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.