The Literary Toaster

I remember the moment I realised that life is poetry. Brittany had just emerged from the concession stand in Mac Hall with a bag of candies clenched in her hand: small, bright shapes in translucent wrapping. We had just come from a theory lecture with Professor Kertzer, one of our favourite professors. He was a loveable, scatterbrained little man who always came to class with big ideas, glasses, and a sweater-vest. The topic that day was deconstructionism, upon which Prof Kertzer expounded with his usual zeal. "Life is messy, art is neat" he said, which perplexed me, because thus far life had been fairly straightforward. In all honesty, I could devote an entire post to the ramblings of this man, whose pedagogical improvisations came to be known between myself and my friends as Kertzerisms

Literature is a machine, a productive machine. Like a toaster. It produces something useful. Like toast.
When you read this you think ‘HUH’? But it’s a literary ‘huh’.

After all, how many professors dismiss their classes with, "okie dokie, go forth and multiply"? This man was a treasure trove of literary allusions. Had I been more well-read, I would have noticed more than the references to Genesis 1:28. I was only just beginning to understand the richness of language, the subtlety and the explosive variability of syntax. My appreciation of poetry has only grown since then, in my encounters with modern translations of the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi, as well as the writing of Lauryn Hill: 

I treat this like my thesis
Well written topic
Broken down into pieces
I introduce then produce
Words so profuse
It’s abuse how I juice up this beat
Like I’m deuce
Two people both equal
Like I’m Gemini
Rather simeon
If I Jimmy on this lock I could pop it
You can’t stop it
Drop it
Your whole crew’s microscopic
Like particles while I make international articles...

Besides the irregular rhyming scheme, there are also internal rhymes: abuse / juice; people / equal; particles / articles. The assonance adds yet another dimension to the lyrics. It wouldn't even matter if the song had a narrative element—the sound is so compelling. Narrative poems are simply the more readable cousins of Joyce's Finnegans Wake or BBC Radio 4's shipping forecast

Poetry is abstract, and like most abstract art, it is misunderstood. Those who wish to flaunt their intellectual prowess may confine 'poetry' to Emily Dickinson or Shakespeare. Still, what is poetry but a repetition of sounds and a merging of mental images? The primacy of all poetry is pattern. Poetry is highly mathematical. We call it 'good poetry' when it fits together, like a number sequence or a puzzle. It need not have a logical solution, just so long as the beat carries us to reading or playing it again, and again.

Britt offers me a candy, and I decline because I prefer chocolate and we are almost outside. It occurs to me that while I look at a bag of candies and see poetry, somebody else might see a novel, an equation, or a chemical compound. We witness the same physical phenomena, and yet our disciplines have wired us to interpret things differently. That, I think, is the beauty of the toaster—literary or otherwise.