This is the second installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short response.
Can you make out the title of the second book from the right? It’s Peter Ho Davies’s The Ugliest House in the World. It’s a very approachable collection of short stories that I purchased in college with a $50 gift card to Borders that I won as part of a poetry reading contest my sophomore(?) year.
It is a fortunate thing that I do not have the poem any longer, because I am positive it doesn’t deserve the internet knowing about it. It was written in response to a prompt from my actual Poetry Writing class, which was to write a poem “about a place you’ve never been.” I wrote what at the time seemed like a silly, humorous poem (but if it still existed somewhere might just be full-on terrible) about the teacher’s lounge, and I somehow rhymed “teachers” with “what we’d do behind the bleachers,” and one of the student judges told me after the fact that it was this line that won the contest for me.
As for the class, I think I got a B. I was an irritating, arrogant, and naive thing to have in a poetry writing class. The professor happened to be a short, arrogant, and somewhat sexist fellow, and a total jerk to have teaching a poetry class. I wrote a poem that used the word “dodecahedron” in it (do not ask me why), and he graded it poorly, in part because of something having to do with the soft “e” sound in the second-to-last syllable but also because that’s dumb. Instead of rolling with it, I went up to my short, arrogant, and somewhat sexist professor, and told him that the second-to-last syllable in fact has a hard “e”. The following class meeting, he caught me afterwards and told me that yes, the word does have a hard “e”, that he’d looked it up in four separate dictionaries. Why on earth he didn’t trust the first one, I don’t know any more than I know why I wrote a poem with the word “dodecahedron” in it.
You can see how we’re all at fault here.
As a further insult to the world of poetry, my teacher’s lounge poem earned me $50 in gift money. This is more than a lot of really excellent poets can say, thus supporting the theory that there is a near-total lack of justice in the world. With that gift card, I purchased Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark, and Peter Ho Davies’s The Ugliest House in the World, which has a lovely and touching short story called “Release” that revolves around a big fart unleashed at a dinner of British army officers at the dawn of the 20th century.
I can think of no better way to end this story than with the secondhand story of a literary fart. Cheers!