Edward Lacie (email@example.com)
About "A Real Education" by Edward Lacie As much about controlled rage against "the machine" as it is about education (educational standards would be a better phrase), "A Real Education" by Greg Baysans is a 500-plus line subdued scream. The footnote informs us that the poem includes "samples" from news stories and, indeed, some entire strophes (including the first, the only segment with a real "poetic" feel) are verbatim news reports broken into "lines" of poetry. The initial response is a sense of laziness on the part of the writer (akin to the laziness of musical acts who "sample" others' creations), but the diversity of the material and how it plays off the original content of the poem redeems the use of verbatim stories, in fact enhances their succint use. The inclusion of newspaper accounts echoes the Cubist poems of experimental French writer Blaise Cendrars, an acquaintance of Picasso and Braque who also were using letters and actual pieces of newspaper in their paintings. "Derniére Heure" (1914) by Blaise Cendrars, is a news item from a Paris newspaper about a prison escape in 1914 Texas. The inclusion of newspapers was meant to bring the art back to the masses, no longer restricting it to an "inner circle." Jacques Prévert, another French writer of the Symbolist movement, also attempted to create a "populist" poetry. "A Real Education" (a sarcastic allusion to the parental sarcastic remark, "I'm going to give you a real education" prepatory to a spanking) is very much based on events in the world contemporary to its writing and includes events from the life of the author/narrator. Storylines (a man who half-buries school buses in his yard is especially memorable) are intertwined in an accumulation that, initially, seems too fast-paced and random. The details don't connect, the subjects are not even compatible. Themes begin to recur and advance: the person burying busses, Larry Eaton, we learn, is protesting land zones around his property by burying the busses and is being prescribed anti-depressants. Eaton, one of many characters named by name in the poem, becomes a sort of surrogate for the narrator, going through his own protest of the school and the financing (half government loan and half private school loan) scheme he feels prey to. $10,000 is a lot of rage, but the protests never rise above a witty, queeny sort of "name-calling" and resignation to the fact that others will continue to be scammed after this is all over. The briefest strophe, a quote from the mistake-filled BCTI typing manual: "How to Bath (sic) a Cat", comes immediately after mention of classmates who were likewise "given a bath" by the "learning" institution. Another witty dig is the enjambment of "these rats/have a language all their own" after making note of another error in the manual. Kafka-esque in its depiction of powerlessness against a suspect system, "A Real Education" creates a hall-of-mirrors feeling completed with the inclusion of another story-thread that could be the most illuminating of the whole poem: Black Farmers Litigation. Before reading this poem, it would be easy to ask, "How can poetry be made of a decade-old civil rights litigation case semi-settled and in a current jumble seemingly swept under a front-door rug no one cares about?" Already having found a metaphor in the historical (Shang-hai'ing) for the dishonesty of what he feels is this "educational" pursuit, he goes outside of himself to the contemporary world (Enron is another example) and describes an entire "class" of ill-treated contemporaries also hapless victims of a system over which they have no control, the Black Farmers. And besides the government having discriminated against these Black Farmers, a worse (if there can be such) "scam" develops within this society which additionally victimizes the victims. Late in the poem, in one of two verses where the author includes himself by name, he also includes the voice of a woman cheated within the system trying to help her get compensation for having been cheated. That this character has only one line in the poem contributes to the sense that the rage in the poem is drastically muted. As the threads of the story are expanded, the last to fall into place is the Black Farmers concern. As another example of a scam, the Black Farmers Litigation information is pertinent but has no connection to the author. We learn, at the end of the poem, that the training at BCTI has led to a job in completely unrelated skills: telephone operator taking calls for the Black Farmers Litigation. Realizing that all the pieces, disparate as they are, tie together is the major accomplishment of "A Real Education." As a poetic accompaniment to the time in history that is/was the Enron investigation, the poem is a complex story simply told in a complex way. The poem's final phrase "wanting money" is a surrender to forces which have beaten the narrator into poverty and a maze of busses. -Edward Lacie, 10/12/02-01/28/03
"A Real Education"
Parody by Edward Lacie