Monday, September 14, 2009

Pioneers! Oh Pioneers!

On Snobbery, Poetry, Fiona Apple Sullen Beauty, Walt Whitman and Levi's?

Of the 20 or so would-be writers in my first-year creative writing class, there were two who had actual talent. They weren't a couple, as it turned out, but initially we all thought they were, and so, those first autumn months, they were, in my mind, the king and queen of the class. In this case, the queen ruled above all.

She wore black, smoked cigarettes, was Fiona Apple thin, short, sullen, big-eyed cartoon adorable at the same time as she was a total complex, dark, (fucked up?) mystery. Even when you talked to her, she could not look you (or anyone else) in the eye. Still more teenage girl than woman she wrote so well (craft, imagination, perception) I'm not sure I understood why she was in our class. A friend of the family I passed one of her stories onto proclaimed it to be New Yorker worthy.

One day, this is more than ten years ago now, I went to her apartment, an ugly high rise near Toronto's York University (are there any other kind up there?). Nothing happened. She was quite beautiful but yet oddly not sexual. I was also young and probably wouldn't have known how to do what I might have wanted to do had she let me (which I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have), confused as I was of my own intentions, enamoured of her girl charms but just as covetous of her artist talents, wanting, needing to know her secrets. How could I do what she did, how could I succeed to effect others as she did me, to write that way, to go forth and conquer on paper.

Pioneer! Oh pioneer!

It was afternoon, thus bright from the light come into the apartment. No wine was being drunk, no heroin injected, not even an old record player to provide scratchy music for mood. It was actually rather disappointing to find the apartment so neat, the generic selection of magazines on her coffee table, and not elitist Harper's type rags either. She had Rolling Stone, Cosmo. I commented on them, surprised that she read this kind of stuff. I expected her to read nothing but obscure French poets and James Joyce.

I remember her response. She said that magazines were a "totally valid form of art." I thought it was the most pretentious thing I'd ever heard. I also started allowing myself to read magazines more frequently, more openly after that.

All this to say that I've come to believe that advertisements can be a totally valid art form.

Cause any ad, even if it is rather eerily nationalistic, that can so effectively use a Walt Whitman poem, is pretty cool in my all too often snobby books (though not, apparently, my iTunes collection, which includes, much to my friends' delight, the latest Britney Spears album).


  1. What has she become? This great talented writer? I hope she is well.

  2. That's a great question. What has she become? Not a writer, as far as I know. Last I heard (and this must be a good four, five years ago) she was doing her PhD in English lit.

    A prof of mine who taught creative writing for nearly 20 years once told us that he never got it right. As many times as he would point out to himself the student who he KNEW was gonna be the next literary sensation, he got it wrong. And of course the one student who he thought was nothing but average was the one who turned out to win some big Canadian award (Shyam Selvadurai for "Funny Boy").


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