Putting the Extra into the Ordinary

Deborah Doolittle

fallingwebsite deborah doolittle

First and foremost, I am a community college English instructor. That’s my day—and sometimes night—job. I look for teachable moments in everything that I encounter. I am also a quirky reader. I suffer from periodic “misreads” wherein I drop a letter from a word or rearrange the letters in a word. Perhaps I am too distracted or in too much of a hurry, but the result provides me with an initial misinterpretation not intended by the author. I soon recognize my error. However, once I set the spelling straight, the misread continues to prick at my imagination.

I have also embraced William Carlos Williams’ “no ideas but in things” and taken the reverse step to things representing ideas. This tactic has led me to write a number of object poems. At first, I stayed within the obvious confines of writing about objects that could easily stand in for human representation: a scarecrow, a mannequin, a Jack-o’-lantern, a glove. (All poems I have written!) I ask myself this question: what would the world look like from its perspective? Then, I proceed to tell it—sometimes in first person, sometimes in third. Soon after, I branched out to objects with human-like connections, those objects that have legs, arms, faces, feet, or hands. Later, I would venture to objects with more tenuous connections.

My poem, “The Book in the Middle of the Busy Intersection,” was a product of these three happy impulses. The book, by the way, has a spine and more humanlike thoughts and a few virtues. Patience, for one. Hope and humility, for two more. The idea in this poem is that a book is only useful if it is read, which leads it to its doom. I am still surprised—and shouldn’t be—when a student admits that he or she has never read a book outside of class before. I envision many books discarded in many unlikely and totally useless places. As for the misread, I actually “misheard” a student who was talking before class about a boot in the middle of an intersection. I heard “book” and asked, “What kind of book?”  After the student had set the record straight, I still could not get that image of the book out of my head. Its plight was one I could not ignore.

Deborah H. Doolittle has lived in lots of places but now resides in Jacksonville, NC. Some of her poems have recently appeared (or will soon appear) in The Aurorean, Bear Creek Haiku, Broad River Review, I-70, Mochilla Review, Poet’s Espresso Review, Slant, and Talking River. She lives with her husband and six cats, sharing a backyard with a pair of red-shouldered hawks and other song birds. Deborah was featured in the Winter 2011, 296.1 issue.

Artwork by Brianne Burnell, a freelance digital illustrator living and creating from her home studio in Toronto, Canada. Brianne was featured in issue 299.1 of the North American Review. See brianneburnell.com/