My journey into poetry began thirty years ago in a Santa Monica apartment with three swinging singles.
Like all good little Gen-X girls of the late 70s and early 80s, I entertained myself with television while my parents were off doing who knows what. And I found my inspiration in the wonderfully poetic Three’s Company.
I didn’t quite understand the complexities of landlord/tenant relationships, sexual politics, or marital sexual dysfunction at the age of seven, but when Jack, Chrissy, Janet, and the Ropers (and later Mr. Furley and the “other” Chrissy’s) spoke, something magical happened. I didn’t get the innuendo, but I knew these characters’ words almost always held multiple meanings and had the power to alter perception in strangely compelling ways. All I had to do was watch Mr. Furley’s eyes:
[Furley listens in as Jack and Chrissy fix the shower curtain in the bathroom]
Jack: OK Chrissy, I’ll get in the tub with you then we can get it on.
Chrissy: Give that to me so I can show you what to do.
Jack: This isn’t exactly the first time I’ve ever done this.
Chrissy: Maybe so, but girls are better at it then boys.
Jack: Come on Chrissy, a little less talk and a little more action.
Chrissy: Okay, you do your part and I’ll do mine [Looks at shower
curtain] I don’t think it’ll reach!
Jack: Of course not! You have to unfold it first!
All right, so maybe my watching this show as a braided second-grader marks a dark time in my moral upbringing. But something about Three’s Company sparked my desire to use language to create tension and elicit laughter on my own. So I began to write. A lot.
My first story involves a koala bear, rabbit and squirrel who–you guessed it–room together. The three animals purchase a lighting fixture for their dining room, a Tiffany of sorts, and fight over how to install it. Writing this story stunned me. How much power I had to imagine their conflict! To wield exclamation points and color their despairing, floppy ears! Then, even more thrilling, to bring them back together again over a conciliatory meal of Cap’n Crunch. I did that. Little me. The girl who didn’t even pick out her own outfits for school.
I wrote series of stories about humanoid animals and their hijinks throughout my childhood before transitioning into playwriting and screenwriting as a teen. (I did, after all, live in southern California like my friends at the Regal Beagle.) Finally, in college, I landed on poetry as my main genre. I had begun to realize that my characters and plots were fading as I increased my attention to the words themselves, to the pictures and metaphors they created, to my ability to create understanding–or misunderstanding–with a carefully crafted phrase. And while I often wonder what would have happened I stuck it out with screenwriting–my own hit show?–I know poetry is where I’m meant to be. I just can’t escape it.
So come and knock on my door, poetry. As always, I’ll be waiting for you.
Photo by Tara Bethune-Leamen, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan, author of How to Read a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry”.
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Maureen Doallas says
Such a funny exchange, words alone sufficient visuals. And a great story of how you got hooked on poem-making.
Matthew Kreider says
See, TV has made positive contributions to poetry! 🙂 Great piece, Tanya. It’s a fun, visual reminder of how even poetry can move like Mr. Furley’s eyes. 🙂
Tania Runyan says
Poetry does indeed move in mysterious, and often non-intellectual, ways!
Every single thing about this piece is terrifical. Maybe my off the rocker sense of humor was influenced by Gilligan after all.
Thanks for sharing this!
Richard Carr says
That’s funny, Tania. I watched a lot of Three’s Company, too — but for, ahem, boy reasons…
Tania Runyan says
Thanks, Darlene! And Richard, was it Janet or Chrissy for you?
Monica Sharman says
I grew up on that show, too. When we take conversations or quotes out of context, the possibilities are endless. 🙂 But not until now did I think of it as poetry!
L. L. Barkat says
This is such a delightful piece. Effortless in the writing. Which is perhaps overlooked because of the light tone you take. But I see it and smile. You’re a smart writer, you know it? 🙂
And I laughed through it. Which is just such a gift on a rainy day.
To Richard: lol! 🙂
Kimberlee Conway Ireton says
I’d never have guessed that TV sitcoms birthed poets. I’ll have to stop being so hard on TV. On second thought, it’s much too fun to bash something I never watch. It is such a spur to one’s genius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying anything just. (Anyone? Anyone?)
Seriously, I’d never have guessed Three’s Company could have sparked such a wonderful poetic imagination, such beautiful words as yours.
Tania Runyan says
Sweet, L.L.! Thank you so much! And Kimberlee, we literally don’t have T.V. in our house. Got rid of it in 2003 when our oldest was a baby. Good thing I got inspired before then!
Angela Alaimo O'Donnell says
Loved this piece, Tania. It’s hilarious–and true!! Television IS a great goad to the imagination!
It was BONANZA that did it for me. I loved those nineteenth-century women’s clothes, those handsome Cartwright boys, and even their horses. (Little Joe’s pinto was my favorite horse, but Hoss my favorite brother. I know–go figure! ).
Since I couldn’t live in their world, in real life, I read every 19th-Century novel I could find and would imagine myself there. I blame Ben and the Boys for my falling in love with Romantic and Victorian poetry, as well–and for the fact that Keats & Tennyson, Dickinson & Whitman are my mentors more than my own contemporaries.
Thank ‘ee, ma’am, for the fine post!