Monday, April 12, 2010


Okay - here’s the thing. I walk the morning to exercise my body and mind. I don’t expect divine intervention. But should my spirit be moved, I would, of course, have the absolute experience.

Today, as the slant sun made giant shadows of my moving body, I memorized the final lines of Billy Collins’ Introduction to Poetry:

“I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.”

I thought - Dear, dear Billy, I need meaning to enjoy!

As I have told the Author Above time after time. Meaning, I say, is necessary. Meaning is my navigational star, my compass. The beginning and the end.

Simultaneously my dear son’s words echo in my inner ear: You don’t need to understand the insides of a computer to make a word file. You don’t have to be a software designer to send a mail.

So. Billy, as William, as the Author Above are all trying to teach me the same lesson - to relax. To accept. Understanding pistons and spark plugs is definitely not a prerequisite to operate a car. Or enjoy the beauty of a passing scenery.


Now - I don’t normally pick up things from the street.

Let me first tell you that I always keep a neatly folded A-4 paper and a pencil in my pocket, for notes.

And there, right in front of me, on the pavement, is a folded A-4 paper, suspiciously similar to one of mine. I immediately feel blood rushing - Did I drop it while out walking yesterday? Has anyone seen it? Read it? My notes are as private as my journal. Or words to a trusted friend.

So I bend down. Pick up the piece. Reluctantly. With my gloves on. Though the paper is pristine and white. Not even a heel impression, or the mark of a dirt paw.

I unfold the note, study the back and the front, baffled. The paper is not mine. It is not filled with illegible scribbles shaped by the hand of a moving body. Instead there are three words in the top left corner. Printed. Yes. The Very Words. And only those.

For a few seconds I just stand there, wanting to tie the moment to a chair and beat a confession out of it. I want to know what it really means.

Then I decide to exercise my spirit. I waterski across the surface of the incident. “Nice touch!” I say, waving at the Author on the shores of the vast seas Above.


(Ps. I know the story sounds constructed. Made up. Forced. Yet I’m telling the truth. I have no means to convince you. And photos can lie, I know.)


  1. I sit back from this and laugh a little bit, Grete, for you've introduced, in your tying off, yet another aspect of writing and art: if it is truth or not. And I understand, you want us to know that this was a real meat and potato happening, REAL, tangible in the moment, physical and within time and space. But even this doesn't really matter, does it? It is as valid and real, even if you had constructed it. And so it is with any piece of art, and yet our motors deep within want to know, is it real? We tie it up and bang it out even in this aspect.

    I believe you because I believe everything you say. Why would you lie? But if you did, it wouldn't matter. It is still beautiful incredible and bursting with significance. And so it is~

    I'm so glad you are present in this world for me to witness. Regard my selfishness! You speak to me. You are a familiar voice, just as that sheet was a familiar sheet of paper, and yet you are different, with new words and ideas to shake me and cause me to consider.


  2. Erin -

    HAHA - yes, I actually thought about that aspect. I imagined an author who insisted on sitting in every bookshop, being present at every reading, explaining to the poor person holding the book that - I know this might seem unlikely, BUT IT IS TRUE!!!!

    I suppose I insisted on the truth for my own sake. I long for proofs, I bend my head backwards and plead - Talk to me!

    And here it was. A note. Just dropped. As a snowflake from above. Could I be anything but captured by the incident?

    I makes me humble....

    It also makes me humble to have readers like you. I started this blog writing into nothingness. To my son’s insisting words, just DO it!

    And here I am. In conversation with someone I would never have known was it not for the magic of that which I don’t understand - the computer, the virtual, the signals rushing, dashing, sailing from one corner of the world to another. And connection. Yes, not least the connection.

    What makes my words connect to you? What make your words connect to me? I have no idea.

    Hoping to find more notes scattered about, to give me some clues..... :-)))


  3. I think you've touched upon the reason many people run away from poetry and claim not to understand it. (Well, you and Billy Collins in his wonderful poem...)

    In school, my teachers did bind and gag each poem and forced the students to beat the living hell out of it instead of saying, "This poem can have a different meaning to each person who reads it and that's perfectly okay." It took me years to unlearn what teachers beat into so many poor, abused poems! Today, I look at every poem I read and I don't think, 'Is this literal or true?' but 'What can I take away from this poem to nourish my spirit and my tender & wounded poet's heart?'

    This is a fabulous, thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing it. Blessings!

  4. That's what excites me most about poetry- the "meaning" is fluid rather than literal, and as unique to each person that reads it as their own fingerprint. What a powerful thing the poet does, then, arranging words in such a way that each reader can (as Marion said so perfectly) take something to "nourish the spirit and the tender, wounded heart."

    I'm so glad to have found your blog, Grete, because you've given credence to the way I've come to read (and live) my favorite poems.

  5. Marion and Becca -

    So much to learn in this life - and so much to un-learn!

    Yet this is the challenge: not to grasp the full, the complete, the absolute.

    But also a relief.....

    I am so glad you found my blog, both of you, all three. Meeting you is a privilege.

  6. My students are reading Billy Collins today. Reading this poem in fact. I told them this, don't worry so much about what the poet meant. Focus on your own sweaty palms, the particular beat of your own heart. Poetry is about a moment of recognition of something inside yourself. In that second, the poet becomes irrelevant. As a writer, I want you to make me irrelevant, and then invite me to sit down and celebrate that with you. Which, is a very strange way to "teach" poetry, indeed.

  7. Kelly -

    Thanks for visiting!

    Focus on your own sweaty palms - I like that!
    And making the writer irrelevant, yet inviting him inside.
    Blessed students to have you teach them!

    A tip for your poetry students - watch Billy Collins animated poems at

    Who said poetry was difficult?