Outlandish Things Said to Writers
Authors and poets share the most memorable comments they received
|Nicholas E. Barron||Dec 24, 2019|
Throughout the year, I’ve been asking writers about stuff people have said to them. Below are the answers I received. Some of the comments come from public readings or students that an author or poet taught. Some are touching, others funny, or inspiring.
The weekly writer interviews will return on Jan. 7, 2020. I think you’ll enjoy reading what’s below. And, if you do, please share this article on social media. Thank you!
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Outlandish Things Said to Writers
I haven't had any readings or public events yet, but I did receive a lovely message from someone who went to my website and read the shorter pieces linked there. She told me she thought I was a "powerful yet delicate writer," and that she's looking forward to my novel's release. That very, very much made my day.
Kevin TheMysfit Wiggins
Fellow poet and friend Barbara Trawick said, “You are faith. I’ve watched you take words and claim your confidence, rattle demons and profess the God in you regardless how you were perceived. These poems will save and encourage people to stand on their fears and project a declaration of economical, social, sexual, and racial freedom. You are a pioneer in this craft while constantly evolving.”
As someone who has been around very early in my poetry career, these words really moved me as she's been able to watch me grow as an individual and as an artist and witness the impact that my work has had.
At my first ever public event, for the launch of What She Knew, a young girl put up her hand to ask a question during the Q&A, which had been quite intense. I picked her because it seemed like a nice thing to do, and I was nervous, and my brain was aching, and I thought how difficult a question could she ask?
“I heard there is a dog in your book,” she said. “Because it’s a scary book, can you tell me if the dog is okay at the end?” Hardest question I ever had. I dodged it, using the spoilers excuse. It was difficult to look her in the eye. I felt like a wicked witch!
More than twenty years ago I wrote a sonnet called “Cancer Prayer.” A friend of mine—a doctor in his nineties who knew Robert Frost—told me that one of his patients kept the poem in her wallet and that it gave her enormous comfort.
Others have come up to me at readings and said something similar. I still get choked up every time it happens.
Emily K. Michael
Because I travel with a guide dog, I write about him a lot. You’ll find several poems about my wonderful furry companion in Neoteny. So when I give public readings, people always cry out for more dog poems!
I think these poems help people to connect with me. Often, people see a blind woman and think there are insurmountable differences between us, but we all love dogs. So the dog poems break down the barriers that our culture has created between disabled and nondisabled people.
I remember a student came to my class once and said that he saw a movie, Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling, that I would like. He said it was about a teacher who was really down to earth and helped his students overcome barriers and that it reminded him of me. I felt really honored by this compliment, so I watched the film.
It turns out that the teacher was very down to earth and understanding of his students’ struggles with poverty and gangs, mainly because he himself was a crackhead. The dude smoked crack on the weekends and then coached the team’s basketball team during the week. I didn’t really know how to take that.
Did I give off crackhead vibes to the student who recommended this movie to me? I have never smoked crack, but maybe he was saying I was chill and down to earth, too? I have yet to determine this.
I had a student come up to me at the Brooklyn Book Festival while I was at a signing table. He told me he read my book for his class, and that he really didn’t enjoy it. Then he apologized to me for saying such awful things about my book to the rest of his classmates, and that he felt bad about it now that he’s met me in person.
It was very strange, though I’m glad to hear a professor assigned my book to their class. That’s a win!
My favorite review I’ve received is from Joseph Haeger in The Big Smoke. It’s not because the review was gushing in its praise – quite the opposite, actually. It was a critique of how much further By the Feet of Men could have gone in tackling the big topics that pop up throughout.
I already knew it, but then I received a slew of super positive reviews (Publishers Weekly, Starburst, etc.) and I thought I’d gotten away with it. It’s good to know there will always be someone out there who will spot what you’re trying to do and offer a critique encouraging you to go that one or two steps further in your next project.
After one of my poetry readings, a kindly older man approached me and complimented me on my work. He went on to tell me that he was a jazz musician who played around town. I think back fondly on the connection of the moment—two people chatting about art they love making.
In a reading and signing I did for Venice Beach, one of the audience members asked several questions about Jonestown and expressed that she had been in a cult herself and that she was an expert witness in trials all over the world. She had already read my book and had a lot to offer about the Jonestown connection and the audience and I were enthralled.
I was walking around Artscape, this huge arts festival in Baltimore, and it was the first time someone who did not know me personally came up to me and said, “Hey I caught your reading the other day and I bought your chapbook and I really like your work.”
A small act of kindness but one that sustained me for a long time.
After the release of Short Poetry for Those Who Fear Death, a book I had written to help people who had a hard time grieving the loss of loved ones, I received an email from a complete stranger.
In it, they said that my book had saved their life. They had wanted to commit suicide for a while, but now, they wanted to live! To this day, it is the most wonderful comment I have ever read/heard about my poetry.
At just about every event I’ve done, someone has said to me, “You’re so young; how did you write a book?” I understand that’s supposed to be a compliment, but it puts me in a weird, vulnerable position. I wrote a book the same way everyone else does it: decades of hard work, luck, and piles and piles of notebooks.