Weird Poet Gene

On Thursday night, I was honored to participate in the celebratory reading of the 2015 Public Poetry Project, which chose my poem, “This Weather” to publish on 1500 free posters that will go up around the state. It was delightful to see former Penn State colleagues and students, old friends and, of course, our old town. We took the kids with us and turned it into a mini vacation, visiting our favorite places: The Arboretum, Millbrook Marsh, Webster’s Bookstore and Wegmans.

It was all very kid-friendly. Except, perhaps, for the reading itself. Nonetheless, we brought them along. They were predictably squirrely (the auditorium was hot and we had already had quite a long day by the time 7:30 came along), but they’ve been to readings before, and I imagined they would simply zone out for most of it.

I was wrong. Hilariously.

The first poem I read was the poster poem itself, which includes a line in which the speaker describes having a vision of her newborn child as “years out, old, older…”


And right as I finished saying the line, came a familiar voice–a now almost-ten-year-old voice–heckling, “Who you calling old?”

I cracked up. I heard laughter in the audience, too. I’m sure there may have been some who thought it totally rude (and Paul did escort the kids out right after that first poem to minimize any further disruption) but honestly I loved it. I love that my kids come to these events and see me doing what I do. I also love that they are growing up in a house of words and ideas. I especially love that his heckle made clear to me that he was listening and understanding.

They keep asking me if I’m famous and I try to explain (without first choking on that word!) about the unfortunate place of poetry in the public consciousness. That’s why programs like the Public Poetry Project are so important to me. I want poetry to be accessible (in that it’s easy to find), normal (I am seeing more literary tattoos on students these days), and even, sometimes, heckle-able. At least, when your mother is the poet.

A few weeks ago, Rudy came down for breakfast and grumbled, “I think I got some weird poet gene from you.” I told him that was very likely. Later that day, he grabbed a copy of Beautiful Nerve and started to read from it out loud. I was floored, first that he was so interested and intent, and second that he read so well. I don’t know. Maybe I’m biased. I am his mother.

But see what you think.


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