19 November 2007

you can write in my books.

several years ago, billy collins spoke at a local university. his poetry is even more delightful when read by him - i'm a sucker for a dry sense of humor. what can i say?

after he was finished, i made my way towards the front to get in line to have my book signed. he had an assistant beside him, tapping his watch, moving us through speedily. i'm sure there were appointments to be kept and not a second of time could be spared.

when it was my turn, i had no idea what i would say. but suddenly my mouth flew open in true kara form, and out came this:

"mr. collins, i know i'm supposed to tell you how great of a writer i think you are, but all i really want to do is give you a hug, because you completely delight me."

the assistant watch tapper sighed. loud.

mr. collins, pen in had, ready to write in my book - looked up at me, tilted his head to one side, sat back in his chair and laughed. he shrugged as he stood up, hugged me (a genuine hug, to boot) and lightly kissed my hair on my neck.

the assistant sighed again. mr. collins thanked me. i guess i can call him billy now. you know, since we tight and all. ;)

i picked my book up and ran back to will and jeffrey exclaiming, "I MADE OUT WITH THE POET LAUREATE OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!!!!!"

much laughter ensued.

i thought of that story tonight as i stumbled across one of my favorite billy collins poems. that's the cool thing about collins - ANYONE can find something they relate to in his work. i'd dismissed him at first, for being too assessable. i was wrong. and i have my grrrl christy to thank for that.

but back to the poem at hand. i'm a notorious book writer inner. in fact, i encourage those who borrow my books to do the same. i like to read back through the notes that others leave - it is as if the book takes on a whole new life, a dialogue. something i value immensely. this is also why i dig used books so much, often times i find fun gems in the margin.(don't worry, crystal, i won't mark in your book. i pinky swear.)

so, anyway, enjoy.


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Billy Collins

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