The perils of studying poetry in the late 1980s….

Mid-College AngstHere’s another story about what my college existence was like. In my sophomore year, I took a class called “Reading Poetry”… and that is exactly what we did each time the class met. Shocking, isn’t it? 😉

Recently, I was thinking about a young man who was in this class. He was totally into The Smiths*… and dressed accordingly. We sat beside each other and shared notes, discussing romantic poets versus modern ones as the course required. When it came time for us to do a special project, he asked me to help him with his.

This was back in the days when cassettes — you know, those things with music on them that you sometimes had to re-wind with a pencil — were still widely listened to. His project plans included bringing one of his idol’s tapes to class so we could all learn what true poetry sounded like. Who was his idol? If you answered anything other than “Morrissey,” please re-read the second sentence of the above paragraph. 😉

What I remember about this young man — his name was Chris, by the way — is that he lived off-campus in his parents’ house. His dad owned (or managed?) some sort of menswear shop, which is where Chris got his clothes. I know this because… one day he mentioned that he’d gotten his belt at his dad’s shop… and the way he said it made me think he had taken it without his dad’s knowledge. Hmm….


As I was saying, Chris lived off-campus… and he mentioned that he didn’t have a small enough stereo to bring to class for the assignment, so I offered to bring my cassette player from the dorms for him.

Drill TeamLet me pause here for another moment and explain to you that my “boom box” was not top-of-the-line by any means. Granted, it did have side-by-side cassette players that let you record music from one tape to another, but that is about as fancy as it got. I had received it for Christmas around age 17 to use for my drill team/pom-pom squad/dance team practices since I was co-captain and, therefore, co-choreographer of the routines we performed. Anyway, that is mainly what I used this device for. But it had always bugged me that the louder you played the music, the worse it sounded… and I was fairly self-conscious about letting Chris borrow it. But it was better than nothing, so…. back to the story.

The day Chris needed my assistance, I was there for him with my boom box/dual-cassette player thing. We chatted for a moment before class as I instructed him on how to use it: You stick the tape in this slot, and press PLAY. I think he responded by rolling his eyes at me.

🙂 lol

ANYWAY… during class, Chris handed out photocopied lyrics to his chosen musical selections and as we all listened I looked around the room, and then at Chris, and we both realized that these songs were completely unknown by the others around us. Finally, our professor asked everyone for their impression of Morrissey’s poetry-set-to-music. She specifically wanted to know, “What do you think about the band’s use of upbeat music paired with lyrics about death and desolation and misery?”


I thought this was kind of funny. The students responded with comments like, “It’s weird.” or “It doesn’t make sense.” or “It’s boring.”

Chris looked at me like, “What???!!!

He had hoped they’d understand. But they did not.


Well, after that day, Chris and I increased our note-writing back and forth to each other… because apparently we had something in common to chat about other than reading poetry. When the semester had ended, we were instructed to turn in our work folders so our professor could review them. The professor returned mine to me in the mail with a note on it: “It might interest you to know that Chris’ folder included all of your personal notes to him.”

And she had read them.




I’m not sure if our professor relayed this to Chris as well, but I suppose it’s possible… because… he and I never spoke to each other again.

I only saw Chris twice afterward, when classes started up again. Once was when I happened upon him at Metropol. He was standing beside the wall that led down the back hallway. I remember walking past him and making eye contact, but just looking at each other and saying nothing. The next time was in the Cathedral of Learning. He was standing against a stone pillar beside the third-floor balcony waiting for a class to start. I passed beside him in the hallway and we noticed each other but, again, said nothing. That time, I recall him looking a bit wounded. I’m sure I did, too…. :-\

Anyway… in case you’re wondering which songs Chris played in class, I’m pretty sure he chose “This Charming Man”, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, and “The Queen Is Dead”. That’s my best guess, based on my foggy memory.

I wonder whatever happened to him? Do you think he inherited his dad’s clothing store?


*Who put the “M” in “Smiths Fan”?

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