Each year the library on the campus where I work does a public poetry reading event for National poetry Month at the end of April. For the four that I have been able to attend, not a one has been on “the patio” as the event is billed to be. This year was no exception. It was Poetry In The Parlor due to several inches of snow having fallen the previous night.
The heart of the event is faculty/students/staff reading a couple poems each. You can learn some interesting things about your coworkers by what they chose to read and what commentary they give about their selections.
Two or three years ago I read (much too fast*) “The bottle is drunk out by one” by Philip Larkin and “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost at this event. Glean what you will from those choices.
This year’s event was one that held much more excitement than usual for me as Leontia Flynn, who was scheduled to be on campus to receive a prize specifically for Irish poets, would be at the event. I first heard her poem Naming It from her first collection “These Days” on the podcast Poetry Off The Shelf (published on 11/1/2011) and it immediately knocked me out. She is one of my biggest poetry crushes. I was hoping that I might get to say “Hello!” and/or “Thank you for such wonderful poems!” and in that rushing moment of panic and happiness I wouldn’t turn into some wild-eyed fanboy. Do other people get this way when they meet poets they admire?
Turning the screws further on my tension my coworker David chose a poem of mine to read at the event as well. There is something both deeply flattering and deeply unnerving to have your own work propped up against Langston Hughes and Robert Louis Stevenson but then to know that someone whose work you deeply respect would be in the audience to hear my work gave me a feeling near flop sweat. So far I have been unsuccessful in building a properly functioning mechanism to accept criticism of my poetry, good or bad (I do know how to be gracious and say “Thank you” so that is a start, right?). I would have been as deflated and broken as a punctured bike tire if Leontia had scowled at my poem.
I arrived at the reading with a decent amount of time to find a seat but ended up talking with my friend Dan who is the head of the library. By the time we concluded our confab, there was only one place to sit: Right next to Leontia Flynn. Before the reading started I was able to fumble out that I had heard her on the podcast and enjoyed her work. She was pleased and thanked me for saying so. No freak out and no actual flop sweat!
The reading started with Dan’s intro to the event and his reading of Berryman by W.S. Merwin. I was unfamiliar with that work but the last two stanzas are what I really needed to hear at that moment. It bestowed a sense of calm and perspective.
As the event unfolded it turned out that Leontia had to duck out (she had a full calendar of events surrounding her visit and prize awarding) and did so as David took to the podium. This was a great relief to me. I am not in the least bit curious now as to how things might have been different if she had been able to stay. David did a fantastic job reading. Many of the folks in the audience approached me after the reading to congratulate me which I wasn’t prepared for but found to be very moving. If this is what it is like to have a poem read and accepted in public, I am all for it!
A couple days later Leontia did a reading on campus and I was able to meet her properly. She was soft spoken, charming, oddly Midwestern, and very kind. There was no fanboy moment but there was plenty of appreciation and poetry.
*There is a video of this reading so I have external confirmation of the excessive speed and the punishment of Frost’s sonnet that I dished out.