This is the story of one of my favorite memories of my friend Christian, who has published his second book of poetry. I’ll get to the book in a second because first I need to tell you the story of me getting ready for a dinner.
In 2008, at Old Dominion University’s annual Literary Festival, I sat at the (then) newly opened sports bar at the Springhill Suites on campus, waiting to go to dinner with friends. I was a graduate student, the author I had escorted through the festival had already departed, and I didn’t have a whole lot going on. The presenters and professors and a select group of students had gone to the yacht club for the fancy dinner that happened once during the week – the kind of place with full table settings, the silverware that requires you start from the outside and work your way in, where coffee is served in teacups and saucers.
Two of my closest friends were student co-organizers that year, beleaguered students juggling phone calls and readings and tech issues. One of them, Andrea, strode into the bar and approached me. “Hey,” she said, her voice brisk and all business because girlfriend was working, “you want to go to the yacht club dinner?”
A fancy dinner at a yacht club on the water with free food and drinks and a seat with authors who were smart and interesting and full of fantastic stories and advice? UM, YES.
And then she lowered the boom: “Good. You have thirty minutes.”
I looked down at myself. I sometimes think this is probably what Cinderella felt like – looking down at her housework dress the same way I looked at my clunky knock-off clogs, my corduroy pants, my t-shirt. I quickly did the math – ten minutes home, five minutes to change, ten minutes to drive to the yacht club. Make-up in the car. I would need to shave my legs…. uuuuuuuuuugh.
I grabbed my bag and ran out of the bar and down the street. Except running isn’t really what it was because, you know, clogs are backless, and mine were loose after years of wear, and so I was really just quickly tip-toeing down the sidewalk, hoping to cover ground quickly and get to my car.
And this is when Christian pulled up and asked where I was going. Breathless, I told him my yacht club – time constraint – need to put on a dress – car parked down the street conundrum, and he unlocked the door and told me to get in. He drove me to my car, my knight in a silver SUV, and I raced (well within the speed limit, Mom, it’s okay) home, donned a little black dress, shaved those legs, and made it to the yacht club with minutes to spare. When others started arriving, I stood on the dock, glass of wine in hand, all like, “This old thing? I just had it in the closet, no big deal.” (I was very glad I remembered deodorant.)
These people – Andrea, Christian – are characters from my past life, the one where I was a graduate student who drank too much coffee and hung out in coffee shops and bars and hustled my way through an education that often felt way over my head. We’re all so different now – children born, degrees earned, relationships changed, words written.
But the characters remain. And it’s always an exciting thing when one of those characters has something good happen.
Which brings me to Holdfast, Christian’s second book of poetry, out this week from C&R Press. This week, I hunkered down in my bed while my baby slept, and I read through Christian’s poems and felt that homegoing feeling: where things are familiar and the same, and yet, also, so very, very different. Christian’s poetry in Holdfast chronicles a poet unbecoming and reconciling and becoming again. It’s about fatherhood and sobriety and poetry and relationships. Christian stalled me out in the poems where he addresses being a father, and I found myself breathless, chest tight, over poems like “To Ansel on His Second Birthday” and “Defense of Poetry: or Poem in Which I Can’t Imagine My Own Death.”
…Now I’ll be /
the dead father. My son doesn’t know //
yet. I’ve begun reading everything I can about imagination /
so I can prove I’ll never leave if he can imagine me //
which means I’m learning how to reimagine everything.
Christian – the Christian Anton Gerard of his poems, the third person of Holdfast – unmakes and remakes himself, disassembles and builds again. And I think that’s what I loved in reading his work. Because we can’t go back to who we were then. I can’t be a student again. I won’t be the girl hanging out in a Springhill Suites sports bar at 4 in the afternoon. Christian won’t roll up in his car to rescue me from my nightmarish shoe decisions. But we remake to something new, something intentional and complicated and self-aware. And grown. And in that way, Christian Anton Gerard is the same – the same thoughtful voice, the same attention to the sensory, the same practitioner of his craft. Of his process.
Christian’s poems as individuals are smart and impactful, but taken as a collection, they bring a sophistication, a system, its parts working together to make a man, and a poet, and a book, and a life, and that making is the art, and I’m so glad Christian has given it to us in Holdfast.
Order your copy of Holdfast by visiting this link.