Several weeks ago, I came across an ad for a new novel by the poet X. J. Kennedy called A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer. Just beneath it was a promotion: readers were invited to send Mr. Kennedy an e-mail for a chance to win a free copy.

I’ve taught several English classes using The Bedford Reader and The Bedford Guide for College Writers, which are among the scores of anthologies and writing guides written and/or edited by Mr. Kennedy. But the real reason for my interest was that since my freshman year of college I’ve admired his poems “Nude Descending a Staircase” and “Nothing in Heaven Functions as It Ought.”

I wrote a brief e-mail, noting that I was surely too late to win a copy of his book and instead taking the opportunity to thank him for writing one of my favorite poems and to wish him well on his newest book. After sending the message, I realized that his “new” novel came out last July. I wasn’t too surprised when I didn’t hear back.

Cut to this afternoon at work … The fifth floor receptionist e-mailed to let me know I’d received a package. I went up to get it, and what an unexpected surprise!




And inside?