This morning I found a link to one of those amazing things that the Internet occasionally provides, T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land, as told by LOLcats. I was of course, obligated to Twitter this, accompanied by the observation that this joke even goes below the ‘Dennis Miller ratio’ threshold (from a ‘Simpsons’ joke about how many people get the jokes Dennis Miller used to make on SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’; these are jokes for a niche audience, is what I’m saying). Because really, this is only funny if the things you find funny include (a) Internet orthography memes (cats can’t spell! get it?) and (b) parodies of T.S. Eliot poems. I gues it goes without saying that I do find these things funny (not that I even really *get* LOLcatz, but from sheer repetition these things have the potential to get funny, like every time Deadpool says ‘chimichanga’; if you’re shaking your head right now, you’re probably not on my side of the ratio, and that’s probably a healthy thing).

Anyway. The really funny part is that reading this inspired me to re-read The Waste Land itself. I haven’t done that for a while, and it’s significant not so much because I have strong feelings about “The Waste Land” as because I have vivid memories of reading “The Waste Land.” These memories are all about my first year of graduate school, taking a course in “The Modern Long Poem” and wondering if I maybe should have tried to be an academic. I was in graduate school, but it was for creative writing — not even for poetry — so I’m not/have never been an ‘academic’ by any strict definition.

I’ve always (or often) enjoyed reading poetry, but I’m not particularly good at it; I can get sounds I like, and superficial meanings, and I enjoy the bricks-and-mortar analysis part when I actually make myself think about it, which isn’t that often. And I have a few favorites that I go back to again and again — it’s similar to the way I am with songs, really, except that with poems I have to work a little harder to hear the music.

Poems can be like songs for me, too, in the way they evoke specific memories. I can’t hear (or read) Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations
without thinking of a guy I went to grad school with who would say the first section of “The Waste Land” as fast as possible as a party trick. (I would say that we weren’t really the kind of people who seem like they’d do things like that, but we must have been a little; my party trick has always been A.E. Housman’s Terence, this is stupid stuff, for what I will pretentiously refer to as obvious reasons — “Malt does more than Milton can/To justify God’s ways to man” was the best undergrad lit-major joke I knew. My younger brother has a line from ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ tattooed on his back, so it could be worse.)

At this remove from my formal education, I don’t have any real deep academic thoughts about “The Waste Land”; I probably never did, though I do remember the time when I sat at my kitchen table with a pile of all my cheap editions of the classics, and Dante, and From Ritual to Romance with the idea that it would help me understand what Eliot was on about, if I actually looked up everything cited in the footnotes (my textbook footnotes plus those footnotes Eliot himself insert as a practical joke on the kind of people who think footnotes help — this isn’t exactly the official interpretation, but it’s the one I’m fond of).

I never really got it, I don’t think, and what I did get I didn’t retain. What I have kept is the memory of where I was when I tried to figure it out, and who the people were that I tried to figure it out with. And that has to be at least some of what Eliot is on about. If there’s ever been a better definition of ‘nostalgia’ than these lines in the first stanza of the poem — “April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain,” I don’t know what it is.

Meanwhile, it’s still January here, it’s too damn cold, and I’m falling asleep at my desk. All things considered, I prefer April.