Breakfast with Poets — Brod Bagert and me. Many in the audience were more familiar with Brod than with me, so I did a little overview of how I got started writing and the theme of each of my books, along with a few exercises for writing across the curriculum. It was an exercise in speed talking to squeeze all that into 30 minutes. Then Brod entertained and showed why he is good at tricking kids into reading. Thanks to the teachers from Baton Rouge who drove me in the driving rain to the convention center! The audience was warm and generous. We then went on to chat with teachers and sign books. I was like a zombie by this point with 2 hours of restless sleep and Brod took me out to lunch to introduce me to rice and beans and Popeye chicken.
The area is still trying to find footing after Katrina. As Brod and I were in line at the chicken joint, he struck up a conversation with a local. In two sentences they determined that Brod was from New Orleans and the conversation became “where were you when the storm hit, how bad was it in Mobile, flooding or wind damage, how long were the waters up, were you on the eastern or western side of the swirl?” I could tell it was a well-practiced conversation of questions as the two survivors retold their stories to one another. I suspect this is an important part of healing, the telling and retelling. How many years will it take for the sharp edges to fall away? Most stories take on jokes after a year, but not this one. The tragedy is too heavy.
At the end of the day I was loaded into a teacher’s car for the drive to the airport. In the front seat was Eloise Greenfield. Ms. Greenfield is like the Louis Armstrong of children’s poetry, which is to say, she is an icon. Her work is played with enthusiasm in schools everywhere. Other poets “cover” her poems as models of how to do it right. Did I make dazzled or dazzling conversation with her? Did I tell her how much I loved her work and gush over her shoulder? No. The car was warm from the southern sun, was running on empty and immediately fell asleep in the back seat. All I can hope is that she has no idea who that sleeping poet, probably smelling faintly of fried chicken, was in the back seat. Arugh.