by Gabrielle Freeman
I love college campuses; the landscaping, the architecture, the bits of conversation you can hear walking past the students. I’m a poet, and poets gather ideas and thoughts like the worst hoarders on TLC. If they could only see inside my brain… but I digress, as usual. So I was walking toward the classroom where I would give my last final of the semester, and I heard this from two girls sitting on the floor in the hall: “He reeked. I mean, like, he hadn’t showered in, like, seven days. I mean, he reeked on Tuesday, he reeked on Thursday, it was like…”
In less than 30 seconds, I got an image. College student. Male. Unwashed. I started memory-smelling patchouli. I remembered a boy in one of my music theory classes who smelled like beer-sweat at 9am. My point? I had specific details and enough context to work with.
I like details. I like writing that gives a clear idea and does not obfuscate or purposefully confuse. Recently, I’ve noticed that I cannot make sense of some poetry being published, not for lack of trying. It is frustrating. I want to understand the poem; I want to take something away from it that enriches my life in some way. Sadly, I just don’t get it. This morning, when I checked my phone for the Poem of the Day, I was ecstatic to find Jonathan Wells’ poem “No Ticket.”
Here is a poem that gives the reader plenty to work with. The speaker fills his pockets with ticket stubs from a concert, a trip to Acapulco, a movie, so that he can experience them again and again. Who hasn’t saved a ticket stub? I had one from seeing the Scorpions play in 1988 in my wallet for years. I could look at it and remember the stage, the crowd, everything. The image of the man pulling ticket stubs out of his pockets and daydreaming is clear and the emotion accessible.
While this is very nice, it isn’t what makes this poem so wonderful to read. The last two stanzas transform the daydreaming man. Suddenly, he is not just remembering a matinee viewed from the balcony of a movie theater. Even though the reader understands that the man is still in his head, revisiting a scene in the film “over and over in the balcony of / his thought” (line 10), because of the attention paid to this ticket, two of five total stanzas, the speaker seems to become the hero of the movie: “the hero / realized he’d been pursuing her and was being / pursued in turn as they reached the precipice / of no regret. And then the fiery night called out / to them and said no ticket would be needed” (lines 11-15).
Even though the language is still in past tense and does not change, when Wells makes a point to write “specifically the part where the hero…” (line 11), the details that follow create a shift from passive to active; they create momentum. Wells brings the speaker and the reader into the pursuit and pushes them over the precipice. The freefall afterwards, the hero and heroine coming together without regret, creates a sense of freedom and abandon. In this scene, the lovers do not need permission; they do not need to pay admission to their experiences.
Someone once told me that a good poem needs a pivot point, a place where the poem becomes more than itself. In the last two stanzas of “No Ticket,” Wells’ details create a pivot that helps the reader to understand that the ticket stubs aren’t just nostalgia. They are moments where “Time was ceaseless” (line 6), moments of uninhibited life.
As I sit watching my students type, as I type this blog entry, I know that I have been enriched by reading this poem. It has reminded me that there is a beautiful sun shining outside of the restraints of these cinder block walls, that there are moments of perfect experience just waiting to happen, no ticket required.
Wells, Jonathan. “No Ticket.” Poets.org from the Academy of American Poets. 9 May 2013. 9 May 2013. Web.