I was invited to give a reading at a Retirement center. A woman named Vernis, who read about the NEA back in February, contacted me for a reading in December. I was like, um, yeah, I'll remember a plan a made 10 months in advance. But, I figured, why not? She's probably more organized than I. She'll remind me. And remind me she did. I got several emails telling me where to go, how to get there, and in what manner the chairs would be arranged. It wasn't until the week before that I thought to ask, what time? I assumed normal reading time--6 or 7 or so.
No, no. 2:30.
Thankfully, I didn't have classes to teach that day.
So off to the reading, following her careful directions. There were so many directions, by sheer mass of turns and stops, I thought it would take half an hour to get there.
The retirement center is about a mile from my house.
So I got there at 2 and listened to NPR and wondered what these retirees would think of my weird poems.
I went in. I told them about the NEA. I told them about the state of contemporary poetry (they probably wouldn't argue my semi-studied description). I told them about how the project changed as I worked on it. I decried poetry contests. Then I read my poems.
They said they liked them. Better when I read them than when they read them on the page. Even though the poems were hard, they said, they liked the images. The poems made sense, they said.
They asked hard questions about form and purpose and teaching and reading and their own writing. The one man in the room corrected my pronunciation of hydrocephalus. They wondered about rhyme and line and I wished my students were as invested in poetry.
It was, by far, the best thing I did with, or rather, because of, my NEA.
The organizers, Vernis and her friend Jay, keep emailing me to tell me how much they appreciated the time and my "vibrancy." Once, Jay emailed and I didn't email back until the next morning. Vernis emailed to see if I'd received her email. I promised I did and that I had, finally (12 hours later, with sleeping time in the middle), emailed Jay back.
They keep emailing. It's one of the situations where no one knows when to quit saying thanks. But maybe that's how friends are made.