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It’s a huge honor for me to share the words of Paul B. Janeczko today, a poet I discovered in college and whose work I used in my classroom for years.
I didn’t start out to be a poet. I started out as a kid in New Jersey who had two major goals in life: 1) to survive one more year of delivering newspapers without being attacked by Ike, the one-eyed, slobbering, crazed cur that lurked in the forsythia bushes at the top of the hill; and 2) to become more than a weak-hitting, third-string catcher on our sorry Little League team. I failed at both.
Had I announced at the dinner table, “Mom, Dad, I’ve decided to be a poet,” my parents — particularly my mother — would have been thrilled. In truth, they would have been thrilled that I’d decided to be anything other than the top-40 disk jockey, Edsel salesman, or bullpen catcher that I constantly yammered about becoming in grammar school. But at that point in my life — as an affable kid who endured hours sitting in a desk whose design, I was convinced originated in a 15th-century Spanish dungeon — poetry meant no more to me than 1066 or George Washington’s wooden teeth. You can tell, I suspect, that as a student, I did not have what you might call an “inquisitive mind.” The only time I was “gifted” was on my birthday and on Christmas.
My path from grammar school to high school teacher to poet gave me many opportunities to heed my internal GPS when it declared, “Recalculating.” For some inexplicable reason (dare I call it a blessing?), poetry was a constant companion along the way, whether I was teaching or writing my own poems. Whenever I worked with kids and poetry, I have wanted the kids to feel that all poems have a purpose, described well by Jonathan Holden:
“to give shape, in a concise and memorable way, to what our lives feel like . . . Poems help us to notice the world more and better, and they enable us to share with others.”
And today, with civilization seemingly destroying itself piece by piece, we all need to share. That’s what poets do. That’s what I try to do with my books. Isn’t that what we all try to do with words? I want young readers to feel that with each collection. Every poem in them is a sharing. My hope is that my readers will carry on that sharing.
As for me, although I never even sat in an Edsel or played ball above the Little League level, I did become a reader and writer of poetry. I consider myself lucky, given my staggering lack of interest and effort in school, not to mention the poetry I was expected to read. But kids don’t need to rely on luck to become readers of poetry. Exciting books of poetry are available. I hope parents and teachers share our love of poetry with kids. And let’s give them a chance to share their love of poetry with us. And, when we are touched by a good poem, we may recall the words of Stanley Kunitz, who said that if you listen hard enough to poets,
“who knows–we too may break into dance, perhaps for grief, perhaps for joy.”
Paul B. Janeczko aspired to be the teacher he never had, when he decided to pursue a career as a high school language arts teacher. From his own days as a student, Paul was obsessed with poetry of all kinds, and as a teacher he wanted to spread his own love of poetry to young people. Today, Paul Janeczko is better known as a writer, poet and anthologist.
Faith E. Hough says
Wonderful post! I grew up with lots of poetry (my dad made me start memorizing it when I was three!) so I’m always surprised when my peers don’t like it–and they almost invariably say it’s because it was never read to them when they were young. Reading poetry to my girls is one of my favorite things to do as a parent now, and they’re already in love with it, too.
Caroline Starr Rose says
I remember reading AA Milne to my now twelve-year-old when he was really little. He’d thump to the rhythm. Poetry is a wonderful way to expose children to new ways words work together, to lovely imagery and rhythms and textures.
It has a need to fill and is a pleasure.
Augusta Scattergood says
Truly enjoying browsing today. And laughing my head off at this disk jockey/ car salesman/ baseball player turned poet. Thank you, Caroline, for all of these posts.
Caroline Starr Rose says
My pleasure! The variety really has been fun.