Thursday May 23

hoppenthaler I write this from a Country Inn & Suites hotel room in Boone, NC.  Tonight I’ll give a reading from my poetry at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, VA (no doubt that the locals are ready for some poetry after last weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series activities at the Motor Speedway).  Tomorrow will find me at Tusculum College, where I’ll meet with students, participate in a Q&A, announce the winners of the school’s creative writing contest (which I judged) and read in the evening.  Wednesday, a reading at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Thursday through Saturday I’ll be at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for the bi-annual Meacham Writers’ Workshops, where I’ll give individual and group workshops and read.  All of this after a week away from home at the beginning of March to write at a friend’s lake house in Virginia during my school’s spring break.  A month before that, I was away in Washington, DC for five days at the annual AWP Conference.  April—national poetry month—will find me giving eight more readings, as well as a few talks.

This is the life of a working-class writer, and I love it.  It is a gift to be allowed to bring my poetry to the specific lives of students, community members, teachers, and other writers with whom I interact on the road.  It’s validating and energizing to participate in moments when an audience member “gets it,” or is moved enough to linger afterwards for a word or two and have a book signed.  This is one way poetry matters.

When I was off giving readings in support of my first book, I was a single man, but at home now, I’ve left a wonderful wife and stepson.  I can’t say how much they mean to me other than to rely on the cliché—they mean the world.  When I leave now, I leave them to pick up the slack.  I leave my wife to do the things I normally do as well as those things typically under her purview.  The mornings—scramble at the best of times—are even more hectic.  The litter box becomes a chore, the garbage, the . . . .  I miss Danny’s baseball practices, where I try to help out the coaches; I miss the hugs; I miss that feeling at night when the doors are locked, the house is quiet, and the pressures of the day melt into the dark as I cradle my wife’s face and kiss her goodnight.

In our interview, Alice Friman says, “everywhere I’ve been and whatever I’ve seen and experienced is one, all part of the poet’s grab bag.  All part of the now, the perennial present, and what’s ‘home.’”  Indeed, my life on the road as a poet—the performative function of the job—has become much of what I now bring to my poems during the artist function of the job.  And both of these are much of what I bring to my concept of “home.”  What I am at home, as a husband and step-dad, is largely what poetry has made of me.  Writers owe the world to those who love them enough to keep the home fires burning when we’re off doing what we do.  For most of us, the monetary compensation is relatively minor, though it does, in a given year, maybe add up to enough for a modest vacation.  But it costs, too, and as we enter national poetry month, I’d like to thank my wife, Christy, and my stepson, Danny, for loving me enough to let me do this thing that gives me so much joy.