On the heels of Bliss' series about how technology has changed the relationship between readers and writers, I've been thinking about my own interactions with writers I admire. The first and therefore most memorable of these came back in 2001, when I stumbled across an e-mail address for the poet Diane Wakoski.
At the time, she was a Writer in Residence at the University of Michigan and her university e-mail address was there on the page, plain as day. With all the gall and gumption of a slightly-off-kilter fangirl, I sent her the following:
I found “The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems” when I was sixteen. I broke the spine within six months, carrying it everywhere, bending back pages as I hid it beneath textbooks in classes that didn't deserve my attention, copying sections by hand into love letters and diaries. I've loved it near to death. I bought my first copy of “Emerald Ice” the year I turned 21 and of all the books I own, that battered pink hardback it is the one I would run screaming back into the house to rescue, even as flames licked the shelves. I actually own two copies of it now because I've highlighted, underlined and dog-eared the pages of the first copy to the point of distraction.
I call myself a writer and struggle forward with baby steps, publishing a story here and an article there. Sometimes I even write a beautiful line or two, tangling precisely the right words together on the page to capture a particular moment or thought. But I am always awed and humbled by the stark beauty and intensity with which you have spilled your words onto the page.
Thank you most of all for the following poems:
- I Have Had To Learn To Live With My Face
- The Pink Dress
- The Moon Has a Complicated Geography
- Love Letter Postmarked Van Beethoven
- Dancing On The Grave of a Son of a Bitch
They have caused me to dance and cry, to rage and shout, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” in short, what I means to say is that you are a most amazing poet – woman – soul and I wanted to thank you for sharing your gifts with us/me.
The next day, I found the following e-mail in my inbox:
You made my day. This has been one of those weeks where I felt like an aging Cinderella, a hag in rags and soot. So thanks. Your generous words made me feel at least bathed and aglow even if no longer a potential princess.
A copy of this exchange now resides between the pages of my dog-eared copy of Emerald Ice. For all the times her words moved, soothed and strengthened me, the thought that I could (even for a moment) give her back a tiny bit of that makes me feel incredibly blessed. In the years that have followed, I've become more accustomed to having occasional interactions with writers I admire, but I've yet to lose that sense of wonder at the luck of living in a time of unprecedented access to our artistic and creative heroes. I hope I never do.
*You can read more about Diane Wakoski and her work at The Poetry Foundation.