Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Perfect Place to do Research

On a whim, I decided to sign up for a poetry writing class.  Our teacher, Kristina, named the course A Perfect Place to Write a Poem – the perfect place being the free library in Abington.  Kristina thinks the library is the perfect place to write a poem because it is the perfect place to do research.

Research?  I use a computer for that!  

There was a time however, when I was young and energetic enough to take the subway or “C” bus into the city to the Free Library of Philadelphia to do research. I used to spend hours in the basement of that library doing research for papers I had to write for high school and college.  

Once, while in high school I read Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. After learning that it was based on a true story, I headed for the library where all the old newspapers were kept on rolls of microfiche in huge metal drawers in huge metal cabinets in the basement.  Now, that was the perfect place to do research!  Kind of amazing and creepy all at once.

Back in poetry class, Kristina was telling us we were going to write “a found poem.”  A found poem is one created by taking words and/or phrases from books (thus, the research) to create a poem.  (For those interested there is an amazing example in the Wikipedia - (I can't stay away from that computer!)

Since I happened to be re-reading The Great Gatsby just before class, I decided to use it and Tender is the Night, which I found at the library.  Like many, I am intrigued by Fitzgerald’s lyricism.  In Tender, I found two phrases which crept into my mind and would not leave. The phrases were “she did understand” and “she understood well.” They made me think of Zelda, Fitzgerald’s beautiful and mentally fragile wife.
The words made me wonder if Zelda knew how precarious her mental health was.  I wanted to get into her head and write about Zelda.  Talk about doing research!  Inside Zelda’s head is not the perfect place.  But once the idea came to me, it would not go away.  

    I got up early on Saturday morning and wrote my poem,  which was short and sweet and used words like rigamarole (one of Fitzgeralds's words) to describe Zelda's mind.  But leaving Zelda’s head proved much more difficult than entering it.  Fortunately, I finished the poem just minutes before I had to leave for another class - a course in Mindfulness.  

    The mindfulness class is being held on the campus of the Bucks County Community College in Newtown and, in my disarranged state of mind, I was in a hurry to get there.  The first thing I noticed when I did was its tall trees and old stone buildings.  Walking among them took me far away from Zelda's mind and back to a time when, just out of high school, I worked for an insurance company located across the street from the Art Museum in Philadelphia. 

I used to take the subway to City Hall and walk along the Ben Franklin Parkway (which was designed to emulate the Champs-Elysees in Paris), examining the way the sunlight fell on the leaves or the sound my feet made as they hit the pavement or the way the rain reflected the streetlights.  Over time, I spent hours on that parkway examining the world around me or the thoughts inside me.  Sometimes I would stop by the Cathedral for a minute or two to pray or I would stare at a sculpture outside the Rodin Museum.  

   Research, I've learned as I've aged, does not have to be heady or boring.  It can also be light and entertaining the way walking down a street and noticing everything is. Now that is research.  As authentic and enlightening as any.    

My memoir, Dear Elvis, is available at

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