Jan 20, 2011

SURFERS; Two Poems by John Logan

I’d never been around surfers until a few years ago in St. Augustine. Who knew there’d be dozens or hundreds of them in northern Florida? Air temps are often in the 40s and 50s. Who knows how cold the water is? How would you go about conveying that?

The St. Augustine waves probably aren’t much compared to California or Hawaii, but these folks—a few of them in their forties, by the way—are totally committed to the action, as well as just sitting out there, bobbing up and down by a pelican, waiting, maybe, not only for the right wave but also the real feel of ocean and all that Romantic stuff about nature.

One size does not fit all for any group, including surfers, but I now wonder if a lot of them are more interesting than the airheads and flakes I probably presumed them to be, if I thought about them at all. Maybe they’re the genuine article, quiet dropouts and seekers. Maybe they’re like the mountain recluses, but with more sense of philosophy or spirituality, all gestalt and no guns.

Once I said to a shivering young thing as she dried off, “I guess you’ve gotta be committed to it.” “Yeah, she said. “Commitment and technology.” I liked that. You have to wear the right wet suit and ride the right board as well as having the right vision. It seemed like honesty, not self-serving narcissism or braggadocio.

Other than that exchange, I’ve never said more than “Hi-isn’t-it-cold-out-there.” Surely they’d see me as just one more of the middle-aged middle class, one more of the bitching bourgeois. The Academy is full of us, half-assed protesters, gutless idealists. If we were lawyers or brokers, you could call us Yuppies.

On the other hand, some of us have ended up that way not just from greed or laziness, but also from disillusionment with the impurity of almost every revolutionary we’ve known (which is part of what makes King and Gandhi special). If I’m going to be a hypocrite anyway, I might as well have a newer car.

I’m probably waxing dumb-Romantic myself by even half-hoping for the existence of a genuine and nonviolent revolutionary or recluse, a mystic on a hilltop or a wave, the thinking man’s hippie, the one who makes me feel genuinely guilty for settling and for self-interest. I haven’t found him or her yet, but as I watch the surfers for awhile, I can wonder.

As for today's poetry, I was surprised at Poetry Foundation to find that when I searched for "surfer poems" I got several responses.

I haven't recently looked at John Logan's work, and I never knew it well. But you'll see why I could not resist "Middle-Aged Midwesterner . . . ." "Shore Scene" might be the better poem, but I haven't spent long enough with either work to offer confident opinions.

Middle-Aged Midwesterner at Waikiki Again by John Logan : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Shore Scene by John Logan : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.



gothpunkuncle said...

West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief by Steven Kotler is a book that sort of goes where your musings are heading -- and it's lighter fare than the title suggests. Though I like parts of the Logan poem, I'm not sure I like it well enough to go back and analyze what I DON'T trust about it (line breaks and giant shifts in tone, most likely.)

Anonymous said...

I knew a guy who spent all his free time chasing waves. He was an operations manager at AT&T.

Nothing and no one is ever what they seem. I'll bet not even King and Gandhi.

Jean Spitzer said...

I think it may be more realistic to view surfing as a sport, like tennis or golf, that attracts the well-off, since it requires a hefty investment in equipment and time to master. It's also a sport for the athletic and brave: the ocean is always a challenge.

Banjo52 said...

AH and Jean, thanks—that’s good info. All my common sense tells me to pay attention to those features, the most likely ones, but then my other brain pipes up. Let’s call it imagination rather than derangement. If Wordsworth can have his Old Cumberland Beggar, why can’t I have my peaceful mountain folks and mystic surfers?

Banjo52 said...

GPU, that's an intriguing title. Is the book hard to find? Your reaction to the Logan is almost exactly like mine, though I still haven't revisited either poem. As I keep dragging myself to readings, I become more and more obsessed with the issue of honesty in poetry. Yes, a poem is an artifice, but I need to sense that it's more than an erector set claiming to convey urgent calls to the meaning of life. That's too harsh for Logan, but it's not too harsh for The Scene in general.

Brenda's Arizona said...

The poems stumped me. Is it the innuendo?

Surfing - what a sport. Is it confidence that allows a person to stand on a long or short board, in waves with minds and actions of their own? Is it bravery? curiosity? the challenge? the beauty?
Whatever it is that attracts surfers to surf maybe is the same motivation that attracts poets to write poems?

Once in Kauai, I won a lottery - the prize was surfing lessons. Easy to do on shore, standing on a board ensconced in sand. I couldn't transmit the balance to standing in water. When I got home, I got out the Wii balance board and practiced. Without water.

(Verbosity breeds verbose responses!)I love your photos! It seems that California surf (and cold ocean water) breeds a different species of surfer dude/dudette.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Forget King; caught coveting his neighbors wife.

The stereotype of a surfer is the Spicolli character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Some of the most territorial of surfers come from the wealthiest of homes. I think Malcom McLaren picked up on that and tried to seduce a new sound out of it. Anyhow, the artist Marnie Weber (who I profiled awhile back) is a surfer.

I almost spilled
and found I could not eat
the purple orchid in my drink.

the drug they give you (right before the knockout drug)...I asked the anesthesiologist to allow me a couple minutes more under the influence of that drug. I told him it tasted like liquid orchids. So he did, he was from India

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