On Naomi Nye and John Calipari

This is going to be a two-part blog. A celebration!

Part One: Naomi Shihab Nye has just published her anthology Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25. Nine, count ’em, nine of the poets are Hope grads. NINE! Extraordinary. Here’s a neat back story.

Two years ago, my sister, mother, and I were at the Final Four in San Antonio, guests of Coach John Calipari, then of Memphis. Naomi lives there. I had called her to see if we could all meet up for a bit. She was, of course, busy with about two hundred National Poetry Month events, but set several aside to spend the morning taking my sister and me on a tour of old San Anton and a wander along the River Walk.

I asked if she had any special projects going. She did one of her delightful dead stops and twirls, “I have the best project going. Greenwillow (her publisher) has asked me to compile an anthology of 25 poets under the age of 25.” She talked about how important it is to have this anthology out there. Then she said, “If you know any terrific ones, tell them to submit their work to me.” I said I’d do that.

After getting back, I contacted a bunch of Hope grads and present students and told them to submit their work to Naomi. Several of them did. It was a blind judging by Naomi so she didn’t know whose poems she was looking at.

After a month or so, I got an email from her. I could hear her cheer-filled voice in the message. She said, “I can’t believe this. About every other poet I select, when I look at who she or he is and where they are from, I discover another Hope poet! ”

When anyone asks why I never wanted to go anywhere else to teach, my answer is always the same: I can’t imagine any other place having such an extraordinary number of intelligent, talented, good-hearted, willing-to-learn more students. And to think that this anthology is attending only to those under 25. So many more, the “old timers” are out there.

Who are the students in the anthology? Matthew Baker, Brianne Carpenter, Gray Emerson, Lauren Eriks, Emily Hendren, Jonah Ogles, Allison Rivers, Lauren Stacks, and Anna West. Anna is featured in Naomi’s introduction. Matthew is featured on the back cover. And Naomi writes about Hope grad, poet Lauren Jensen in the introduction. Lauren was 26 and so couldn’t be included, but Naomi loved what Lauren wrote about the idea of this book and quoted her. How about locating this book for your shelves. It’s one to make you happy.

Oh, and you get a bonus because there are actually 26 poets in the collection. Naomi isn’t good at arithmetic.

Blog Post Part II:

And while we’re on the subject of John Calipari–We know a wonderful John Calipari, an overwhelmingly generous man whose thoughtful acts usually go unnoticed and un-noted.

Yesterday, March 30, just a few days after his disappointing (understatement) loss to West Virginia, he visited my mother in her room in assisted living just outside Pittsburgh. He has been devoted to her and her care for years now.

About 15 years ago, he asked my dad to teach him a defense my father had concocted. They were at The Final Four. My father had cancer. He and John spent every free moment together going over this defense. My dad had been a hero of John’s as he was growing up and heading into coaching. After the final game, my mother and dad headed home.

My father took a turn for the worse, was hospitalized and died shortly thereafter. We are sure his last words to my mom were “Betty, when you get home, call John and tell him that in such and such a situation, the guy should stand at a forty-five degree angle.”

The news of my father’s passing hit John very hard. He wanted to do something, but what? He realized how much my mother loved basketball, how it was her life for all those years. So he contacted her and told her that she was to follow along with him now, and that she would always be his guest at any game she could make it to and that she, my sister, and I would be his guests any time a team of his made it to The Final Four. We’ve been to all three his teams have made.

This year, he invited my sister to be his guest on his post game radio show. Can you imagine–10,000 people at Kentucky wait around after the game to watch the broadcast live. John talked a lot about our father, introduced my sister, Betsy, and had her say a few words. She told the crowd that they were “CRAZY!” and they roared!

And then yesterday there was John, sitting on my mom’s bed leaning in to talk with her for an hour as she sat in her chair and wore her Kentucky T-shirt, staff and other patients peeking in the door. Then on he went back into the limelight.

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