three poems

Gentle Failures

These gentle failures do not work the way we’d hoped.
What we try to say we cannot say and so
we wrap it in a napkin, disguising it as garbage, carry
it around as if we’re looking for a can
but never throw it out. How strange the tawdry treasures
that end up stashed away in keepsake,
kept in the dark, kept in the face of the fact
that we’d rather not remember when
and where we fell short, blazing a slow fire, too tired
or full of apathy to bother with the last few steps.

But someone noticed. Someone pointed you out
on the final stretch, stinking and smoking
like a burn pile in the rain. You’re not sure
if you smell the stench or feel the pain;
they come across the same.

Clocks

The face of time,
visage mugging down from walls,
from towers,
becoming the speculum.

See inside the seconds as they pass.

A dangling arm,
weary of wearing down the days
in a pendulous arc.

Unbroken face set in stone,
slowly dissolving, the slow trickle
of brine
that can’t be stopped.

Choking on the Pearl

Top of the stairs
each one a different color
carpeted like candies

a teardrop-shaped pearl
in my mouth
on my tongue smooth and new

dropping into my throat
dropping into the narrow hole
that held my breathing

I had enough time
to cry out once to my mother
at the base of the stairs

she had enough time
to see me clasp my throat
and cough it out

she had enough time
to see me still standing there
still breathing.

the author:

Miranda Barnes, a poet, artist, and sometimes teacher living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Blood Lotus Online Literary Journal, Ruminate Magazine, and AfterHours, A Journal of Chicago Writing and Art. She has performed readings at Beauty Bar Chicago for the Two With Water reading series, the Poetry Factory in St. Joseph, Michigan, and the Hungry Young Poets Reading Series, presented by River Styx Literary Journal, in St. Louis, Missouri.

i had a question for Miranda, which turned into several…

what do you think of a college degree? do you think it’s worth it? would you have gone a different route, other than poetry? is the college degree a hoax, even though we’re told it’s necessary?

her answer:

“What I think of a college degree varies tremendously across the board. I think very highly of education, and higher education is something I strongly support. However, I think the setup that we presently have in this country is highly flawed. The same track cannot be right for everyone, as there are a spectrum of careers and people, with varying interests and abilities. I would never say that the college degree is a hoax. I think that statement is not only dangerous, but completely false. I could, however, say that the current economical condition of this country is a house of cards getting ready to fall, with the hands in charge pulling from the bottom to build the top. That is the real hoax. And its impact on education is unsettling and unfair. But to blame higher education itself would be a dire mistake.

The system we presently exist in requires virtually everyone to provide evidence of “the piece of paper,” the graduate certificate that says one has gained a Bachelor’s degree, for any and every possible type of job. Additionally, the economy worldwide is steadily failing, and the number of jobs is shrinking. So many end up with tremendous debt for an education that might not have been best for his or her career pathway. I do think that a more varied and honest spectrum is necessary, in the most immediate sense. Not everyone needs to study for four years and take tons of classes that don’t apply to a relevant career path for that person, only to graduate with no skills and a lot of debt. There needs to be a balance of providing real career skills for all types of jobs, along with inspiring knowledge that awakens the thinking mind at every level. There has to be a way to do this.

In any variation we could develop for a new educational structure, I think there are several things that need to be central to it. And these very things are currently being pushed right out of education, to make room for more worker bees that only regurgitate information. That’s a death sentence on society. We need to focus on the importance of the humanities, in every spectrum of learning and education, even if someone is simply going on to be an HVAC repairman (one of many careers that deserve much more respect). That person deserves a well-rounded education that includes context and encourages independent, empathic thought, just as much as an English or Education major. Without it, we’re just making zombies. And what comes with that is the person seeking out new learning opportunities and knowledge on his or her own. Shakespeare is still valuable to the plumber. I guess what I’m calling for is balance. And a little innovation.

That said, I do not regret for a second my college education. I cherish it as my most significant investment, and I count the knowledge, wisdom, and experience I gained during that time as priceless. I had incredible, inspiring professors that changed my life both at the University of Evansville and Spalding. It is true that I aspire to one day be a professor of writing myself, so my pursuit of degrees in creative Writing and poetry apply to my career goals. However, the minute I stepped into Spalding University’s program, they told us that poetry wasn’t going to make us rich (or pay our bills), and we all laughed, because we already knew that. And I didn’t walk out the door and into the job I wanted. I’ve been working for five years at a law firm answering the phone. But that’s okay. No one ever promised me a rose garden, or a job, when I graduated. Succeeding is up to me, it’s not something anyone is going to hand me.

I wouldn’t have gone a different route than poetry, and creative writing. I don’t regret going for my degree in writing for one second. Don’t get me wrong, I have mountains of debt, and I’ll likely have more, as I’m considering further education at this time, but it’s worth it to me. I could’ve dumped that money down the gullet of a big house I don’t need, or a car, or a degree in something I didn’t care about for the sake of “job security,” but instead I have six years of incredible education and two degrees in an area of knowledge I am extremely passionate about. That is living, to me. No amount of physical possessions would do it for me like that has. I have an enriched life of the mind, and that is a priceless gain to me. Hopefully, as I press on and work hard in my writing, I’ll get to where I want to be professionally. But even if I never get my hands on that trophy, I will still value my education just as highly.

Do I think that the way things are set up now is inherently flawed and needs a major overhaul? Yes. But do I think college education is valuable and worth the investment? Absolutely.”

beautiful poetry and a very thoughtful response, Miranda. cogent and inspiring, it’s always good to hear those that rejoice in their past accomplishments.

i suppose, however, that i’m less forgiving.

of course i value the time i spent in college. and of course, there are positions out there that require it. but what i have seen time and time again has led me to the belief that too many young people are misled by their elders and maybe-future-employers that a degree is absolutely necessary for a chance at success. i think it’s incredibly ruthless to tell everyone they have to have it and send them blindly off into the realm of higher education with the hopes of getting ahead, when it is just not true. although it is true that those who have degrees are paid more, statistically speaking, it’s not by much and hardly guaranteed.

we make young people, many who come from modest backgrounds, take out loans that amount to what rich people wipe their asses with, all for the hopes of getting ahead. then they graduate with debt and a job that pays maybe $30 grand a year (the majority) and it sucks the life out of them. most of it is office work that can be taught to almost anyone, but now you have to have a degree. in fact, most people get jobs based on internships they’ve done, which is pretty much a designated period of on-the-job training. so why do they need a degree to do it? well, you cannot intern without being enrolled in school. why not?

that sounds like a hoax to me. i agree with you that the college experience is very rewarding for many. i just think we need to be more honest with young people. otherwise, the system is just going to take their blind aspirations for granted. tuition rises all the time. only very few can get into the ivy-leagues. the rich stay rich, the poor, poor. sure, there are success stories, but they are few and far between.

i think more companies should require on-the-job training as opposed to a degree. if the person wants to enrich themselves with education (Shakespeare for the plumber), that should be their own decision. not a social mandate.

i also think there should be emphasis on which job markets need more people, so that kids don’t go getting degrees in things the country does not need. there’s no reason to go to college unless you are either just there to learn for learning’s sake, or you want to get a decent job. let them be aware of what jobs are looking to hire.

i also found this article the other day, which is worth sticking in here.

***a response from Miranda is pending. as always, the debate continues***

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