...Not the kind of wheel you fall asleep at...

Finally--Brigit Pegeen Kelly Reads!

Wednesday evening, I jumped into my car, which was packed to the gill with camping equipment, cds, snacks, and E, and hit the highway down to Athens. I'd been eagerly awaiting this road trip for a couple of months now--back in winter, a friend excitedly informed me that Brigit Pegeen Kelly was going to be reading at Ohio University's Spring Literary Festival. He barely got the words out of his mouth, and I was mentally packed and ready to go.

I'm a big fan of the road trip, and I used to take them ALL THE TIME. I haven't been on one for quite a while though, so that lent to the anticipation.* How I love foot pressed against gas pedal, road peeling away underneath you like the spinning floor of a treadmill, sun bounching off windshield, wind wrestling with strands of hair.

I'm also a big fan of Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I picked up her book Song back in grad school as a reading requirement for a poetry workshop I was in at the time. I was floored (and still am) by the narrative wonder of her poems, the way the images drape themselves fantastically this way and that, the way they recognize little beautiful (and terrifying) things about nature and people and embrace them. The title poem "Song" was my favorite--it breaks my heart to read each and every time. I couldn't wait to see what such a magnificent poet was like in the flesh.

The trip down to OU is about three and a half hours. We'd planned to camp overnight at Burr Oak State Park about 30 minutes from Athens so that we didn't have to rush to get back to Cleveland the same night. We rolled into Burr Oak around 6:30 after having weaved our way through a magnificent rainstorm. It was like Mother Nature was holding a sheet of rain taut down over the car, trying to suffocate it with a solid blanket of wet, that the wipers just gave up even trying to fend off. It was a LOT of fricking rain, which never bodes well for camping. But when we rolled into Burr Oak, everything was sun-licked dry. The sky was blue. We were suspicious but happy.

Finding a campsite was a bit of a metaphysical quandary. The ranger that we ran into said to look for one of the Red Sites that wasn't marked RESERVABLE. We drove around multiple times AND COULDN'T FIND ANY RED SITES. It was weird and spooky. Finally we found two--positioned right next to a playground. F- that, we of course said.

We decided instead to trek back over to Wayne National Forest which we'd mistakenly stumbled into originally, thinking it was Burr Oak. The campsites were much greener, much flatter, better tucked away under canopies of trees, and MUCH cheaper (only $5 self-registration fee as opposed to the also relatively cheap $16 of Burr Oak--the difference was the facilities: WNF--hole in ground toilets with no sinks, BO--showers, running water, flushable toilets).

We quickly set up camp--I'd given us enough time to get down there, whip up a tent, and get back on the road to Athens in time to get to the reading, so thank god we had little problems getting the tent ready to go.

Back on the road within 20 minutes, and whipping through the dastardly curvy roads of Glouster as we grew closer to Athens.

Then joy of joys, we were finally there. Grad-school memories loomed up before me in the form of brick roads and billions of hippie-stoner students milling about. God, I seriously miss OU. Who'da thunk that a school in the middle of nowhere would have such memories attached to it.

But we were there, we got to the reading with time to spare, some crazy essay woman was finishing up some dull talk about psychoanalytical something-or-other that I'd missed the beginning of, I stood in the corner trying to stay out of the line of sight of grad students that I'd gone to school with**, and we awaited Kelly.

Finally finally finally it was time. Mark Halliday (one of my profs from grad school) hammed it up with one of his usual introductions, waggling his eyeballs and facially lurching around like Kramer from Seinfeld and then she finally finally finally came up to the podium.

O expectations. O glorious moment realized.

(I was afraid of being too geeked up about seeing her read--poets are usually hit or miss in that department and most of the time it's the ones who translate magnificently on the page who are complete misses when it comes to readings. I was terrified that I woulda been all excited for naught--that she would bore the piss outta me and render the trip relatively pointless. Thankfully she did not.)

Brigit Pegeen Kelly is like one of the creatures from her poems--one of the quiet deer, one of the softly chirping birds. She moves slowly, she speaks with a voice that sounds like what richly smelling damp earth would sound like if it could speak.

And her reading was lovely. And what was so awe-inspiring about it was that she didn't read just her own poetry, she read other folks' poems as well--Emily Dickinson among them. It was like sitting down and flipping through a literary scrapbook of what inspires her writing. She read as many poems from other writers as she did her own. This seemed lovely and consistent with the humbleness of her own poetry and how she places herself within her own poems in a very un-egotistical kind of way. It was not about her--it was about poetry.

What was also beautiful about her reading was the fact that the poems were draped with a languid narrative about her recent time spent in Arcada in California. Each time she ended a poem and flipped through notebooks and books to locate the next, she'd amble through a new gem of a moment about her time in Arcada. Given that her poems are so narrative, this seemed like the perfect segues. A larger narrative linking together tinier bursts of narrative. And each little story she told was a beautiful and unexpected gem--you could see that the way she looks at things is unlike no other, that she has detail for the unexpected and the small moments, that she appreciates them in a way that it is hard not to admire. Each story was like little dew-laden string a spider's woven, draping between window and windowpane and back again.

She didn't read "Song," but I wasn't as disappointed as I thought I'd be. The perfectness of the reading made up for it. She read many other gems though, "Black Swan," "Rose of Sharon," and my favorite of the night--"Windfall" (a beautiful poem about finding a small filthy pond in the middle of a lush abandoned yard unexpectedly filled with beautiful, gold, flitting carp). Her poetry is lovely, speaks to something beautiful and deep within you, makes you notice the little unexpected things and appreciate them. She is a masterful weaver of beautiful images and metaphor, she makes me look at things in ways that I normally wouldn't (for example, the fat spider perched atop my tent in the morning looked like it had been carefully carved out of blanched almonds), she has a peacefulness that radiates from her and warms the room.

I was pleased.

We snuck out into the Athens night afterwards, the sky spitting sudden bursts of light as a storm stole in, masked by the pitch darkness of the sky. We drove back through the winding roads to camp as the rain unrolled itself from the sky in front of us. We hunched our warm bodies around each other in the tent as the night seethed and bucked with rain around us, buouyed in the little island of blankets amidst puddles of rain and the dripping of leaks here and there. It was a beautiful night.

I was happy.

*Upon saying this, I actually realized that (including THIS road trip) I've actually been on three 6+-hour round trip road trips in the past month (two were down to Yellow Springs).
**As most of you know, I'm notoriously anti-social and this was no different than normal. My friend Melissa was there, and I would've actually stopped to talk to her had she not been draped in about 5 other grad students that I couldn't've beared having to make small talk with (think large Russian man pulling out each of your teeth with pliers). God, do I hate small talk. I kept my eye out for my friend Paul though--he is the only one I woulda risked gratuitously nauseous smalltalk to converse with. Unfortunately (and expectedly) he was not there.



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