On Encouragement

I came away from last week's poetry gathering at Kirkridge--Bread for the Journey--thinking of the power of encouragement in the lives of those who love poetry and those who write it. 

Eighty-four of us gathered for four days--listening to poets and poetry. And to stories about poets and their poetry.  And everywhere were stories of encouragement. 

Jim Rogers, newly a published poet, just having passed his eightieth birthday, credited me for encouraging him to take his poetry seriously. I was honored by his words and yet it had been natural for me to urge him to see himself as a poet.  I was a late bloomer too, encouraged by others to listen to my poetic voice. 

For me it is the story of my mentor John Gardner spotting three poems in my first book, The Choice, a prose book on end of life decision making.  "Good book" he said "But you are a poet and you should be a published poet."  I was stunned but I took his words to heart. I published the poetry. The title:The Sea Accepts All Rivers. Gardner wrote a generous endorsement on the cover of that first poetry book of mine--an unusual role for a US cabinet secretary.  And after that whenever we corresponded he would pen at the bottom of a letter,  "I still believe every word I said about the poetry."

Michael Glaser, until recently Poet Laureate of Maryland, told us of needing, as a new young faculty member to choose a designation to put on his office door along with his name.  He chose "Poet".  One prominent poet gave him a rough time about the designation he had chosen. Much later the renowned poet Lucille Clifton came to the college, and her office was across from Michael's.  She too had to choose a designation. Her choice: "Other Poet."  Now that is real encouragement!!

So these stories are about encouragement particularly encouraging and supporting each other's writing. 

Our "keynote" poet, Naomi Shihab Nye showed such generosity toward the poetry of the rest of us.  And offered encouragement for us to look for our own poems. Write them down. In her poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann" she tells us a secret: "Poems hide...Check your garage, the odd sock in your drawer."

Good advice. Great encouragement. Check everywhere your poems might be hiding.