In 8th Grade, our big Language Arts assignment was to compile our own poetry anthology. I think we needed 40 or 50 poems. Serious stuff. And there were limits on how many poems from a single poet you could use, how many song lyrics you could use; and then requirements like so many had to be from Canadian poets, so many had to be written by you. I cut class to spend the day at the Frances Morrison Central Library, pulling poetry books off the shelves, reading them, picking one, maybe two from a volume.
I never talked about the anthology with any of my class mates. I think that might have during a time in my life when I was on the outs with my friends. It happened.
From about 12 or 13 on, I sounded a lot like my dad over the phone. I could phone into school and excuse myself for the day. I didn't do it often, but I did it. Some days were just meant to be spent at the library. Independent study, I might have called it if I'd ever paused to consider what I was doing. But so, the reverse then also applied. Sometimes my dad sounded like me over the phone. Like when I was on the outs with my friends and they called up and my dad answered and they called him a bunch of names and then hung up. I must have been listening in on the extension, or maybe I was standing right next to the phone. I recognized the caller's voice and I recognized the laughs in the background.
A quarter century later, I don't know. I don't worry about it. I mainly remember spending the last couple of months of 8th Grade on my own. Listening to Lou Reed & Tom Waits tapes and walking in the rain. One night I put Frank's Wild Years in the Walkman and walked farther than I'd ever walked before. I walked through Riversdale, past the Water Treatment Plant, then I must have doubled back, and crossed the Idylwyld Bridge because I remember walking East on 8th Street toward Broadway.
I was also heavy into Dion those days, because I'd seen an article in one of my dad's Rolling Stone magazines where Lou Reed big upped big D, maybe recorded a duet?, and also because they had "The Wanderer" on the jukebox at Homestead Ice Cream. They also had these weird Christian funny animal comic books there, which I would occasionally read because, hey, comic books, right?
But I know was listening to Frank's Wild Years when it began to rain and I realized how far I'd been walking and I wasn't really going anywhere, I was just walking and listening to my Walkman and probably feeling sorry for myself.
This was the general headspace I was in the day I decided I wasn't going to class. I was spending a lot of time in my head, and when I couldn't take that anymore, I poured Tom Waits and Lou Reed all over it and walked until I didn't know who I was or how I got there.
I don't remember all the poems I put in the anthology, or even many of them. I know I used "The Russians" by Sting, that seemed like a very deep and thoughtful work when I was 13. "All Along the Watchtower", because I'd just read Watchmen. I maxed out on Richard Brautigan with poems from Loading Mercury With a Pitchfork and June 30th, June 30th. This would have been, let's see, 1991. Kurt Cobain has now been dead almost three times longer than Brautigan had been by that day I read every poem he ever wrote that ended up in the Saskatoon Library Central Branch that hadn't been borrowed by someone else. This is one I had to put in my anthology.
"Taking No Chances"
by Richard Brautigan
I am a part of it. No,
I am the total but there
is also a possibility
that I am only a fraction
I am that which begins
but has no beginning.
I am also full of shit
right up to my ears.
June 17, 1976
It blew my mind. It was the most transgressive thing I'd ever read. And I'd read Catcher in the Rye. I'd read John Byrne's Fear Book. I'd listened to Lou Reed's Transformer, Coney Island Baby, and New York albums over a thousand times cumulatively. I wrote a poem about that and put it in the anthology. I wrote a poem about listening to Lou Reed over and over and what that does to your brain when you're 13-years-old and your friends prank call your house. I think it was called "Dog Piss Morning."
I remember that day, that warm spring day spent on the first floor of the library. Copying out poems and then writing my own to fill in the gaps. I understood something about myself that day.
I got a pretty good mark on the assignment. Good enough to get me into 9th Grade. Where I'd write about Lou Reed again.