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Breakfast with Billy Collins

Parasocializing with poets and writers can revitalize your mind

I often read many books during the same period of time. Right now, for example, I’m reading a recent thrift store acquisition, Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa during fringe moments of the day. His direct style and crazy, lucid wisdom glue the odd, temporal fragments of the day together into a floating mosaic that settles my soul. His thought process also grounds and deepens my respect for Pema Chödron, his most famous student and one of my favorite teachers.

On daily walks in the mountains, I’m listening to psychologist Ethan Kross explain his research on the good, the bad, and the ugly of self-talk and how we can harness it to enhance our mental health in Chatter. He’s a wonderful storyteller and breaks down the complexities of his topic into nicely organized, bite-sized pieces. (Look for an article soon on my Kross insights.)

Bedtime reading on Kindle is We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. Warming up to Whitaker’s characters has been a struggle — a scrappy teenage girl and her six-year-old brother, their loving but scattered and addicted mother, the paunchy town sheriff with Parkinson’s (an old friend of the mother’s), and the Bad Guy whose name is, I kid you not, Dickie Darke. Whitaker’s narrator has a bizarre vernacular and style, both of which annoyed and distracted me at first, but for the love of Duchess (the scrappy teen I’m beginning to care about), I’ve learned to accept both as part of the deal.

And breakfasts are with Billy Collins. That golden sliver of the day bursting with promise belongs to poetry, and there is none better than the wit, humor, strangeness, and charm of Collins. Sailing Alone Around the Room is one of my favorites and the collection I recommend to those unfamiliar with his poetry.

A couple of years ago, I was browsing the poetry section in Magers and Quinn, a favorite haunt in Uptown Minneapolis. As I looked through the stacks, a 20-something guy standing close by asked if I’d ever heard of Billy Collins. I said I had, and he asked if I could…

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