Friday, December 04, 2009

The Waldrops are my Heroes.

Thanks to everyone who came out last night to hear the Waldrops read. And special thanks to Joe Donahue and Tony Tost for their wonderful introductions.

I was glad to have the chance to thank the Waldrops for their role as teachers in my life and in the life of many other writers and poets. Here's what I said in a very husky and cold-ridden voice:

Tonight Poet Tony Tost will introduce Rosmarie Waldrop and Poet Joe Donahue will introduce Keith. But before Tony comes up here to start things off, I wanted to say a few words about the Waldrops. From the readings tonight you will learn what wonderful poets Keith and Rosmarie are. But you might not know about their work as mentors and teachers. I would venture to say that there are a few hundred poets who would claim them as mentors. I was going to run a poll on Facebook so that I could offer you an exact number, but I unfortunately came down with this terrible cold and never got around to it.

But I can tell you from personal experience what wonderful teachers they are. When I was 18, I met Keith and Rosmarie for the first time. It was my first year of college and though they were both teaching that semester, I was in class with neither of them. They quickly befriended me, however, because I was taking a poetry workshop led by one of their students. She must have slipped them the news that I too might be one of those unfortunate people who would like to cut words out of old books in the middle of the night or translate sonnets from languages that I didn’t understand, rather than going to law school or doing something else that would let me eat well. In any case, before I even knew there was a poetry community in Providence, they welcomed me into it. They looked at my fledgling work seriously, offering both criticism and praise. But the most significant thing they did for me happened at their house that same year. The Waldrops were hosting a party for a Scandinavian poet. They were not only kind enough to invite me to it, but when they introduced me to the visiting poet they said, “This is Maggie Zurawski. She is a poet.” This may not seem like a significant gesture to everyone, but I am sure that many of you in the room tonight know what it’s like to be 18 or 19, thinking that you want to be a poet. It takes a lot of courage to accept yourself in those terms. Aside from feeling that the proposition of being a poet is an absurd one given the world we live in today, one also feels that perhaps to make such a claim one must first produce a masterpiece, or at least a fair number of works. But when the Waldrops introduced me as a poet that night, I knew that they took me and the little work I had written seriously and that it was also time for me to do the same. They didn’t doubt me, so I stopped doubting myself, at least often enough to never stop writing. Over the years, they have kept up with me, finding me no matter where I seemed to land, always making sure I would get the latest books they’ve published. I made sure, too, that they were the last people to read my book manuscript before it went off to the publisher. I needed to know what Rosmarie and Keith thought should be cut before I would listen to any editor. In short, they’ve taught me what it means to be part of a poetry community. That if we care about poetry, we need to care about one another, too. What they’ve done for me, they’ve done for many others. I’m not special, just lucky enough to have received their care. I only hope that when I become a teacher, I am able to treat my students with as much kindness and generosity as they treated us. So tonight Rosmarie and Keith, I want to thank you for all your kindness and encouragement over the years. I know I am not the best at remembering to send thank you notes when I get Burning Deck books in the mail, so tonight I wanted to make sure you knew how grateful I am for all those books that have come like clockwork over the years, thank you for your poems, for your translations, for all your encouragement, for your loyalty and enthusiasm, in short for everything you’ve done for us and for poetry. Thank you.

You can listen to last night's reading by the Waldrops here.