As Taught by Paul Frizler; or, Swan and Shadow by John Hollander

I discovered this masterful poem for the eyes and soul back in the autumn of 1989.  I was an undergrad at Chapman University, when I took a course that altered my life's course inexorably, "Introduction to Poetry, 101".  The poem above was featured in Poems, Fourth Edition: Wadsworth Handbook And Anthology, a textbook I still own and reference regularly.  "Swan and Shadow" by John Hollander was used as an introductory illustration of what was then commonly called "concrete poetry," but today is better known as "visual poetry".

The class was taught by the most eccentric and engaging genius of a professor I ever had, the late great, Dr. Paul Frizler, B.A. at the ripe old age of nineteen, Ph.D. in English by twenty-six.  Frizler personified lightning.  He was eclectic and sincerely outrageous.  I remember his regaling us of his encounter with Jim Morrison at UCLA.  Unlike Morrison, however, Frizler's eccentricity was neither for shock or show, being as innate in him as electricity's intrinsic buzz.  He couldn't help but glow.  He routinely wore loud yellow socks with his bright bermudas to class.  His outfits, fit for clowns, somehow exuded class.  I don't know how he did it, or why I remember those odd details about him, but I do.  More importantly, I remember how deeply he cared about his students, the time he invested in us during office hours (or after hours) and how he instilled in us passions that persist to this day.  Like the crucial fact that poetry really matters in life!  Through Frizler's lessons on poetry, I learned how to think critically and hyper-analytically like I'd never learned to think about anything before, explicating poem after poem in his once-in-a-lifetime class.

At the end of the semester, we had to give an oral presentation on one poem.  I gave mine on "Hotel California".  I recited the lyrics and then played the song for the class on a ghetto blaster.  I was amazed at how many of my classmates were unfamiliar with the song (but not surprised by how many, upon their virgin tryst with it, instantaneously wanted to know which Eagles tape or CD they should rush out and buy right now).  After their chorus of veritable "wows" subsided, I then began explicating those surprisingly difficult and multilayered and allusive lyrics, line by line, for the next half hour.  I hated standing up before a group of peers and speaking publicly (and still do) but I was in heaven for that half hour, given the freedom -- and confidence -- by Paul Frizler, to just be myself, trust my instincts, take what he'd taught and just go for it and pull all that spectacular word-play of puns and symbolism and alliteration out of that classic song.  I even tuned Frizler into the idea that the Eagles purposely made those guitar solos at the end of the song sound circular, like they were in fact drawing circles repeatedly with their guitars into the song's fadeout, in order to sonically echo and reinforce the haunting truth of the last couplet, that iconic and oft-quoted paradox -- "You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave" -- about being trapped, ensnared in a vicious circle that has, at first glance, an apparent (but upon closer inspection, nonexistent) exit.  Jean Paul Sartre might have applauded, I'm sure, had he been present in that classroom twenty-two years ago; but instead, in Sartre's absence, Paul Frizler did.

How many professors would even recognize "Hotel California" for the powerful poetry it is, let alone let their student present it in front of their class, rather than expect their students remain inside the lines with something more poetically orthodox, something like, say, Edward Arlington Robinson's, "Richard Cory"?  I don't know.  Not too many I'd bet.  I just know Paul Frizler was endearingly and magnetically different; most definitely cut out of the same kind of captivating cloth made famous by Robin William's character in Dead Poet's Society, and I miss him dearly.


  1. Karla Frizler (Paul's daughter) here. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience here. Loved reading your take on my Dad. He was one of a kind, for sure. You hit the nail on the head about how much he cared for his students. He was the same way with his friends.

    All my best,


    Karla Frizler

  2. Wow! Hello there, Karla!

    Your Dad was obviously awesome (pardon the blatant redundancy, and telling you something you already know).

    You know, you may not remember, but, if memory serves, I believe we were in a class together at Chapman. Only for a few weeks as I ended up dropping it. I think it was '91. It was a graduate level creative writing workshop, and I'm pretty darn positive I remember sitting next to a girl who told me she was Paul Frizler's daughter. Small world, eh?

    Thanks for dropping by. A true pleasure hearing from you.


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