Yesterday I had occasion to remember what was probably the foundational moment of me becoming a writer.
I was thirteen and I lived on a small island in Wisconsin. There were 500 permanent residents, mostly related to each other in some way, and my 8th grade class had 11 students.
During the year, a poet named David Steingass came to our school to conduct what I think was a week-long residency during which time we wrote poems, workshopped them, and read poems.
I realized yesterday that, knowing I began tinkering with poems that year, it was probably a direct result of David’s visit that I began trying to write poems. Our teacher made us keep a journal and we were graded on writing in it every day. Eventually I started dropping little poems into it instead of writing real entries, but that, too, was a foundational exercise for me—I do journal now every day or nearly every day and have, by and large, since college, when I was very dilligent about it.
In any case, I remember butting heads with David (yes, even as a thirteen-year-old I was this troublesome) about his insistence that lines end with “strong words.” I think I was breaking my lines with prepositions! I still think of that sometimes when I write and prefer not to break on a preposition [editor’s note: in the interest of full disclose, I don’t deny anyone else’s right to break on a preposition].
Obviously, writers-in-the-schools programs can be effective in reaching people. Had I not had this opportunity to work with David, I might never had started in poetry. It was the following year, in high school, that I found my first ongoing poetry mentor with whom I would work for the next five years.
Those first teachers…who were yours?