Censored: “Poem of the Year”

Confession time: I wrote poetry in high school — a lot of poetry.

Corridors of the Mind -- Memorial High School 1971 literary magazine

Memorial High School 1971 literary magazine

Was it any good? Again, I repeat, it was high school poetry, so I’m not going to say it was good. Mine was good enough to be published in our high school’s literary magazine, The Corridors of the Mind.

As a freshman, I had 3 poems accepted; 5 as a sophomore; and as a junior, I wrote the “Poem of the Year,” as selected by student readers.

That won me a $5 prize — and promptly got the whole magazine censored.

The most interesting thing about the whole episode is that no specific reason was ever given why this particular poem was so offensive as to provoke censorship. Perhaps it was one or two of the words that were still considered too profane for high school writing (though not reading) at the time.

Perhaps it was the odd imagery (“…hailing pregnancies like taxicabs…”) — they never specified the objection. When I pressed for an answer, I was simply told it was “inappropriate” and “offensive.”

“I wouldn’t want a younger child to read this poem,” one administrator said.

“But it’s not for younger children — it’s for high school students,” I argued to no avail.

Distribution had been planned for the end of the school year, so no magazines were distributed that year. But I refused to give up. The following fall, I resumed the tug of war with the administration over release of the magazines.

Arguing that they had already been paid for and printed and that other students’ work was being unfairly censored, I finally prevailed — to a limited extent. We were told the magazine could be released, but only if we ripped that poem out of every copy.

Reluctantly, I agreed. At the appointed time, a friend and I were escorted into a closed room in the office and given the stack of printed magazines and a couple of trash cans. My poem, “trial by ordeal” — a “concrete poem” — ran 4 pages, so we were told to start ripping out those pages.

We went to work vandalizing the magazines, but quickly realized we had been left alone and unobserved. I looked at Mike and stuffed a copy down in my briefcase. He did, too. We ripped some more pages out — then ripped some more copies off.

I stuffed 5 more away and Mike grabbed about 10. I think we saved about 50 intact copies in all, leaving the abridged versions stacked up there for inspection and release. We did what we could to distribute the uncensored copies to people whose work also appeared in it, figuring they deserved an intact memento.

That would prove to be the final issue of the Corridors of the Mind. That next year, we held a one-day multi-media creativity festival with dance, music, film, poetry and short stories, instead — but that’s another story.

Another funny thing about having the “Poem of the Year” censored? It was several years before I actually looked closely enough at the printed pages to realize it had been mis-printed. A whole chunk had been lifted up and placed earlier in the poem, altering the order and the symmetry — basically breaking it.

I had to laugh — all of that over a broken poem. In becoming a “censored poem”, it had been removed from its essence as a poem. The suppression and subsequent freeing of the magazine and the poem itself became the story — not the original “trial by ordeal” story I wrote as a youngster.

fragment from trial by ordeal--Censored "Poem of the Year"

fragment from the Censored “Poem of the Year”

So, here, for your uncensored enjoyment — and properly edited for the first time in 40 years — the 1971 “Poem of the Year” from Memorial High School’s Corridors of the Mind:

trial by ordeal (PDF)


About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in anecdotes, books, Buller, creativity, education, reading, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Censored: “Poem of the Year”

  1. Pingback: Cap Off Banned Books Week | Buller's back porch

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