Excited much? You bet I am. These books were out of print, and now they’re back. Best book news of the year, if you ask me.
The relaunch coincides with a fresh burst of Betsy enthusiasm around here: Beanie, aged 8, is reading them for the first time. Her two big sisters have been fans for years, of course. My girls have never been to school, but they are part of a group of friends every bit as lively and close-knit as Betsy Ray’s high-school Crowd. And something I love is that Betsy and her crowd are themselves a major part of the bond between my girls and their friends. Seems like every time the other girls come over, they make a beeline for the Shelf of Honor where we keep our precious, tattered copies of The Tomes. The books have become a lending library and they seem to be in constant circulation. And I love this, because I really think the series has helped infuse our group with the spirit of fun and camaraderie you find in Betsy’s high-school stories. Equally important are the seriousness and reflectiveness with which Betsy addresses her own teen crises in the context of a deeply attached, affectionate family and circle of friends. Betsy knows that loving safety net is always there to support her, but she also understands that in order to walk the tightrope of life, she must find her own sense of balance, her own steadiness of foot. I’m glad Betsy is part of my girls’ Crowd, these young women with their own tightropes stretching out before them.
I got to chauffeur him once. He gave a reading at UNC-Greensboro while I was an MFA student there—this would have been around 1992—and as poetry editor of The Greensboro Review it was one of my jobs to help get our visiting authors from place to place. In this case I was asked to pick Mr. Pinsky up at the Charlotte airport (I think it was Charlotte—it was about an hour away, I remember that) and drive him up to Greensboro for the reading. My classmate David Scott (now married to our fellow classmate, author Julianna Baggott, aka N. E. Bode of The Anybodies fame) came along for the ride. We picked Mr. Pinsky up on schedule and for once in my life, there were no misadventures of any kind on the trip.
(But— “Not in your car,” Scott is saying over my shoulder. “Tell me you didn’t take your car.”
Oh yes we did: my fabulous silver 1981 Isuzu Imark with the blue grafitti on the door. The one with no air conditioning. The poet’s Cadillac!)
Mr. Pinsky was warm and kind and voiced no complaints about the unluxurious mode of transport. I remember we spent most of the drive talking about gardening—at one point I told him about my habit of planting imaginary gardens in the places I passed around town, thinking out what I’d plant there if this or that bit of earth were mine, and he said that sounded to him like the making of a poem. Later, I tried to write that poem but it turned into something quite different—became a sort of comic sketch involving an elderly woman planting watermelons on the grounds of her church.
Now, looking back, I think the real poem lies somewhere in that car ride: the shabby silver car speeding past the kudzu and pine; the moist Carolina heat; the esteemed poet discreetly unsticking his skin from the cracked red vinyl of the seat; the young students of poetry hoping not to bore; the imagined gardens that never grew even in a poem…there’s something there. Robert Pinsky could find it, I’m sure.