Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Meeting a Favorite Poet

I must make a confession.  I like to read poetry, but it is not my genre of choice for reading for pleasure.  I guess I have to be in the mood for poetry.  Some poems have really spoken to me over the years, and I treasure them.  Poetry can touch the soul when prose can't.  As a teacher, I never liked to teach poetry.  I could almost hear the students moan before we started a unit on poetry.  And yet, I also have learned much about life and about my students after we have read poetry together.  Poetry brings people together.  It speaks to soul and to the heart.  It helps us share our deepest feelings with each other.

Having said all that about not loving poetry, and yet loving how it has touched my life, I wish I could have expressed my feelings by writing this poem with this title:  "The Trouble With Poetry."   This link will take you to an informal reading by the former Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins.

Now, I must also confess I don't just love the poem, I have a huge crush on the poet.  Oh, ok, I fancied myself in love with Billy Collins at one time.

I heard Billy (I am taking the liberty of using his first name here) speak at a conference for English teachers about ten years ago.  I was enthralled with him and his writing as I listened to him read his poetry in his dry delivery style.  I went out and bought a bunch of his books.  I taught him when I had the chance.

Then, in 2007, my oldest daughter excitedly called me one day to announce that the school foundation board on which she served was bringing Billy Collins to town as their guest speaker for the annual author event fundraiser.  "Do you want to come over for it?" she asked.

The night of the big event, I was thrilled see that my daughter had a table for us right at the front of the room.  After the dinner, Billy read his poetry to his adoring fans.  It was then announced that he would sign books for those of us who had purchased his books.  Unfortunately, the book signing table was set up clear across the room from our table.  By the time I got in line with all my books and a flyer from the event for him to sign, there was already a big line.  My feet were killing me, but I stood dutifully waiting my chance to meet my favorite poet.

My daughter gave me her books to me to have them signed because she was stationed near Billy with her camera in hand so she could photograph the moment I would finally have with Billy.  Did I mention that I was at the very end of a very long line?  I think that by the time I got to Billy, my patience was worn thin, my feet were really killing me, my lipstick was long gone, and I probably really had to go to the bathroom.  Billy probably was also more than ready to be done with signing book after book long before my turn in line came.  Still, I was not deterred.  I would speak with Billy.  Maybe we could connect on some literary level.

I felt like a shy girl in high school when he took my books.  He didn't even look up when he asked what I wanted him to say.  He spoke so quietly, I had to lean over to hear him.  I thought perhaps I could chat him up.  I said, "I heard you speak in Colorado at an English teachers' conference a few years back."  He said, "I don't remember being there.  They all seem to run together."  He did look up as he spoke.  I had leaned over because I couldn't hear him.  My daughter snapped the picture.  She captured my moment on film.  I thanked him and walked away from the table a bit deflated.

My daughter came up to me and said, "Mom, I don't think you will want the photo.  Your cleavage really spilled out of your dress when you leaned over, you looked confused, and he looked bored."  I was mortified by my wardrobe malfunction, but at least I don't have to worry.  I am sure he will never remember.

I still adore Billy Collins and his poetry.  I have some books that he signed.  I kept the flyer he autographed.  I asked my daughter to destroy the photo.

23 comments:

Mollie said...

Mr Collins, at your service.


I had to take the opportunity as it arose to quote Austen.

Kay said...

I'm so embarrassed that I've never heard of Billy Collins. I want to listen to the video clip but my husband is watching TV next to me. I'll get back to this later. You've made me awfully curious about that photo. Did she really destroy it?

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Lol, maybe he was afraid to offend you if he looked? ;)


♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

becca said...

it's amazing how some people don't live up to our expectations and other exceed them. hapy you got to meet him even if things were a little odd.

Arkansas Patti said...

Aw phooey, I thought you would show the photo. Isn't it sad when your hero doesn't quite measure up?
I am off to visit the link now.

Sightings said...

I kind of agree -- most poetry just sails on by, but when a poem hits you, it hits you hard. My favorite of all time: "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold. But now I'm going to check Billy Collins. Thx for the tip!

DJan said...

Isn't that the way it always goes? Looking forward to something that turns out to be disappointing? But you have the books and I think your daughter was very thoughtful to destroy that picture!

Lynilu said...

chuckle! It's amusing how some people we look up to are less than engaging "up close," yet we meet some with whom our enthrallment is mediocre and learn they are completely enchanting! Good lessons in humanity, I suppose.

Retired English Teacher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bossy Betty said...

I love Billy Collins! I think he has done so much to make poetry accessible to a lot of people. I am sure my cleavage would have spilled out at the sight of him too.

Grandmother said...

I like his poem "Forgetfulness" which is a sad description of the slow slide into dementia. Our heros are so human after all.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Sally, SHUCKS---I wanted to see the photo... Darn!!!! Glad you got to see him again --and sorry you had to stand in line so long... BUT--I'm sure (after the fact) that it was all worth the wait!!!!!

Happy Easter
Hugs,
Betsy

LC said...

Your account sounds like something I would experience . . . except no cleavage to spill! Glad the incident did not muddy your enjoyment of his poetry!

Retired English Teacher said...

COMMENTS FROM MY DAUGHTER: Great memories! The picture was bad on all counts. It was dark room, the flash didn't work well and you could barely see your face. Don't forget, I called dibs on all your Billy Collins poetry books : )

gayle said...

I like poetry but haven't heard of Billy Collins. I will have to check him out!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Thanks for sharing your admiration for and your experience with Billy Collins. I'll definitely check him out! I was so wishing, line by line, that your meeting had been more fun. But that's life, isn't it? Sometimes we're pleasantly surprised, sometimes not, by meeting someone we've long admired.

#1Nana said...

I'm not a big fan of poetry. The stuff that has stuck with me is from my childhood. All I can recite is A.A. Milne!

I'm going to a reading by my favorite author, David Sedaris, on Monday with my daughter.

Raffy Jay said...

I have high regards to teachers I hope you could visit my blog too. http://terrific-me2.blogspot.com/.

M Pax said...

Too bad it was not all you wanted it to be.

I heard Paulann Peterson read last year, Oregon's poet laureate, and she was amazing. And very personable.

Maggie May said...

I thought you were leading up to showing us the photo!
I think maybe no one ever lives up to hero worship!
Happy Easter.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

KleinsteMotte said...

I was lucky to have a Canadian author as a neighbour, Timothy Findley and I found it hard to get my head around some of his work. Got lucky enough to be immortalized by name in one of his works. Of course I have my copies of his autographed works. After he moved to France he came back for readings so I took my daughter (who was little back then) to see him again on her sixteenth birthday. We too waited in a long line but when he saw our young lady he got up from his seat, called her by her name and hugged her. It was a special moment but we had no camera.

Deb Shucka said...

What a great story! I enjoy Billy Collins' poetry also, although the poet I have the biggest crush on is David Whyte. I love teaching poetry to younger kids because their natural creativity comes through best with the sparsity of the format. I read for inspiration, but don't get a lot of poetry, which is a frustration. My favorite: Mary Oliver.

KathyA said...

How could he have been bored with your cleavage showing?? Was the man blind? :)