Some autobiography, Part 2; or, the science continued; or, the decision to know poetry

As described in a previous post, I was a chemistry nerd in high school.  Despite this seemingly disparate interest, I was enthusiastic about writing poetry.

To give you an idea of this, one summer in high school, while in an internship in which I helped out in a lab/performed some experiments, I wrote poems while waiting for the times when I’d need to collect data.  I showed the poems to the graduate students studying chemical engineering, and one told me I should get into poetry/teaching (she often lamented her work, though…. I wasn’t so sure about not getting into chemical engineering yet).

While I loved chemistry, there is probably something I should tell you: I hated doing science fair projects in elementary and middle school.  I thought it didn’t really make sense.  Yes, I could see that it was enacting the scientific method, a valuable method.  But I thought anything I wondered about had likely already been answered by someone somewhere at some time; it seemed the most interesting “experiments” were actually inventions by fellow students, something I sure didn’t have the resources to do.  Anyway, clearly young people can find new discoveries—I’m just telling you what my attitudes were about myself and my abilities as far as that was concerned.

Performing laboratory experiments in high school was, well, okay, but not nearly as interesting to me as learning abstractly (versus hands-on).  In other words, my joy was in theory / I felt joy for theory.

By the time I was a freshman at Rice University, planning to major in chemical engineering and, thus, in my first organic chemistry lab, I felt something was amiss.  More than that, I had an overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there.  Being a logical person, I wasn’t sure what to make of that unordinary, incredibly strong emotional response.  I decided to follow my intuition and drop the lab, and by the end of the semester I decided I would major in philosophy; I wanted to major in something else as well, though (Rice enables students to double major without too much trouble).

I was still writing poetry and knew I always would.  I realized I was seeing chemical engineering as a profession in which to support myself while still achieving the ends of writing poetry; I hoped chemical engineering might bring something interesting into my poems, too.

Once I realized I was more interested in theory itself than, say, the “consequences” of theory (application), I briefly considered majoring in physics.  But that felt wrong, too.  It wasn’t enough.  Yes, philosophy would be my major, but I still wanted another one as well.

I took two psychology classes, and I enjoyed the concepts and theory, but again…psychology isn’t poetry (although poetry has psychology), so I decided that couldn’t be my other major, either.

Of course that leaves the most obvious choice, the choice I had been avoiding: having English as a major.

Why was I avoiding English, avoiding taking classes that studied poetry itself?!  Even at this stage, I considered the work of poetry to be doing unheard of things, to resist expectation, to be open to something different….  My concern was that if I studied poetry, I would become limited by the norms established in those classes; I wanted to know other things so that I might have something other to offer.  I wanted to be different, to offer something different.

I talked with someone who was a close friend at the time (majoring in philosophy and physics).  I expressed the above-mentioned concern, and he pointed out that in order to be “different” I had to know the norm.  The trick is to not be swallowed by the norm.

I attended my first poetry workshop the next semester, and I felt my notion of poetry and confidence in poetry expand.

I got into it fully, devotedly, for the long haul.

Perhaps the most important commitment of my life.

My thoughts, naturally, cannot be “finished,” but I share with you what I currently have.

How did you get into poetry?  How do you separate poetry from other subjects or integrate it into other subjects?  How do you cohere seemingly contrary subjects?

How important is knowledge in order to resist knowing, or to resist an established form of knowing?