Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why My Deserving Talent Will Never Make It to the Big Leagues

Recently I got a printed letter from a student interne
at Washington and Lee, saying that my wonderful talent
deserved to be represented in the new collection
of Virginia poets they are creating — and
eventually they might even have funding
to PAY poets for their work. So would I
send them, please, all my published books.
In the margin a handwritten note — looking
just as personalized on each of the 200 letters
(or 1000 or 10,000) sent out — says that it
would be great if I'd autograph them too.

I was tempted. But I wondered about a,
no doubt, form letter from someone
who'd never read a word of mine (I
suspected), yet began by telling me what my
talent deserved. I wondered too if I was
obligated by my address to become a
"Virginia Poet."

The letter included an e-mail address (for questions),
so after letting the letter ferment for three days
(not a word of it changed), I e-mailed her.
Why? Must have felt embarrassed at my cheapness,
felt a need to justify. I said thanks, but I'd given away
hundreds of copies of my books and never, that I knew of,
had that expanded my audience; that I found
people willing to pay for my books, who then
actually read them; that I'd written my books
to be read by people, not archived, but that
I'd be glad to sell them as many copies as
they pleased to buy. (I mentioned two other
universities that had purchased my work.)

The response, next day, was from the professor —
(I must have been too much for the interne.)
It said:

"Thank you for your thrifty and candid response.
I'm certain your decision is the best one possible
for all concerned."

(I could hear the gentle nudge on "all".)

Ooh, that venomously genteel snideness —
I remembered why I'd hated faculty meetings
during my brief academic career.

I thought of a dozen sharp answers,
but knew that ANY answer would just
make it worse. The whole exchange
stuck in my throat until, thinking of
Monte Python, I evoked an answer
so good that I didn't need to send it:

Dear Professor [name],
and candidly
I fart
in your general direction.

Cordially, etc.

Will this get to him somehow, perhaps
by spiritual telegraph? With what professorial
rapier thrust will he respond?
I am waiting for the other silken stocking
to drop.

Dean Blehert

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