It’s the day after reading with my former student Chris Dombrowski at Horizon Books in Traverse City. I asked Chris to read first because, as I told the audience, “I wanted Chris to read first, because then you might be thinking what an amazing teacher I am. If I read first, after Chris, you would be thinking, “Well, he most certainly must have learned in spite of his professor.”
On April 3, at the former Literary Life building, 758 Wealthy in Grand Rapids, I’ll get to give another reading with Chris Dombrowski. Chris will be reading from his new collection, Earth Again, from Wayne State University Press. I’ll be reading a few poems from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, also from Wayne. Yes, Chris and I have collections out at the very same time from the very same press.
Okay, yeah, for nearly 40 years I’ve given readings. What’s another one? As William Stafford said in reply to one of my students asking him if he was nervous before a reading, “Oh no. Not at all… Resigned.” Well, with these readings, I am nervous and joyful because Chris is a former student. I wonder if, unless you are a teacher, you can fully feel, understand, what it means to be up there reading with someone who was 18 when you first met in a classroom. Teachers are fond of saying that they learn more from their students than their students learn from them.
What did I learn from Chris? I learned how to work with Chris. When he came to the college he was already knowledgeable about the artistry of composing a poem. He already knew the work of a remarkable range of poets. What was there for me to offer him? I brooded. And then I realized that, of course, the best thing I could do was stay out of his way, be an attentive reader for him, and kick him back on track if he started being unknowingly disloyal to his vision.
So can you imagine what it was like for me to open this year’s catalogue from the Press and see on facing pages Chris’s collection and mine. I wonder if there is any teacher out there who has had this happen? If you know, let me know.
Several times with the launch of our books, Chris and I will share the podium. I won’t go sappy here about this (too late?), but I feel as sappy as any proud “Uncle Lou.”
One other time I was invited by a former student to read with her. Sally Smits, who was teaching at the Indiana University campus in South Bend asked me to “share the stage.” I had no idea how much it would come to mean to me. Quite a lot, it turns out.