Friday, March 6, 2009

Lit Fest


Recently I had the great pleasure of helping to organize the annual Literary Festival at our local high school. The keynote speaker for the event was former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He spoke to the juniors and seniors in the morning and then at a free community event that evening.

I was a little concerned about how the students would react to a 45-minute poetry reading, and I held my breath that they were not inattentive or rude. Billy Collins was most engaging, however, and chose poems that the kids could relate to or that were funny, captivating his audience. The following day I even overhead a student retelling one of the poems to a friend. How cool is that?

I was thrilled to see a lot of students back in the audience for the evening event, where we had a standing-room-only crowd. For that gathering, Billy Collins selected more funny poems to share, and he also included some poignant ones.

Billy Collins was highly entertaining and very warm and personable. If you ever have a chance to hear him, I highly recommend that you do so.

Billy Collins autographed books after the community event

After the community event, our committee was invited to a lovely home for dinner with all of the Literary Festival participants. I had the distinct pleasure of sitting next to a novelist named Carol Cassella who was also an alumna of our high school. Carol's first novel, Oxygen, was published by Simon and Schuster last year. Impressively, in addition to being an author, Carol is a practicing anesthesiologist and the mother of two sets of twins! As you might imagine, she was fascinating to converse with during the meal.

Carol Cassella with Robert

Billy Collins was as gracious in person as he appeared on stage

The next day we offered a variety of workshops for students to attend during their English period. The presenters represented many areas of writing including the novel, poetry, screenwriting, journalism, plays, storytelling and flash fiction. I sat in on several of the workshops and was amazed at the ability of the presenters to engage the students and get them thinking and talking about writing (perhaps I'm impressed because it's so difficult for me to engage my own high school student about anything!).

Carol Cassella presented a workshop on novel writing

This African storyteller was very entertaining

This *slam poet* spoke to the freshman and sophomores while Billy Collins addressed the juniors and seniors. Hockey Boy and the others who attended his workshop the following day (shown here) really seemed to enjoy it

I'll close with a Billy Collins poem that the students liked:

by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...

—Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.

You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.

"Litany", copyright © 2002 by Billy Collins, from Nine Horses by Billy Collins.


Sharon said...

What a treat reading this poem, which I was unfamiliar with. I'm a big fan of Billy Collins and was fortunate to attend a reading in Portland, Oregon a few years ago. Glad to hear he was a hit with the young people! I think his use of humor has made poetry more appealing and less intimidating to a lot of people.

Mary Alice said...

That sounds like a fantastic time. I wish I could have been there to listen!

Sherry Pierce Thurner said...

Eloise, I think this looks like it was just a wonderful, wonderful event! I remember saying I saw Collins at Beloit College a couple years ago, and that was a delight. But this event looks much better, and more more personal. Congratulations!