Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gatsby's Great~

Over the past few weeks, I (and my peers) have been doing a unit over The Great Gatsby. Thank goodness we're reading something great, unlike last time (why would you read John Grisham's The Partner for an English class? Why?). Anyhow, Gatsby is among my favorite books now, though it seems that approximately four people (about 3-4% of the students who read it) actually enjoyed the book, which is a bad sign. This may, however, be attributed to the fact that we are required to highlight and annotate the whole book and turn the annotations in for a grade (which is a silly concept; quizzes are a better way to get people to read for details). If that's not it, then it brings me to wonder; do people understand the book? On a basic level, it has things teenagers are supposed to like: love, adultery, murder, and suicide. Then consider how marvelously the book is written, how deep the symbolism runs, how great the detached perspective of Nick is, or how profound a character Gatsby is. I'm not sure I really get it.

Anyhow, in a nod to Gatsby's profundity (and in a display of my appreciation of the book), I put effort into the poetry assignment given to us and wrote something worthwhile:


               ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spawned from a dream, he lives
In a reality far from others, and plucks
Flowers from the greenness of the night,
Perfect flowers more perfect than the seeds
From whence they came. He takes
This garden, the soil that roots for memories,
The place on which he pins his smiles
And plants his sighs. Everything lies
On the golden drop of petals.

She has fallen away from his world
To a rich reality sipped
From a sterling cup. Still, he speaks
Past her time, and charms her back
To where only minds have touched.

The heat is melting everything.
Smiles fall down fancy suits
And ash breaks light, burns leaves,
And sneers upon their gray domain.
The melting ash is everywhere.

Spread about the water, he partakes
Of the all-encompassing rest of men,
His innocent leave reckoned upon him
Beneath the silent eyes of God.

By Neil Hester


I'm pretty satisfied at this go; it turned out pretty well. Our English teacher had us mimicking the form of a Ted Kooser poem, "Abandoned Farmhouse", for the second time this year, which I hated, so I went up and asked her if I could just *write*. Fortunately, I got a yes; which is good, since it would be near impossible to write a poem as good as the above one in this form:


Abandoned Farmhouse

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm - a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

By Ted Kooser


Now, this isn't a bad poem; it's mediocre. The repetition gets really old (says, says, says! Stop saying things!), but there are a few nice phrases ("a good, God-fearing man", "a rubber cow,/a rusty tractor with a broken plow,/a doll in overalls"). It's also not too cliched. Still, I'm not sure why he feels the need to tells us that he lived with a woman and they had a child; couldn't he have just given us his details and let us infer these things? More than anything, most of the poem is devoid of excitement, which leaves it sitting between good and bad.

Enough about the poem, though: point is, writing in the "say say" form (as I've dubbed it) wouldn't have been so hot. She better let the class just write as they wish sometime during the year (leaning too far one way is a mistake, as I noted in my Foray Into Teaching Poetry), since writing in "say say" any more would be pretty sad. Take care,


LAEvaside: I was watching a friend type her poem in the "say say" form during orchestra, and when she left I typed something along the lines of, "her cold eyes/Cast New Zealand into the flames of Mordor". Oh yeah. [/laevaside]


Anonymous Katelyn. said...

Neil, I have to say that I am one of the few currently loving The Great Gatsby.

But then again, I had the pleasure of reading it beforehand, without the annotating and such.

It really is quite a beautiful book, if you look close enough, like most things.

9:12 PM  
Blogger AnoNick said...

I have yet to get used to blank verse, but I'm trying to read some nowadays. I haven't read The Great Gatsby... your poems sounds wonderful, though, and I'll try to get hold of the book. :-)

The Kooser poem sounds nice to me, but then, I'm not a good judge of poetry. I think your criticisms are valid... hmm... I need to start reading Cosmoetica.

BTW, Neil, do comment on my poems, you're the only poet I know. Even "It's crap" would be appreciated. ;-)

8:49 AM  
Blogger The Reticent Guitarist said...


I loved The Great Gatsby in high school.

I suggest you read more of F. Scott Fitzgerald, or perhaps some Hemingway.

12:38 PM  
Blogger jdogmoney said...


I hope to read the book, now that all the pressure of refusing to write in it is off.

I was lucky enough not to be in a class that required poetry, since, as you may be aware, poetry in the school system, well, it's not the greatest institution.

And I'll write up how the school system as a whole should be ran, as soon as I cease to be delerious.


With all due respect,

2:34 PM  
Blogger SempreArioso said...

Hmm, I've heard that very few people enjoyed that book; I loathe annotating myself. Hopefully I'll get to read it without the hassle of annotating it.

9:56 PM  

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