Another picture of an old poet I've come to love :)
So I've discovered that the fastest way to my heart is by possessing two characteristics: Being an old man who writes brilliant poetry (see my love letter to Walt Whitman below). Today began a new love affair with one Billy Collins. I had the rare opportunity today of seeing this renowned and talented American poet give a reading of his work and then meeting him afterwards. This guy is a big deal. He was Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2001-2003! This may not be that exciting to many, but I was stoked, for lack of a better word. When I was standing in line waiting to get my book signed, the pressure began mounting on what I would say to this man who has been critically acclaimed by every major publication that I've ever wanted to write for. Had I been a cooler, more collected person, had I not choked in the face of fame, I would've asked very intelligently, "Mr. Collins, ideally, how would you like your poetry to be read?" or at least, "Out of the books of poetry you've written, what is your personal favorite?" Instead, I excitedly told him, like a teenage girl (or any girl for that matter) who is meeting Justin Timberlake, that it was my first experience. My first experience with what? I think I meant to say my first Billy Collins experience, but I was vague and I didn't make sense. Luckily he saved me by asking if it was my first poetry reading, and I agreed. He was funny, smart, ironic and surprisingly touching. I liked him and his poetry a lot. He writes about everyday life--college students, waking up in the morning, turning 10, literary amnesia, Victoria's Secret, among other things. All with wit, charm, and a true sense of what a human being is--their thoughts, emotions, motives. I love having these experiences where I can take in good art, whether it's music, literature, paintings or other mediums. I always go away feeling enriched.
What is it about these things that make us feel that way-- uplifted, more connected, more intelligent? President Packer says that it is the Spirit of the Lord that makes us feel those things. I'm so grateful that I was taught to appreciate art and to recognize those feelings, both by my family and in the Church. It says in D&C 109:7, "Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith." Finding these enriching experiences is a commandment too, as well as a joy. It is our responsibility to put ourselves in those places to have those experiences. President Packer also says it is our responsibility to use our talents to uplift others and ultimately and most importantly, to bear witness of Christ. President Packer asks us to ask ourselves: When I am free to do what I really want to do, what will it be? I think this applies to anyone who wants to make something truly great of their lives, not just members of the LDS Church, or people on the brink of "making themselves" or "becoming" who they want to be, not just the young. President Packer says we must prepare ourselves by being humble, reminding us that talents do not show preference of one over another, but just give the possessors a greater responsibility to use them wisely. What are our individual talents and how can we use them to this aim? I think these are important questions to ask. Another great poet was Orson F. Whitney, a member of the LDS Church, who exemplified the idea of humility in creating great art. He wrote a poem in response to the lines that say, "I am the master of my own fate: I am the captain of my soul" ("Invictus" by William Ernest Henley). Whitney wrote:
Free will is thine--free agency, To wield for right or wrong; But thou must answer unto Him, To whom all souls belong.
Bend to the dust that "head unbowed," Small part of life's great whole, And see in Him and Him alone, The captain of thy soul.
I hope this blog didn't come out too preachy. I think I get a little excited when I'm talking about things I love, namely art/literature and the gospel. :) I just think there's so much beauty to be had, to be viewed and to be experienced, and there's also so much to be created. Whitney said, "We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own," and that extends to every other field. How amazing is it that we have the faculties to see, hear and experience? I'm so grateful for the talents of others and for a Heavenly Father who has given these talents to them and to myself, however untapped they may be, and for the possibility that these talents can be discovered and improved through the Spirit.
If you want to check out more of Billy Collins, here is a funny poem ("Litany") that I like about how ridiculous similes can be in expressing love or describing a woman. I wish I had a link to Orson F. Whitney's poetry, but I couldn't find any. President Packer quotes his poem in a talkthough. Enjoy!