On Thursday, Jan. 27, I had the honor of hearing America’s most beloved poet, Mr. Billy Collins, give a reading at Swasey Chapel at Denison University in Granville, OH. I am forever grateful to my dear friend Jen Kretchmar (who so generously drove 7 and a half hours each way) and her brother Matt (a professor at Denison) who helped make my dream come true.
Truly I hesitated to blog about this experience so soon because I am still rather starstruck and I worry about my powers of expression in my current state. For the sake of my fellow writers, who surely understand, I will do my best.
To a packed audience, Billy read some of my most favorite poems, including “The Revenant,” “Litany,” “Why I Don’t Own a Gun,” “Suggestion Box,” “Nostalgia,” and “To My Favorite 17-Year Old High School Girl.” And while I know that a poet writes for the reader who will most likely read the poem in solitude (which has its own delights) I have to admit that there is indeed something special about hearing the words spoken by the man who wrote them — his own particular voice, his own particular cadence, and his own particular rhythm.
All of this I was lucky enough to hear from the second row — and to dream that that mellifluous voice was meant for me alone but the experience was capped off by the opportunity to chat with my idol at the reception. I wish that the world’s most witty words would have graced my lips and that I could have told him that I too, adore Nabokov, that I’ve known what it’s like to have to deliver a beloved pet to the “needle of oblivion” and to ask him questions about the craft but all I could do was speak from the heart. And I have tears in my eyes even today. “Mr. Collins,” I said, “I cannot tell you how much joy your words have brought to my life.”
The more cynical (me among them) are justified to think that I’m sure he’s heard that before but…he was incredibly gracious and appeared honored to have heard it yet again. I have read an interview where he humbly said that meeting an author may be one of life’s most disappointing experiences and that between the poet and the man he believes the poet might be the better of him but I have to disagree on all counts. I was not disappointed and I can verify that the man lived up to the image I had of the poet. Sadly, however, he told me that a visit to North Carolina didn’t appear to be on his docket any time soon.
I then queued up with the other faithful pilgrims–the college students and the locals–to have our books signed. Jen (whom he kindly acknowledged by saying “I suppose this is THE friend”) snapped our picture and then he blessed my dog-eared copy of Aimless Love with his signature. His parting words were the most magical of all so this is where I will end my recap.
“North Carolina, you say,” he said, with a mischievous light in his eyes. “Well, well. You never know.”