My Chat with a Poet

Written August 24, 2011

Yesterday I did something I’ve had on my to-do list for years. Yes, years. I picked up the phone and called the author of one of my favorite poems, Ellen Kort, If Death Were a Woman, from Appleton, Wisconsin. It felt a little odd to do this, that is, to call a stranger at home just to chat. This is the day and age of unwanted phone solicitations and thus no-call lists. The trend is toward less direct, more impersonal connections like email and texting and blog comments. To speak to someone in person on the old-fashioned telephone often feels invasive and a waste of precious time for both ends.

Trust me. I tried hard not to ‘bother her’ with this direct phoning business, but this particular favorite poet has effectively managed to stay off the grid. I Googled my way down a variety of paths off and on through the years, always coming up with one thing, a phone number, and always setting it aside, deciding to hunt a little deeper next time.

After launching my website recently, I really felt compelled to connect with her because in one of my blogs I post both her poem and my personal revision of it. Some poets might frown on that and the last thing I wanted to do was offend her. So, I did it. I called her. And as I sat listening to her phone ring in my ear with my prewritten concise speech of thanks in front of me ready to read into her answering machine, she answered. Surprised, I awkwardly rambled my way through my jotted notes and then a minute later we were laughing hard at a funny story she shared.

The ice graciously broken and the essentials quickly in place of feeling comfort in each other’s company, we proceeded to talk about our truths…the honor and the stress she felt during her time as Wisconsin’s first poet laureate, the tragedy of Governor Walker’s damaging perspective on education, the loss of her son and resulting passage through grief, why and how she wrote If Death Were a Woman, why each of us writes, her own experiences with death, and the power of self love.  She read me some of her poetry and I read her my version of her masterpiece. What a gift to share poetry aloud with someone who treasures every word.

And we concluded after an hour that, as she so emphatically stated, “we should all be poets and writers!”  We decided that it would be a beautiful thing if everyone could understand that words have form and heartbeats of their own. If all of us truly honored the power of our words, both written and spoken, both damaging and healing, we’d be more discerning with what we said and more respectful of how we said it. And we could heal what needs to be healed. Our words have the power to do that. Believe me. Believe Ellen Kort.

I’m so glad I finally picked up the phone and had the privilege of hearing a gifted soul, Ellen Kort, remind me of why I feel so driven to share my own word creations with the world. Thank you for taking the time to read them today.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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