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The Origins of a Poetic Life

My earliest memory of writing poetry was back in primary school. In Grade 3 I wrote a poem about Springtime. We were probably all told to write a poem about springtime...

My classmates seemed to like the words I created way back then and suggested I share it with our teacher. So, I did that too and our teacher liked it too and asked me to share it with the class.

 I cannot recall the exact words of that particular springtime poem. The words have long vanished I'm afraid. However, I have never forgotten the feelings that washed over me knowing other writers liked my words.

That response lit a spark energizing me to continue, to persist. My self belief was instantly boosted. I had been awakened to the power of words- the power of poetry. I wanted more of that feeling and the only way to obtain it was to write more of the same- poetry. It is true that when we feel something we are doing is valued by those around us, an energy is produced and we are more inclined to continue.

When I shared my poem with my father that evening, he listened politely, but I sensed he wasn't completely convinced my spring words were entirely original. At the time I felt a little deflated by his response. I felt I owned those words.

Many years later I have grown to understand more clearly what actually happened in that conversation with my father. I now know that often in those early fragile days of our writing development, we frequently imitate the literary giant to whom we are exposed. It is quite likely I lent a little too heavily on Wordsworth, Keats and Longfellow who were so often part of our poetry tastings back then. But it is here we develop our wings and learn to fly, or write more independently. As Neil Gaiman so succinctly observed, 'First we imitate, then we innovate.'

I have continued to find a place for poetry in my life ever since that springtime poem burst into the light. My poet's heart beats strongly.  Poetry remains my oxygen. I spend a lot of my time encouraging the young poets I meet in schools to let poetry reach their eyes, ears and hearts. I want them to feel a surge of energy around their best words just as I did back then and continue to feel, to this day.


  1. Thanks for sharing some early pieces of your poetry/writing history. I agree that imitation can take you on the road to innovation–wise and sensible words from a favorite author of mine–Neil Gaiman. I like the two poems you shared also–fun drawing and explosions in the first, and "death defying beauty" says it all. I also like the pics you shared, especially the Aussie suitcase, thanks Alan.

    1. Thank you for kind words Michelle. The suitcase is my poet's suitcase. I load it up with poetry books and lug it off to schools. It's my suitcase of surprises!

  2. Alan, thanks for sharing your history. I love the Neil Gaiman quote. I write with my sixth grade language arts class pretty much every day and I'm often struck by how often they use my writing as a starting place for their own. I also love, love, love the line, "Poetry remains my oxygen." Perfect!

    1. You are so right about kids learning from the modelling we do as teachers, writers, poets Carol. It is quite powerful in fact. Glad you also like the line about poetry being my oxygen. I find myself frequently sharing that with kids. I want them to understand the level of my passion for poetry and what it brings to my life.

  3. This post just makes my heart happy. A life filled with poetry is rich indeed.

    1. My work is complete when my humble words help to make someone's heart happy Molly. Thank you. Your second sentence rings true for all of us who write poetry.


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