Charles Ghigna shares the story behind his story …
”I hate poetry.” I’ve heard that a million times. I used to say it myself.
As a teenager, I thought poetry was for sissies and grandmothers. I didn’t want any part of it. I played on my high school baseball team and was only interested in sports, cars, and girls—not necessarily in that order. I thought poetry was something I had to agonizingly memorize and embarrassingly recite in front of the class. Something we had to study, analyze, and write essays about. Something we had to take tests on. Something whose meanings only teachers and poets understood. I thought poetry had no place in my life. I was wrong.
”Show, don’t tell.” I learned that from a teacher. “A poem should not mean, but be.” I learned that from Archibald McLeish. I learned that just like a good poem, the meaning cannot be told, it must be shown.
I was in high school when a teacher finally showed me the truth about poetry. He invited us to write poems from the inside out. When we read poems from our textbooks, he did not tell us the meaning, he invited us to tell him what the poem meant to us. Poems are like that. They invite us in, show us around, hope we enjoyed the visit.
We always left his class with that joy, with a new sense of discovery, of seeing the world and ourselves from new points of view, of wanting to express ourselves freely on paper in new ways.
I always try to remember that feeling whenever I write my poems and whenever I talk about poetry with young people and teachers.
Teachers often ask, “How do you get ‘em hooked on poetry when they say they ‘hate it?’” I had that same question in mind when I was a teacher. I always wished I had a book of poems that I could whip out and hand to my students who avoided poetry like the plague.
If we writers, educators, and parents cannot interest our children in the reading and writing of poetry during their teen years, we have probably lost them to the joy and wonder of poetry for the rest of their lives.
Poet John Ciardi once said that he wished he had written a book of poems for boys who hate poetry. My poet friend X. J. Kennedy reminded me of Ciardi’s wish. My teenage son, Chip, reminded me of it as well. I knew I had to face that challenge, that reward. I knew I had to write that book for the boy I once was, for the son I now have, for the kids who still say, “I hate poetry.”
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