NOTES FROM SAN JOSE: I just finished speaking to Kate Evans' creative writing students at San Jose State University and now I'm sitting in her office on the campus while she's teaching a comp class. Before I tell you about the reading, let me tell you about my travel misadventures. I'm still exhausted.

I decided to drive to the Atlanta airport because it's super cheap to leave your car in the park/ride lots. Before I left, I went to the airport website to check on parking conditions and the wait at security. All lots open, less than 1o minutes at security. Cool. When I get to the airport, there's an arrow saying parking available in this direction...except there wasn't. Since you can't turn around, I was put back out on the loop road, where I sat for half an hour in traffic. I already had a baaaaddd feeling.

I had checked in online so went straight to security, which had a half hour wait at this point. I am so sick of having to practically strip before going to get on a plane and are they ever gonna relax this rule about carrying toiletries in a ziplock bag? I'm ready for the big x-ray machines that can see through your clothes. If it gets me to the gate faster, the security folks can gaze at my voluptuous body all they like.

The flight was about five hours, but seemed like 10. I was so antsy toward the end I couldn't sit still. Arriving in San Francisco, I had to hike in from the gate to the BART station and take the train to Millbrae. That's where you connect to Caltrain, which I was going to take down to San Jose. Notice I said "was." First, BART was running a slow holiday/weekend schedule, which meant trains were running about every 20 minutes or so. While I was bumbling down the stairs, the driver sees me, smiles and then zooms out of the station. I swear to god the motherfucker did it on purpose.

When the next BART train arrives, it sits there for 10 minutes. When we get to Millbrae, the southbound train is sitting there. There's a queue to get tickets and everyone is running around and screaming to hurry because the train was about to leave. By the time I got my ticket and got to the platform, the train had gone. I figured I'd have to wait another half hour, so I sat down and made a few phone calls and then a station agent walked by and said, "that was the last train tonight for San Jose." I wanted to vomit. I called Kate and she and her partner Annie drove the 40 odd miles up to Millbrae to collect me. By the time we got back to their lovely house, we were all exhausted. I went directly to bed.

I was still jet-lagged this morning when I did my reading, but they were an attentive bunch of twentysomethings. They had all read the book, written a paper about it and had questions prepared. I actually just read through some of their responses to Slow To Burn. I think I scared a few of them. One student wrote a whole page on how "Double Fantasy" (the poem about an old friend who liked to act out the John Lennon slaying) disturbed him greatly. I love that he was so creeped out about it, that he wrote an entire page just on that one poem. Several of the students claimed they didn't "get" what some of the poems are about. There goes my accessibility cred. I read some of the new poems from Wake and talked frankly about all the themes during the Q&A: homosexuality, suicide, old lovers. One student said very plainly that she just didn't like the book at all -- that it was too dark. Another suggested I was being sacrilegious with "The Virgin Mary Appears In A Highway Underpass. " So strange to read all these different opinions, but what I loved most is how they interpreted the poems on their own, and took away what they needed. A very good morning.

More soon.


Justin Evans said…
I think you had a really great reading experience. My last reading was my first real reading i had had in over 4 years. Of all the people who showed, only two were not related to me, so it sucked big time in that noone had any questions, and most were only there because they felt they had some kind of obligation to show up.

There just isn't much call for me to read my poetry anywhere, and there are absolutely no venues for reading poetry out loud (other than my own classroom) for 120 miles in any direction. It's the biggest reason I was so poetry laden in my senior lit class each year. I spoon-fed my seniors with a shovel.
Transportation schedules do not make things easy.

Sounds like the reading went well though - the fact that the students were familiar with your work. Writing about the poems does force a reader to explore rather than pass simply over. And that's good.
Totally awesome. I am SO sorry about your BART experience - welcome to my world. It's not just like that on sundays and holidays. It is like that every day. And yes: the train operators do it on purpose then laugh all the way to the next station. But hey: I suppose if I was a train operator I would have to find ways of entertaining myself. But isn't BART just the pits?

Anyway: I think it is great, no matter what the students said, that they were so energetic about your work. I mean: that's some great reading in there! And no matter if they said "it was hard" or "inaccessible" the fact that they read it and drew conclusions enough to even complain about it definitely means they got a lot out of it. Nice!
Nick said…
Sounds like the end justified the means of getting there.
Kate said…
You forgot to mention how many students loved your poems! :)

Thanks again, Collin, for taking the time to share with them. Meeting a visiting writer can make such a big impact on students; most of them have never before experienced a reading and a Q&A. I think it shows them that writers think and care deeply about what they are doing.

Safe travels to L.A.!
Glad to hear the morning class went well!

Wishing you a fantastic time in Cali!

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