It’s only natural that contemporary poets would adopt the rhetoric of school exams into their work. Virtually everyone these days has a ready familiarity with the tropes of multiple choice, show your work, time’s up, etc. And there’s a dialectic of ambivalence surrounding tests and testing that’s made for poetic treatment. We are told that test scores don’t mean anything, and yet are warned that our future depends upon passing at the top. The exam is both a trifle and a trial, a measure of merit and an arbitrary milestone on a path that leads into the white glare of FUTURE the bored student has heard so damn much about.
Eve Adamson plays with this dual nature of the exam in her poem, “Being 101: Final Exam.” There’s a call-and-response feel to this most unusual of sonnets in which the student’s answers out-whimsy the perplexing questions. She answers the question, “How many stars?” with “Cylindrical obsess,” which I read as a non-sequiter with a defiantly dismissive tone, as if to say, “If I don’t like the question, I’m not going to give a direct answer.”
My favorite question/answer? “Where does the river go? Inside the heron’s footprint.” You’ll have to read the poem (and listen to Adamson’s wonderful recitation) to find out just who this heron is.