Posted by: Tricia Buck | February 7, 2009

I Am an English Teacher and You Are My Robert Frost

On February 6, 2009 I found myself crying over my lunch.  Seriously, crying.  It is not that the lunch was bad; in fact, it was really quite good…

 

Lunch

 

Lunch was salad,

tossed

on the table

by a man

with kind eyes

and cold tea.

 

Any weekday a teacher actually eats lunch is worth celebrating, but I cried over this particular lunch on this particular day because…

 

Today I Ate Lunch with Billy Collins

 

Today I ate lunch with Billy Collins alone

just the two of us in a room with four hundred others

he at table one, me at table thirty-five listening

intently when he ascended to the podium and read

 

the words of his poems, poems that are not abandoned

but finished; begun from small fragments of thoughts

found wandering through his mind in cafes in Paris

floating in water under the bridge or arriving with wind

 

just as poets parachute to earth born fully as adults

who write of tension and Monday and most of all lanyards

and how only one angel can dance on the head of a pin

and sit alone with me, just the two of us today at lunch.

 

OMG!  You will not believe what Billy Collins said had happened to him as a young man who loved poetry more than any other single, solitary act…

 

Billy Collins Said…Oh, My God!

 

Billy Collins said

when he was in school

he ate dinner once 

with Robert Frost,

and all he could do

was keep his eyes

in his soup and try

to avoid staring

as Frost talked

with Jesuit teachers

at his high school

in New York.

.

And now I can say

I am a non-Jesuit

high school teacher

who stared at Billy Collins

and not her salad once

when Collins said

he stared at soup

instead of Robert Frost,

and then uttered mentally

the religious devotion

so bemusing to Collins,

Oh, My God!

 

Not one magical word escaped me as he spoke, but one word took my breath away.  Was it chance that he used my all-time favorite word when he spoke? No…

 

It Was Not Chance

 

It was not chance

that Billy Collins used

my favorite word

when he spoke at lunch

while the salt stood

next to the pepper,

the crystal goblet

with ice lingering

and the butter knife,

 

cut to the chase

was what he did

as he told of

his love affair

with poetry, walking

through the halls

of high school

as a boy with poems

in his pockets

and a goal to look

like Edgar Allan Poe.

 

It was for me a moment

of profound recognition,

for I often wondered

what it would be like

to be Emily Dickinson

In high school walking

nowhere because of that

suffocating agoraphobia

and those flies buzzing

when I died—because

he said my favorite word

and it was truly

epiphanic.

 

There was illumination in the day and magic in my soul as I excitedly awaited my turn in line to have Billy Collins sign one of my worn copies of his words before leaving.  I found myself overwhelmed, my heart racing, what if I have…

 

Nothing Good to Say?

 

And so what would I say

to this man Billy Collins,

whom I had so long admired

had so often read

kept on my desk

in my classroom

on my bedside table

tucked in suitcases

folded on my lap

embraced, with tears

welling In my eyes

standing in line

to meet him?

 

“I am an English teacher,

and you are my Robert Frost.”

 

 

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Responses

  1. First, I can’t imagine you having nothing to say. And of course you didn’t. Thanks for the post. Can I borrow your non-autographed copy of his poetry books next week?

  2. Wow! I couldn’t have imagined a better way to read about your experience. My favorite line: “Today I ate lunch with Billy Collins alone / just the two of us in a room with four hundred others”

    Fantastic!
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great Post!! I’m still envious, but thank you for allowing to experience Billy Collins through your post.

    What was Collins reaction to “you are my Robert Frost”?

    Beautiful writing…thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for your kind words and for reading! His response was a boyish grin and then the comment, “Teacher–salt of the earth…” Honestly he was quick to dismiss my comment in that very humble, charming sort of way, and I was about to pass out in admiration. I felt like a tongue-tied high school student, in a good way!

  4. You amaze me with your way with words. wow.

  5. Bravo! What a treat for us, your readers.

    • Thanks so much for your read! It was so much fun to write.

  6. I came back to read this entry after reading parts of “Trouble”. Now I see references to his work that I was unaware of the first time I read. I’m not sure what I want to talk about more at lunch now, PLN or Billy Collins. :) Do you read Collins in any of your classes?

  7. I am your english student,
    and you are my Robert Frost.

    • Rian, I just opened my blog here at my desk at Turpin High School and saw your comment. It took my breath away. When I watched you perform in the school holiday assembly I was amazed by the beauty and power of you alone on the stage with your guitar and your voice. You moved me to tears with your talent and your sincerity. Thank you for your words today and always, I am so grateful to have you on my path…

  8. I love, in the style of Mr. Collins himself, how you were able to use poetry to describe your experience with Billy Collins:-)!

  9. I love how you wrote this, Mrs. Buck! Such a fresh take on the “Here’s this wonderful thing that happened! Let me tell you all about it!” post.
    I might have to try a post all in poetry myself sometime.
    It is really exciting that you got to have lunch with Billy Collins. Maybe one day someone will get to have lunch with you and discuss your writing and look up to you the way you look up to him. I know you are an inspiration to me. :]
    -Marissa

    • Thanks so much for reading Marissa! You always inspire me to take a fresh look at life! I would love to read your poetry when you write it. Glad to have you back in class!

  10. Brilliant! I have shared your post with many colleagues. Well done, Tricia.

  11. Last night I was commenting to my wife about how the sky had changed. We have had so much cloud cover that clear night sky viewings had been separated by weeks. Orion’s head was pointing north now instead of west and the Pleiades cluster was no longer in it’s familiar position. Being aware of the details of the sky made this change, a simple act of our tilting and rotating, bring the sky to life again for me.

    I feel that way about my view of you after being confronted with your writing.

    Your transparency, particularly with your students, is an example we should all look to, like Venus marking the seasons.

  12. Once again, such a privilege to read! Thank you Mrs. Buck!!

  13. Wow, Trisha, your writing and sharing with us is so powerful. I wish you had been my English teacher. Thaks for being my teacher with your blog today!

  14. Mrs. Buck,

    I know it’s been a while since you posted this, but sitting here at 11:30 on a Saturday night something compelled me to come back for another look of your writing. This is an amazing take on your experience, and I hope someday I can be half the writer you are. Thanks for sharing your work.

    Kelly

    • Kelly, you are an exceptional student and person! I am fortunate to have had you in class twice. Thank you for taking the time to read my words and to add your kind comment. As I have said before, it is my pleasure to learn along with you!

      • About 10 years ago I was in high school and I was completely lost. In fact, I still am but now I’ve come to embrace myself as I am.
        Anyway, I’ve never been a great student. I was a horrid student, truly. I dropped out at sixteen and came back the following year for a spell but dropped out again.
        Mrs. Buck was my English teacher. I had her for two classes for that short time I had returned. She understood me better than any adult did at that time in my life.
        She once said ‘One day I’ll be on the beach reading your book’. That stuck with me. She encourage my poetry and here all these years later I still write everyday.
        So now I have written a novel, a 95+ thousand word fantasy novel (it’s the first in a series I’ve been mulling over). I thought of her.
        I want to mail her a copy of my manuscript. It would be nice to have an educated opinion before the editors cut it up. I don’t know if I have the nerve to do that. I’d be embarrassed about all my typos. And I’ve never been very loud or particularly memorable. I hope she remembers me enough not to throw it out:)

      • What a delight it was to see your reply! I am absolutely thrilled that you have continued to write and have produced a novel! That is amazing, and it is something I always knew you had in you. Though your own life story has not always been easy, I know you will have many happy chapters to come. Of course you can send your writing my way, just be patient with my return as I am already under a fairly great pile of essays!


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