Napo 14: Heroes
Today, I wanted to write a bit of prose instead of poetry. The prompt was to write about your poetry heroes. I have been fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) to have met my hero.
I’m one of the lucky few poets who got to meet her hero. And by hero, I mean the woman whose work inspired me to write. I remember, as a graduate student, studying her poetry, her essays, anything she wrote as though it were some kind of bible, some kind of instruction for how to be a woman in this world, the literary world of men. She wrote about reclaiming stories, rewriting history, feminist empowerment, all the stuff I so desperately wanted to be a part of. I looked up to her as a mother. I could hear her voice through her writing, and her voice told me to keep on writing, to be strong, to grow to grow to grow.
So, when I had the chance to hear her read, I was so excited. It was AWP, and so many writers were gathering together. I’d had this fantasy that I’d meet her sitting at the bar, and we’d talk and talk and talk about how Eve was both our muses. How she was a part of this lineage that led to her and then to me. How we were connected. And we’d laugh and clank our cosmo glasses and drink to mothers and daughters, to teachers and students, to myths and legends, to poets and poets. And then she would ask to read my work, and I’d show it to her, and she’d tell me she was proud of me. She’d get me like no one else had ever gotten me before.
Oh, how I built up our meeting in my head! But of course, I never met her at the conference hotel bar.
Instead, I planned my day around her reading. I’d highlighted her reading in the program. Sure, I’d have to run, scoot out from my own panel in a hurry to make it to hers. But damn, it would be worth it. I’d leave her reading inspired. I’d have found my poetry mama.
When I got there, I hurried to the front of the room, took a seat front and center. I took her book out of my canvas tote bag and set it on my lap, placed my hand on it so I could feel her warmth, her love, radiating from it into my being.
She walked in a couple minutes late. I turned around as the door swung open. I imagined she would be goddess-like, but instead, she was a little old lady, nothing like the woman on the back of her book. Well, my favorite book of hers was written in the 1980’s, so, maybe that made sense, but still, somehow, I didn’t expect her to be so small, so old, so fragile. She made her way to the front of the room slowly. She wore a shawl atop her bony shoulders. Her black hair was mixed with gray and hung from her face. She had too much lipstick on, and she forced a smile as she took her rightful place at the podium and read three poems before sitting down, out of breath. She didn’t read any of my favorites, but that was ok with me. I held her book tight against my chest, sat up straight, made eye contact with her, hoping to feel a mythical power run through me, but no.
The moderator then announced she would be selling and signing books. I pulled out her latest from my canvas bag and hurried to the table, first in line, and had the book and a pen at the ready for her.
“Hi, I’m Katie! I’m your biggest fan! Your work has inspired me so, so much. I write the way I write because of you.” The words fell from my mouth as I set the book before her, the latest first, and then clutched an old dog-eared and written on copy that I’d carried with me through graduate school.
“What, you’re not going to buy a book?” She asked, glaring at me.
“I bought it when it came out last month. See?”
“I’m only signing new purchases. Nice to meet you, Candy.” She muttered and shooed me away with a hand in the air.
My stomach sank. “Oh, ok. Thanks for a wonderful reading.” I said, forcing a smile, as I gathered my books and my dignity in my arms before scurrying out of the room.
That day, I regretted meeting my hero. I went back to my hotel room, packed her books away in my suitcase, and closed my eyes. I vowed to never be like her. I would never take young poets for granted. I would always be kind and motherly. It was my duty, after all.
They say you should never meet your heroes. That it will only bring disappointment. And I guess the old cliché is true in a sense. But on the other hand, I no longer look at her as a kind of goddess, but rather, as an imperfect human, as a kind mother who makes mistakes. And if someone so human and flawed can write such beautiful, inspiring poetry, then maybe there’s a little hope for someone like me, too, who is also flawed, who is also human, who also gets tired after a long day with students, who sometimes also feels cranky. And I can give myself a little grace for being human.
I still look up to this woman like a mother. But she’s human, like all mothers are. And it’s ok that I’m but a human, too. Years have passed, and I’m able to return to her texts, to read them, to learn from them, to bring them into my own heart and let them be a part of me, flaws and all.