I've yet to say goodbye to Marie Ponsot, who was so open and generous and welcoming. She was the first teacher who really saw me. She was never effusive or a smoke blower, she was simply brilliant and seemed to delight in watching people think on the page. She knew what I was doing when I didn't, AND she knew I had no idea what I was doing! "You're a satirist," she told me. "I am?"
No matter how weird my poems got, at 81 years-old, she was impossible to buck off. One of my favorites memories of her is very visual, so I hope I can convey it. During her office hours, I brought in an early draft of "Mighty Mighty Primate: Reconsidered," which turned out to be the first poem in my first book. She read the first few stanzas with her brow knit, suddenly smiled at the page, then up at me. "You had me scared for there for a minute."
"I couldn't imagine how you were going to get out of it."
She read from the poem aloud: "The part where I was lashed to the ship deck with chains in a typhoon..." she paused "...made me..." here she paused for a long time, smirking like Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair, her head trembling slightly on her neck "...cry."
Her face, right there, getting all of it. Part otter. I'm no scientist, but I can't imagine the force that drove that brain ever goes dark.