Tuesday, November 23, 2010


In my 16 years as a high school English teacher in Pasadena, CA, I knew several students through the years who kept notebooks of their writings. I remember one young man in particular named Carlton, a shy, studious tenth-grader who always carried around a thick blue canvas binder filled to the brim with looseleaf sheets that sometimes poked out around the edges of the notebook.

An Early Bloomer, a True Poet

Carlton honored me one time by allowing me to see what was inside his blue notebook. After school one day, he asked me if I wanted to see his writings. Of course I said yes, because I'd been curious since he'd first walked into my class with the fat book under his arm. I knew he loved poetry, and I knew he wrote it, too. I just had no idea how long he'd been writing and how committed he was to mastering this art.

Carlton had dozens and dozens of poems written in pencil, in his handwriting, that he had evidently put his heart and soul into writing. The pride and joy in flipping through his book and sharing tidbits with me about this poem or that one were very clear in his face and voice. Some of his poems mimicked the style of old classics. He said: "I know it's not good to copy other writers' way of expressing themselves, but I want to understand famous poets better, so I practice writing like they do. Of course, I'm trying to develop my unique style along the way." How astute this was! I was impressed with his approach and noted, also, that most of the writings were poems reflecting his own thoughts in his own way.

Carlton was absolutely right that what he was practicing was wise. By the end of the year, when he showed me his new collections of poems in the now-fatter notebook, I saw his growth and knew he'd be a well-regarded poet someday. Carlton lived and breathed poetry. He read and wrote it every day, throughout the day. He loved discussing poetry and analyzing it privately.

I came to learn that he came from a poor family, which I suspected by the way he dressed and the shoes he wore. His hair was often unruly, uncombed. I also suspected he didn't bathe daily. I noticed that he wasn't a social student and was often alone during lunchtime and after school. He was a loner, basically. But he always carried himself serenely. He had a kind smile on his face and spoke softly and courteously to others. He seemed, to me, a gentle soul, and I was happy that he was my student. I wondered, sometimes, if he was a poet because of a limited social circle, or if his dedication to writing created his isolation. At any rate, he did not seem unhappy with how he had chosen to live his life through literature.

Unfortunately, I lost contact with Carlton after a couple of years. Did he give up his love of poetry? Did he go to college? If so, did he graduate? What line of work did he go into, for few poets can make a living from their poetry. I wish I knew what happened to Carlton, because I felt in my heart when he was in my class that he was a good human being who enhanced his world in his own quiet, shy, creative way. He didn't seem to share his poems with many people, but he did share with others occasionally. In class, he shared openly, and my other students showed appreciation of his talent. I wondered how Carlton's family felt about his passion for poetry, and if they openly nurtured it. I hope they did.

Carlton was one of the more pronounced cases I've personally known of someone showing, early on, a deep love of poetry and engaging in poetry writing at a young age. I've known many students who kept diaries or journals, or who started collecting their writings while in high school. No one, however, was like Carlton: he had obviously been writing for many years before I met him, and he very clearly was totally dedicated to honing his art, his craft, to being the best poet he could be. It was in his blood. This student was a true poet in his heart and soul.

Other Poets Start Later

I am also much inspired by people who take up poetry writing later in their lives. Perhaps they happened upon a book that moved them deeply and transformed their lives. This happens, you know.

Or perhaps the late bloomers in poetry took a class and were motivated or inspired to write poems. Perhaps they suffered a crisis in their lives that was assuaged through the act of writing poetry. Perhaps a love of songs, of music, metamorphosed into writing poetry for the sake of the poetry, without music. This happened to Rod McKuen, a famous singer and songwriter in the 1960's through the 1980's who also published poems as poems in the 1980's. Sometimes success in one genre of writing, such as short stories or novels, spills over into new territory: poetry. This happens, too, such as with Ray Bradbury.

Whatever the reasons, sometimes people decide they enjoy writing poetry when they're not teenagers anymore, or are not such young adults either. They may be grandparents. They may be retired from their occupations. Perhaps it's because now they have time to think, to slow down the hectic pace of life, to savor moments with greater attention to what these moments hold and represent.

These poets, too, are worthy of admiration. Starting late, they may not have the big fat notebooks of poets like Carlton. But what these late bloomers lost in quantity, they gained in focus and dedication.

A Case in Point:
A Texan Named Rosalinda

Rosalinda Vargas recently published an e-book of poetry titled Not Only Dark Poems. This is her first book-length publication of her poems, since one was published as a single poem in The Writer's Gallery Magazine in 2009. Rosalinda is a silver-haired, regal-looking lady who also happens to be a proud grandmother. In her native Texas, she is supported in her new venture by her husband and family.

The e-book is a skillful blending of poems either in English or in Spanish. There is a buoyancy, a sense of whimsy throughout Rosalinda's poems. She does justice to her title. These are, by and large, not dark poems, but poems her grandchildren or other young people can relate to and enjoy. Some are tongue-in-cheek, as in these lines: "In the morning I drink coffee/In the evening I drink tea/Today nothing bothers me/Tomorrow we shall see."

The topics Rosalinda covers are topics we all know well and care about: family routines, romantic attraction, nature, dealing with change, children's fears, animals in our lives. Rosalinda sees these topics through fresh eyes, as an innocent child might see them, and describes them in clear language and catchy rhythms. She likes rhyme, and her poems' consistent embracing of rhythm and rhyme make these appealing to younger audiences. I can picture Rosalinda reading her poems aloud to audiences and relishing the descriptions she has created.

Rosalinda's poetry is a labor of love. She may have come to poetry late, but she has embraced it and takes joy in her creations. I can visualize her devoting more and more hours to writing poetry as she savors the rewards of a poet expressing herself in ways comfortable and dear to her. More power to Rosalinda! Her e-book is available at http://www.offthebookshelf.com/ .

Let Us Not Be Afraid to Create Poetry

Carlton and Rosalinda have one big thing in common: They were not afraid to begin creating poetry. For each of them, there was a moment, or many moments, that called to them and exhorted them to take pen to paper and to express themselves in a poem. For each of these writers, there was that all-important first poem, their first effort, their first creation.

One of my favorite aphorisms in my adult life has been this:  The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Sometimes attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, this simple statement captures so much of our lives. Everything must begin somewhere. Whether our poetry writing journey spans hundreds of poems over decades of time, or whether our poetry writing began last year and resulted in only three poems written thus far, the important thing is:  We have written poetry. For this, we are better off in this life. 


  1. Thanks for sharing the stories. Poetry is so often unappreciated, que pena. And I hope you hear from Carlton again. Maybe one day you will a a book by him in the bookstore!

  2. Thanks for these wise sentiments, Teresa. Yes, poetry is the language of the soul, and may Carlton still be letting his soul speak loudly and clearly to us!

  3. Thelma, it was a pleasure to meet you today and hear you speak in Apple Valley. I enjoyed the reading and liked what you said about networking and blogging - and I'm your newest blog follower.