On Friday, I had the perfect outing. First, I hit up grandma to take the wonder-buddy so that I could have my hands free for anything that might come along. Then, I invited my dear friend and already-famous author, Angela Hallstrom to head out with me. What’s a road trip without a fellow chic? And we headed south, because that’s where the sun shines. (I’m skipping over a little part here where I was desperately late because of a defective photo kiosk at Wal-Mart and made Angela fear I wasn’t going to show up at all. Because, well, that part is better left unmentioned.)
So we finally get into the roadster of choice (minivan deluxe). It was perfect except that I had forgotten decent roadtrip snacks and, being starving, had to dig out some petrified peanut-butter crackers from the emergency food supply under the back seat. But no one could beat the fascinating conversation on the way down. I don’t remember what it was, but with Angela you can bet it was fascinating. (I think mostly I griped about said photo kiosk.)
Luck and the wind were with us and we found a great parking spot just south of campus (it’s BYU we’re talking about—where else would a couple of happenin’ chicks end up?). In fact, we were only yards away from where I spent my last semester at BYU (telling my sophomore roommates to please, please be quiet so I could sleep). Oh, the memories.
We trucked up to campus. Actually, Angela trucked. I had to dash back down to get my Billy Collins books, which I had left in the car. Then I had to huff and puff back up that loooooonnnng ramp to get to the JSB—only campus looks so different now and I accidentally sort of got myself into the Eyring Science Building instead. (Did you know it’s been redone?) But I finally got myself into the right place, where I found Angela saving me a place by another really cool person, Emily M. The whole room was full of cool people, actually, because this was a poetry reading by Billy Collins! Yes, THE Billy Collins. As in National Poet Laureate Billy Collins. As in my favorite poet.
Now, let’s backtrack for a minute. That morning, as I was getting ready for the day, I wondered to myself what I should wear to meet Billy Collins. What was my poet-like outfit? What could I wear that would shout, when I shook Billy’s hand, “Hey, I’m a poet just like you!” Because, after all, I am a prize-winning poet now. (Did I mention that?) I never did feel like I got the right clothes (not enough black or something). But I did have a good time preparing. “What do you think?” I asked my husband. “I bet Billy Collins has never won the Mary Lythgoe Bradley award for any of HIS poems. I bet he’d be dying right now if he knew he was going to shake the hand with a prize-winning poet today. I bet I could say something to him about that,” I said.
“Like what?” Mr. Very-Supportive-Husband-who-is-still-enjoying-the-fact-that-he-gets-to-sleep-with-a-prize-winning-poet-every-night asked.
“I could say, ‘Hey, Billy, I understand you’ve never won the Mary Lythgoe Bradley award. Well, I just wanted to let you know that you probably could, if you tried. Take it from a veteran. I’m sure that with patience and hard work, you just might have a chance at it someday. Also, a good critique group helps.’ Do you think he would like to hear some encouragement like that from a fellow poet? I’m sure he would.”
Mr. Supportive Husband didn’t answer because he had turned the shower on and couldn’t hear me.
So, anyway, I was all prepared to meet Mr. Collins after the reading. I clutched his books tightly in my hands. The crowd was big but probably all those college kids hadn’t bought any of his books yet and they’d have to go to the other line to buy books first and I could run up and get a signature lickety-split after the last ovation.
Billy read two of my favorite poems, “The Trouble with Poetry” and “The Lanyard.” He also read “Forgetfulness,” which is famous. He did not, however, read my all-time favorite, “The Introduction.” That’s OK, because I had my books with me and could sneak a peek at that one so it didn’t feel left out. Yes, I did stoop to the very corny action of reading along with him sometimes. It was interesting because sometimes he added a tiny word here and there or swapped words around. It gave me some good ideas for when I have my own reading someday. (Maybe I’ll invite my new friend Billy Collins when I do.)
So after it was over I got all ready to race up there and get a signature and a handshake—only all those students weren’t so dumb after all and had already bought their books and made a really long line. I looked at that line and decided that my books probably didn’t need a signature after all. In the end, Billy had to make do with a friendly wave from me and not the precious advice I had planned for him after all. I think he’ll get over it.
But our fantastic outing was not done—no, not at all. Because we were on BYU campus, one of my most favorite places on earth. Of COURSE we had to visit the bookstore to see if Angela’s book was in (not yet but soon!) and to buy chocolate-covered almonds (oops). And of COURSE we had to eat in the Cougareat, which bears no resemblance at all to the Cougareat I remember but that doesn’t matter since back then I could never afford to eat there anyway. So Ang and I sat there and tried to feel the intellectual vibes. I don’t know if we were pretending we were students or faculty (both of which we would enjoy), but it didn’t matter. We were there and I had my Navajo taco and all was right with the world.
I returned very happy and very tired from my big day. Poor husband had to be subjected to his own Billy Collins reading that night but he survived the ordeal very well. That’s the thing about Billy Collins—everyone can enjoy him. I hope my poetry can bring people joy like that, too.
P.S. I'm told that if you click on every single link in this post, after 30 days you'll get a check in the mail for $2000. But if you don't, a yak will dig up your tulip bulbs and your youngest child will forget he is toilet trained. I'm just passing along what I heard.