Poetry Class at Westpoint

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CADET 1 and 2 stand in the center of the room.

 

SERGEANT

Atten-shun!

 

CADET 1 and 2 stand at attention. SERGEANT enters room.

 

SERGEANT

I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor. This is your poetry class. You will speak only when spoken to. The first words out of your filthy mouths will be “O Captain,” and the last words will be “My Captain.” Do you maggots understand?

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Bullshit! Sound off like you got a pair!

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!!

 

SERGEANT

If you survive my class, you are expert poets. Until then, you are pukes! You are like the ruins of Ozymandias’ great work after someone pisses on it! You will hate me, because I am hard. But in time, you will find that I am hard, but fair. I do not discriminate, because you are all equally worthless! You all put the ‘ass’ in ‘assonance,’ and all awful alliterators will get a pentameter up theirs if they ever cross me! Is that understood?!

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Sound off like you’re raging against the dying of the light!

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!!!

 

SERGEANT

(to CADET 1)

You! You don’t look like you could tell the difference between a tree branch and a subway train! Tell me the difference between a metaphor and a simile!

 

CADET 1

O Captain a metaphor is like a transformation—

 

SERGEANT

Bullshit! You’re using a simile! Tell me what a metaphor is using a metaphor!

 

CADET 1

O Captain a metaphor is… ahhh… a duck! My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

A duck?! What the hell are you trying to pull, cadet?

 

CADET 1

O Captain I tried to go for an intuitive and emotional answer—

 

SERGEANT

What the fuck do those words have to do with poetry? I’ll tell you what— everything! Emotion is the stovetop with which you boil the perfect chemical we call water, and boiling water is like saying hello, because it’s the first step to feeding a starving woman! That’s how you do a metaphor and a simile! What do you think of that, cadet?

 

CADET 1

O Captain I think that’s beautiful, My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

It was written by Silvia Plath, what do you think of that?

 

CADET 1

O Captain, I think that she—

 

SERGEANT

No it’s not, you retarded duckling! I wrote that! For as long as you are under my heel, I am Sylvia Plath, God, and your hot cousin all at once! You will not laugh! You will not cry! You will only nod thoughtfully when you hear something you think is insightful!

 

CADET 2

O Captain, I don’t think you should use that word, My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Who said that? Who the fuck said that?

 

CADET 2

O Captain I’m the only other person in the room My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Oh. Right. Now tell me, Cadet, what do you have against the word “insightful”?

 

CADET 2

O Captain, I was referring to the r-word, My Captain?

 

SERGEANT

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? You’re a muggy, overbearing dimwit that’s only good for making ice cream disappear! So I can’t say ‘retard’ in my poems, can I? Well maybe you can’t say in your poetry, “Fuck me gently, papa.” Let’s see you write autobiographical poetry without that phrase, papafucker! Now drop down and give me 20 rhymes for retard.

 

CADET 2 does 20 pushups, and does one of these rhymes for each one: “backyard, barnyard, charge card, discard, dockyard, flash card, on guard, regard, safeguard, stockyard, avant-garde, disregard, lumberyard, saint Bernard, national guard, buzzard, cigar, sash cord, streetcar, unheard”

 

SERGEANT

(to CADET 1)

As for you, Donald Duck, I want to see your war feet!

 

CADET 1

…my what-

 

SERGEANT slaps CADET 1

 

CADET 1

O Captain I am unfamiliar with war feet My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Anapest! Dimeter! Trochee! Use your goddamn mind, Cadet! Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by and stuck it up your mom’s pussy! Now let me see your war feet!

 

CADET 1

O Captain, iambic pentameter, my Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Bullshit! You are not Shakespearian sloppy seconds, cadet! Now do you know onomatopoeia, or do you think it’s a rare species of duck?

 

CADET 1

O Captain I am aware of onomatopoeia My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Cadet, I want you to give the onomatopoeia of a duck getting fucked in the ass by T. S. Eliot.

(beat)

Now, Cadet!

 

CADET 1

Quaaaggghhhh!

 

SERGEANT

Spell it out!

 

CADET 1

O Captain q-u-a-a-a-g-g-g-h-h-h-h My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Cadet, give me a dactyl tetrameter poem about war using that onomatopoeia, starting now!

 

CADET 1

“Quaaaggghhhh!” I cry, and I will seek hell’s

gate once Jack dies, but until he

rips out the terror’s parallels

located in rib cage, no plea

for a devil’s thanks given up.

Sound off, and take arms, Jack, don’t give

up, hearts beat parallel, setup

knife to one heart, or two hearts, live

to fight parallel, out of sync,

become the beats of war. One splits

in two. For now we’ll never blink

‘til I must carry back your bits.

 

A beat. SERGEANT is tearing up.

 

SERGEANT

(moved)

Cadet, that was… oh my… I’m feeling really sensitive right now. There’s a few things I have to write down.

 

SERGEANT goes over to table to write down a poem.

 

SERGEANT

(writing this down)

I hate war, war is bad.

It is making me sad.

I want to eat filet mignon

and stay inside to read Walt Whitman.

But I am not a free bard…

 

Beat. SERGEANT continues sobbing.

 

CADET 2

O Captain is there something wrong My Captain?

 

SERGEANT

I don’t know how to finish poems!

 

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