I wrote letters to Colin Firth because my ex-husband, the amazing writer Ira Sukrungruang, suggested I do so. I have a poem with Colin Firth’s name in the title in my first book, and when I read it at poetry readings, Ira would do a fake British accent that made him sound stupid and pretentious and say, “I’m Colin Firth,” and we would all laugh.
I wrote to Colin Firth because I was trying to do National Poetry Writing Month and I was having trouble coming up with a poem for every day of April. A series was easier.
I wrote to Colin Firth because he’s my longest-standing celebrity crush, because of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, because there’s no way he could have done all the silly and serious movies he’s done—all while denying or re-embodying the role of Mr. Darcy—without being able to make fun of himself, without still believing in himself as a potentially serious actor. How does a person do that?
I wrote to Colin Firth because I needed to say things to someone, to explain myself and think out loud, and a mostly imagined correspondent was the ideal audience. I don’t know him; I haven’t watched more than a handful of interviews with him nor read more than a couple of articles about him. I know only a tiny bit of his public persona, and the personas he has adopted in movies. So I got to imagine him as the perfect reader: smart, sympathetic, wise, wicked, funny, broken, generous, self-aware.
I wrote to Colin Firth because he’s handsome and witty, and that was good enough incentive to try to impress him—even though I knew he’d never read the letters.
I wrote to Colin Firth during a month at the end of my yearlong leave from teaching at a university in Tampa, where my soon-to-be ex-husband lived. I was living on my sister’s horse farm in rural central Illinois and dating another Brit who happened to live in Tennessee. My heart was in those three places. There was much I loved in all three places, but also much that was difficult, fraught, complicated. Part of me wanted just to be in England, where I knew no one, and where I’d dreamed of going since I was a child watching All Creatures Great and Small on PBS.
I wrote to Colin Firth things that were true. Things I dreamt, and thought, and felt. I wrote them as poems but also as little essays, little bits of memoir, some lyric and some narrative. When I read them to my lover, he remarked that if he saw line breaks on a page, he simply wouldn’t read it. But hearing them, he liked them—even the one that sounded like a grocery list. So I took out all the line breaks because I wanted anyone to feel comfortable reading them. Not that I really thought anyone ever would.
But somehow other people did think these letters deserved to be read. A wonderful editor at The Offing, who published a handful of them. My writing sisters, The Sirens. My friends, family, other writers, former students, loved ones—all those who listened to me say, in person and on social media, that my writing wasn’t worth anything, and unfailingly reassured me that it was. And so I was lucky enough to discover Sundress Publications, a press that doesn’t insist on hard definitions (were the letters poems? essays? they didn’t care) and to have judge Nicole Oquendo select my manuscript to win a prize.
And then, still more changes in my life: finally getting to go to England, ultimately leaving academia, marrying my British lover, moving to Tennessee. I worked on making the book look pretty, which included creating my own seal. I made a book trailer. I Facebooked and Tweeted and now I’m writing to you. I hope you take a look. I hope you like it. And maybe you’ll think about who you’d write to, and what you need to say.