It's like this. Billy Collins is my favorite poet. Although I'm in an eternal argument with my parents around whether his work really constitutes poetry, I find it delightful no matter the classification.
Billy was in Brooklyn this past week, and though it was my second time seeing him, it was the first time I actually got to meet him. When you're the kind of person dorky enough to have a favorite poet, dorky enough to trek across town to meet him, dorky enough to end-of-the-world-style panic when your re-routed subway train makes you late, dorky enough to ask someone to take your picture while sitting in your auditorium seat waiting for Billy to come out, then you are probably also the kind of person who will totally dork out when actually face to face with him.
As I approached the front of the line after the reading, it occurred to me that I had no idea what to say. "Nice job." Or maybe, "I love your work." I decided to tell him that it was my second time seeing him (a true fan, see), and I told him which of his poems was my favorite. It's a poem that praises the familiarity of home and routine, especially in contrast with the stress and annoyances of travel, and as a staunch homebody, I always took great comfort in it. Only when I heard him read the poem in Cleveland the first time I saw him, it became clear by his tone that he was not, in fact, siding with the homebodies. He was mocking the very idea that staying in one's own environment could be superior to exploring the world. I felt a little disillusioned, and as I told Billy this story last week, I wished he would tell me what I wanted to hear, which is that my initial way of looking at the poem had been right. But he didn't, of course. Yet even as he was confirming my gross interpretation error, I couldn't wipe the dopey look off my face, hovering at the table even as he'd moved on to sign the next person's book.
Maybe no one can expect to be cool when in the presence of a literary idol. Maybe no one can expect to correctly decipher an author's intent 100% of the time. And I can live with that. Although I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish his "To Tali" inscription had come with a more personalized post script. Something like, "From a fellow homebody." It would have been our secret, Billy.