I can still feel the dull, light rhythms way in the back of my head from the poems we read in her class. We had Sir Thomas Wyatt, who composed a poem about his old girlfriends and the girl who said ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’ as she put her arms long and small around him, and I can’t forget old cobwebby Sir Thomas and those girls stalking with naked feet in his chamber. We had the ‘The Love-song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ with timid Alfred who wouldn’t even eat a peach, but was fond of women’s forearm hair as seen by lamplight. The peach and the arm hair related to each other, the teacher told us. I asked this brilliant fellow with crewcut and bifocals how that was, and he sent me an unfriendly note, not wanting to talk in class: ‘The peach and the arm are both fuzzy and fleshy. Don’t ask me any more questions.’ I was pleased to find that out, and later I showed up that bifocals prick by handing in a poem of my own composition which the teacher raved about. She read it in class. It was about a deep-sea diver talking to the ocean and had a line

There within you, fin and sinew…

which she claimed was superb poetry by anybody’s standards. See the bifocals jackass, who made an unadulterated A in everything, fall apart at the jaw when she read out my name at the end of the poem. Of course, nobody else in the class gave a damn, and I personally was embarrassed by some of the extreme gentleness of the poem when she read it. I’d written it in a gust of all the culture I had in me. Our teacher had the knack of convincing you that you had to possess a museum full of culture before you deserved anything at all. You had to know all about the castles of England. You had to know about T. S. Eliot. You had to know about war-weary France

Another quote from Barry Hannah’s excellent Geronimo Rex.