• Troy Kinney

Mr. Anderson, English 102



The second semester of my freshman year in college I had an interesting English prof. His name was Mr. Anderson. He loved to pick on the girls in class. I believe he did this in order to get them to participate in discussion. He was a rail of a man, lanky. He wore plaid long-sleeved flannel shirts tucked in above a custom cowboy-style leather belt with his name worked into the back, which held up a pair of blue jeans. He had this habit of bringing one foot way up and setting it atop of a table and then propping his elbow on his knee while sipping out of an insulated coffee mug.

One day he handed us a typed packet of poems. But there was something wrong.

“As you can see I have removed all of the titles and authors from each of the poems in this packet. It is purposeful. I want you to read them on your own and see if you can figure out what the title might be.” He had a devilish grin.

He had fit all kinds of poems in those five pages: Form poems, rhyming poems, concrete poems, free verse. To be sure, this was the late 1980’s and there was no internet, no Google, where we could just punch in a few lines and find all the information we needed. We really had to figure it out on our own.

Most of those poems have faded for me now, but one stands out in my memory. This poem was unique in that it had a particular form and it only had two words that made up the whole of the poem. It looked a lot like this:

bread!

b r e a d !

B r e a d !

B r e a d !

B R E A D !

dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

bread!

b r e a d !

B r e a d !

B r e a d !

B R E A D !

Almost immediately I knew exactly what this poem was about. I had an epiphany! I couldn’t wait to tell what I believed this poem was about the next day in class.

As Mr. Anderson readied himself that next day in class, foot on table, coffee mug in hand, I was literally puffed with the pride that I just knew was going to be transformed into the praise I so desired from him.

He casually stated, “Let’s look at the poem about Bread shall we? Does anyone…”

“I do.” I spoke too quickly.

“Yes?”

Ugh, everyone was looking at me now. “Okay, so I was reading this and realized the poem is about a picnic.”

The puzzled look that came over Mr. Anderson’s face was disheartening. “A picnic?” He actually looked upset, like I was trying to make a joke of his assignment, his class. I assure you, I wasn’t.

“Um, yeah…” I was floundering, but I knew in my heart I was right. I caught my confidence train coming round and hung on. “Yes, a picnic.” Now everyone was looking at me in that sad way students do when they know their classmate is not just walking into quicksand, but about to go under the surface for good. “You see, there is this lunch spread out on a blanket. There are sandwiches, slices of bread. Then there is a line of ants. The ants are like, marching. They see the bread. They begin chanting, ‘bread, bread!, BREAD!’ They begin gathering on the bread.” I glanced around the room, one of my friends was covering her face, another rolled her eyes. A buddy of mine was grinning at the ass I was obviously making of myself. “That is why the poem is in the form of a square there, because they are on the bread.” Now Mr. Anderson appeared completely baffled, his mug tipping down in disappointment. I continued, “It is then that the people whose picnic it is notice the ants on their food and stomp down on the bread in order to kill the ants. That is why the words dead are like that, in that form. They die on the slice of bread all at once. The remaining line of ants is not wise to all their friends dying and begin to head for the next slice of bread and that is why the ‘breads’ begin again.” Whew, I got it out. Awkward silence. I waited.

It was then I watched the most interesting transformation begin to take place on Mr. Anderson’s face. He took his foot off of the table. He set that mug with that sip hole lid down and loudly roared, “YESSSSSSS!” We all jumped back a little in our desks. He came around the table right in front of us. He was uninhibited. He boomed, “The ants are marching, BREAD, BREAD, BREAD!” He got louder and louder marching, marching with his hands in the air across the front of the room, “BREAD!” Then he started stomping on the ground and thundered, “DEAD, DEAD, DEAD, DEAD!!” he laughed and began the breads again. Everyone’s eyes were huge. I was filled to the brim with pride. He stopped suddenly. The class still in a sort of shock. Then he looked right at me, pointed his finger, “You are wrong!!! It isn’t about that at all!!!”

What? After all that? The yelling and marching? I was wrong? He began to explain the meaning of the poem after he told us the title, "Revolution: The Vicious Circle" by John Nist. Yes. I was wrong. I understood basically what the poem was talking about after he laid down that wisdom, but it actually wasn’t until just recently I think I really got it; a connection 28 years in the making. It was during a viewing of Michal Pollan’s “COOKED: Air” episode that it all made complete sense. You can read that here: Michael Pollan's COOKED:Air on Netflix.

As far as the rest of my experience in English 102, Mr. Anderson did distinguish me that day after his true explanation and stated that he appreciated my efforts and proof texts and my confidence in sharing my view in the eye of awkwardness and that he would never forget it. That event happened in the first week of class and I must say I had fairly smooth sailing in there the rest of the time. Many times he asked what I thought about some passage, probably to see what weird stuff I’d say. It is probably what contributed to choosing English as my major in college. He wasn’t lying when he said he would never forget that day because year after year anyone I heard that took his class came out at some time explaining how weird their English Professor was, yelling and marching across the room going, “BREAD, BREAD, BREAD!”

-TK

#freshman #college #professor #English101 #poetry #poem #JohnNist #TroyKinney

Phoenix, AZ, USA

©2018 by TroyKinney