I posted another poem on the poetry pages, Ordinary World. It’s actually a poem that exists in two versions—the one you can find in the poetry pages and the original version. Obviously the two are similar, but there are differences.
Why two versions? I’ll tell the story of how I wrote the original version shortly, but the edited version was edited with the help of Greg Teran when I prepared my manuscript for entry in the 1994 MIT Writing Prizes. With Greg’s help I trimmed a lot of excess from my poems. In the end I won first prize for poetry manuscript (and $300). Obviously the edited version of Ordinary World has something going for it. Indeed, it is a leaner, more distilled version of the original.
I can’t find a written copy of the original version of Ordinary World. I checked both our desktop and our laptop. I checked my hard copies of my poetry. Nothing. The only form of the original version in my possession is an audio file of me reading the poem (in 1999).
So I attempted to reconstruct the original version. The words are the same, but the line breaks aren’t. In poetry, that can make all the difference. At any rate, here it is.
In an ordinary world
there are green trees
and rolling hills.
There are no complications.
Life is lived simply and happily.
No one finds the unexpected answers.
In an ordinary world,
poets do not
For in an ordinary world poetry does not
exist. Nor do impressionist painters.
Miles Davis never played trumpet,
there is no jazz,
no one discovered the minor keys.
No free verse, no surrealism.
Green trees everywhere, but
Robert Frost never wrote about
the path among them.
In an ordinary world,
I would never take chances.
you and I meeting
in an extraordinary world.
I wrote that poem (or something close to it) sixteen years ago. It was Presidents’ Day weekend and Valentine’s Day as well. I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, with all the angst that went along with it. I fretted over classes. I fretted over women. And then, Presidents’/Valentine’s weekend 1993, a poem came to me in a dream, like Kekulé’s structure of benzene. I awoke and I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. When I was done, I had the original version of Ordinary World. Then I read it to my friend Heather as a sort of birthday present.
This poem remains special to me for how I wrote it and where I was in my life when I wrote it. Other poems (parts of stories, even) have come to me in similar ways—I really did write Death in Maroon after hearing a news story on public radio after waking up from a nap. Most of my poems are special to me in some way. Maybe Ordinary World is more special than most. Maybe because I remember how I wrote it. Maybe because I remember the delicious confusion of being 20, in college, and how writing that poem was a moment of clarity for me. Maybe…