The Time My Poem Got Beat Up

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.
— C.S. Lewis

I once heard a friend say that every person needs to be beat up at one point in their life. Nothing terrible—just a reminder that, “hey, you’re not untouchable,” an ego check of sorts.  And no, I’m not going to write a post about how people should go out and beat each other up because 1. I don’t believe that to be any sort of answer and 2. no one would read my blog anymore.

But, I do think there is merit to the ability to be beaten (not physically) and keep on coming. That said, I’m not really talking about being physically hurt—but rather being directly and embarrassingly challenged. It sure helped me.

In my sophomore year of college, I took a poetry class at UTC. At the time, I had just transferred to the school and was extremely unfamiliar with the landscape of a large state college. I was a writing major, but hadn’t really done any sort of socializing or peer review process with my classmates up until that moment. And poetry was kind of my thing.

I thought of myself as a seasoned vet of the poetry world as I performed a kind of slam poetry throughout high school at local concerts and talent shows. My poetry was very rhymey (not a word) with plenty of abstract metaphors. “Abstract Metaphors” here referring to my ability to string together ideas I wasn’t well educated on and shout them.

Needless to say, I was chomping at the bit to get a shot at sharing my lyrical gifting with the students of my class.

So when the time came I wrote a poem about how people should change their lives (or something). It had plenty of cool word plays and an A/B end line rhyme pattern throughout. The one rule of the assignment was that it could NOT have an end line rhyme pattern—but I had misheard my pseudo pretentious hippyish (also not a word) teacher when he had very dryly explained the assignment.

So I read my poem to the class. I read it proud and I read it fast and I waited for the praise to roll in.




The few students who had read before me had gotten careful and well articulated responses about how the meanings of their poem were interpreted from the class. No one said a single word about mine. Eventually my teacher spoke up.

“What… is… the purpose… of this… poem?” he said. I swear this guy counted to 5 Mississippi in between every word he spoke. “Poem” sounded like, “POE-emmmmm.”

“Well the… (poems had purposes?!) … purpose is to tell people to change their lives” I stumbled. “It’s like a soap box poem,” I stupidly said.

“And who are you to tell people to change?” he asked.

How do you think I responded? If you guessed “say absolutely nothing,” you win.

“This idea of a soapbox requires a person to elevate themselves above others. So you must believe you are elevated above others to speak down to them. Because a person on a soap box looks down on those around them. This poe-emmmm sucks.”

Ok, so he didn’t say “This poem sucks” outright, but he might as well have. The beating went on for some time. I know what you’re thinking, and having a poem picked apart in front of your peers isn’t exactly a punch to the gut. But I’ve had a punch to the gut before and honestly—I would’ve preferred it.

I squirmed and nodded my head as if accepting the criticism, all the while counting the ninety-seven beads of sweat that ran down my shirt.  

But eventually class ended, and I walked out alive.

Looking back, that poem sucked. Honestly, it really sucked. I hadn’t spent any time on it and my assumption that all my random scribbles were poetic was a notion that had lasted far too long.

My next poem was better, and the one after that was worse, but the third poem I wrote after that was pretty ok.  He said so himself.

I’ve tried several times to determine what I learned from this experience. It’s not that I didn’t learn anything, but rather that I learned a mixture of, “get up wen you’re knocked down, sometimes it’s good to hear the truth,” and “work hard to get great results.”

But all those things are cheesy and not quite it. The best way I know to wrap up this blog post is with a quote from a movie I love. The movie is Green Street Hooligans and the main character said the following after he had been inducted into a gang of crazed football (soccer) fans who fought other fan groups.

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Once you’ve taken a few punches and realize you’re not made of glass, you don’t feel alive unless you’re pushing yourself as far as you can go.
— Green Street Hooligans

What do you think the story means? Tell me in the comments.