Thursday, October 13, 2016

Poetic Faux Pas

Irene Latham hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Live Your Poem.

The Atheneum Hotel, Chautauqua, NY. Photo by Teresa Mitchell.
For those who asked after Wednesday's last Poetry Camp memories. Here's the whole story of my crazy encounter with Bea Cullinan, written for inclusion in a scrapbook for Kent Brown.

I arrived at Chautauqua 2007, the Highlights workshop, and checked into room 204 of the Athenaeum annex. My roommate had not yet arrived, so I unpacked, went down to the lobby for a soda. I had not yet worked out the logistics of the hotel, so I was unaware of the blunder I was about to commit in returning to my room.

I crossed the bridge into the annex, walked to the end of the hall and opened the door to what I thought was my room. There, propped up on the bed, was an attractive older woman in a state of comfortable disrobement. I couldn’t decide whether I had fallen out of the back of a wardrobe into a strange new land or opened a door into the Twilight Zone.

I jerked to a stop, managed to keep the soda can in my hand, and said, “You’re here.”

“Yes,” she said, without dislodging herself from the pillow.

She didn’t look like the picture I had conjured in my mind of my roommate. We had only exchanged a few e-mails, but I expected someone closer to my own middle age.

“I’m Doraine. I’m your roommate,” I said.

She looked at me a bit strangely and sat forward. “You are?”

During this short exchange, my eyes scanned the room. Clothes hung in the closet. A sweater draped across the back of the desk chair. Bottles, brush and comb stood in neat rows on the dresser. I had only been gone ten minutes. How could she possibly have done this so quickly? Unless...

“Am I in the wrong room? Oh dear, I’m so sorry. Is this room 204? I am so sorry, I don’t know how I did this.”

A ridiculous mixture of horror and silly giggles brewed inside. I backed out the door and registered the 304 written in brass. I raced down the stairs hoping to get out of earshot before the elixir in my gut burst forth like a shaken soda. I shut myself into room 204, rocked my head in my hands, and tried, between fits of laughter, to convince myself that I hadn’t done something so utterly stupid. Only I had done it. And I just had to tell somebody. The problem was that I didn’t know anybody.

I readied myself for dinner, the secret hysteria growing. If I didn’t tell someone, I would bust.

On the porch of the Athenaeum, I found my only two acquaintances. We had ridden in the back of the limousine together from the airport. I poured out my adventure, relishing the relief from the pressure within, and we laughed together like ten-year olds.

Unburdened, and with new friends in tow, I relaxed and enjoyed my first meal. Kent Brown welcomed us and introduced the faculty and staff. There was one last introduction toward the end of his speech-making, a special introduction of a dear friend and icon in children’s publishing, Bea Cullinan. Bea had been a part of the first Chautauqua conference, along with Kent’s mother.

“Stand up, Bea,” Kent said.

Bea stood up.

I nearly dropped my desert fork. There, fully dressed and beautiful, was the occupant of room 304.

I can only imagine what Bea must have felt like on the other side of my adventure. She was gracious when I introduced myself as her intruder and apologized. She even agreed to look at some of my poems. The conference was, of course, life-changing, but the memory of walking in on Bea Cullinan still starts a silly giggle brewing inside my chest.

I leave you with this lovely translation from Danish poet, Inger Christensen's Light.

from Light: “It’s very strange”
by Inger Christensen
Translated by Susanna Nied

     It's very strange
     the eggs are everywhere

     There must be some mistake

Read the rest here.


  1. Enjoyed the story and the poem! How did you find the perfect poem to go with your tale?

  2. You did find a marvelous poem/comment on your fun memory, Doraine. Perhaps it is serendipity that helped make a bigger connection than you would have, and from reading your tale, I'm smiling too!

  3. What an unforgettable encounter! Thanks for sharing your account and the cool poem. :)

  4. Well, that's one of those events that makes you want to disappear into a corner at the time, but makes for a fantastic story to share after the fact! ;)

  5. I love this story every time I hear it. :) Thank you, Doraine! xo

  6. So funny, Doraine! What tickled me as much as your gaffe, was how funny it struck you. (There's an imp back of those wise eyes.)

  7. That's the best. I loved the poem too. I need to save it (the poem), that kind of thing actually happens to me a lot.

  8. Oh, my! That would be me, foot in mouth, face red and creating a great first impression. Those become the best stories, though, don't they?

  9. I am puzzling doors and keys and locks and shocks. What a giggle you story is, Doraine.