In the late 70’s, when I was about nine, a poet came to my class at O. P. Earle Elementary School in Landrum, South Carolina as part of an arts program. He spent several days reading poems, teaching us what poems were, and encouraging us to write them. He took several of the best poems from the class with him when he left, promising that some would be published as part of the program.
I received a package in the mail with a newspaper-style tabloid inside a few months later. One of my poems was chosen for publication. I can remember the “big deal” this was to me then and the excitement and pride of my grandparents when they saw the published poem with my name attached. This is the first memory I have of me as an individual, the first moment in which I understood personal identity.
The unknown poet that opened the door of individuality and possibility for me has remained with me in essence through the years. I wish I knew his name so I could write a letter thanking him for the great gift he brought into my life. I have been able to personally survive and grow in ways that would have been impossible without poetry. And, after years of writing in all genres, poetry is always the place of deepest emotion for me, the true home to which I return.
The power of poetry is such that in a small schoolroom, in a miniscule rural town, a frightened little girl found her voice. That voice found the courage to speak from the depths of isolation to the heights of possibility. That small, tiny voice has spoken from numerous magazine pages all over the United States. That voice is still speaking . . .
I remain indebted and eternally grateful to my unknown poet from childhood, to the arts program, the teachers and school system that believed in poetry as an important part of education. Thank you.