Sunday, October 23, 2011


I just finished putting the final touches on the last of my college recommendations for the year. There is only one phrase that does this particular task justice:

Blood, sweat, and tears.

As difficult as it can be to capture the essence of a student in a letter, I absolutely love doing it. I love celebrating these girls: their talents, their achievements, their individual styles. The fact that I get to do it in writing is the best part. I know I've said this before somewhere in this blog, but I have a thing for letters. Elizabeth Bishop used to teach a class on the art of letters, and I would have fought my way into that class if I had been around then. Now that I think about it, I might have to teach that class someday.

In the spirit of letter writing, here is a poem/letter from Billy Collins to his readers. I spent three glorious days hearing him lecture at Vanderbilt this fall, and I listened to him read in his disarming way this poem.

"You, Reader"

I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you.

that it was I who got up early
to sit in the kitchen
and mention with a pen

the rain-soaked windows,
the ivy wallpaper,
and the goldfish circling in its bowl

Go ahead and turn aside,
bite your lip and tear out the page,
but, listen—it was just a matter of time

before one of us happened
to notice the unlit candles
and the clock humming on the wall.

Plus, nothing happened that morning—
a song on the radio,
a car whistling along the road outside—

and I was only thinking
about the shakers of salt and pepper
that were standing side by side on a place mat.

I wondered if they had become friends
after all these years
or if they were still strangers to one another

like you and I
who manage to be known and unknown
to each other at the same time—

me at this table with a bowl of pears,
you leaning in a doorway somewhere
near some blue hydrangeas, reading this.

- Billy Collins, from his collection The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems