Poetry, and Thanks

By , February 23, 2014

I wanted to attend an event today, where Stephen Dunn will speak and read poetry. It’s in Sacramento, nearly a two-hour drive each way, and I decided not to go.

But all weekend, I’ve been thinking about poetry and how I came to love poetry. And so I’ll write about it.

Thirty-five years ago, I was in high school, and our town had a Town Poet, for a little while, who also drove a bookmobile because poetry has never paid well. He visited the schools and read poetry and talked about poetry and shared his zest for poetry.

That poet, Fran Quinn,  inspired me, and apparently has inspired many others, to love poetry and to write poetry; after some years teaching college, he now hosts poetry workshops.

On reflection, Fran Quinn’s example was probably one of the many reasons I spent several years (a decade ago) pursuing a career as a high-school  English teacher.  He also helped me understand that choosing our path must not be about money.

I remember once saying to him that I was (and wanted to be) a writer, not a poet, and he challenged the distinction.  I was young and pretentious, and I still understand what I meant, and I also knew, then and now, that he was right.

I haven’t spoken with Fran Quinn since I was in high school. I’ve never said, “Thank you,” I don’t think.

One day, I followed up on his encouragement to attend a poetry reading by a Real Poet, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

I’m pretty sure that the poetry reading I attended in Worcester, Massachusetts was by Stephen Dunn, who then had published two books of poetry and since then has become a Pulitzer-Prize winning famous poet.

I think that Dunn’s book, Full of Lust and Good Usage, was probably the first poetry book I ever bought.

When I pulled that book from the shelf yesterday, it opened to the title poem, “Truck Stop: Minnesota” (yes, that’s not the title of the book, and yet it really is the title poem; go figure). But the poem I remember most is “Small Town: The Friendly,” which I’m pretty sure I first head Fran Quinn read while visiting my high school English class.

Small Town: The Friendly
Stephen Dunn

I walk Main Street, a pelican,
my jaw full of hellos.
Hello lady I don’t know!
Hello everyone! I have learned
to beat them to it.
That there are things sleeping
in the most inviting doorways
no longer matters. Hello green grocer!
Hello street! Hello cold morning!
I’ve always wanted to do this,
and they think I’m normal.


And so, when someone shared that Stephen Dunn would be speaking in Sacramento, my brain churned up memories and ideas — and lust for the energy and inspiration I felt thirty-five years ago.

Today, after it was absolutely too late to change my mind and drive to Sacramento in time for the event, I instead decided to seek out a new book of poetry.

At a local store, I found Selected Poems, by Carol Ann Duffy, and bought it.  The first few poems, at least, are thought-provoking and interesting.  So far, I’m seeing themes of isolation and disconnection, and vivid expressions through incredible voices that are not Duffy’s own, though she wrote them.

Reading poetry is absolutely a part of my life.   It’s where I turn when I’m most reflective or depressed or drained of inspiration. It’s where I turn when I feel a lack of direction.  And it’s also where I turn when I’m feeling most alive and energized.

Thank you, Fran Quinn, and thanks to all the teachers (in classrooms and elsewhere) who shared not just poetry, but a love of poetry and words and expression and ideas.  And thank you, to everyone who has ever written a poem, or shared their love for poetry.


P.S.  An awful lot of poetry doesn’t migrate well to digital form, at least not without special skills to maintain the formatting.  Facebook don’t respect poetry much: they usually collapse poems into one long line of text, making it difficult for regular folks to share poetry there.  And thus far, I’ve found that Kindle versions of poetry books don’t match the formatting of the print versions.   That’s why about half of my current personal library, now carved down to a few hundred books from the many thousands I once owned, consists of poetry. 


P.P.S. (March 15, 2014)  I finally bought Fran Quinn’s book, The Goblet Crying for Wine, and posted a review on Amazon:

We judge books of poetry, often, by whether they contain even a single poem or even one snippet from a poem which inspires. I found several.

The plain black-and-green text cover shown on Amazon is NOT the cover on the book I received (the actual cover features an art image, “Asian Bloom,” by Morris Graves, which was itself quite thought-provoking).

from “January at the Door”:

“… Two roses arrive at the door
with no card or message enclosed.

The gift is startlingly pure:
a promise and memory of love
when the body is ready to go.”

from “A Story of Two Wives”:

“Let me tell you a story. Because then the dead
will be brought back to us, because then we
will be brought back to ourselves as a piece of the future. …”

The Goblet Crying for Wine (by Frann Quinn), cover image

The Goblet Crying for Wine (by Frann Quinn), cover image

3 Responses to “Poetry, and Thanks”

  1. namekuseijin says:

    there is indeed something powerful about conjuring up words into verses, is there not? Probably why most religions canon are written in verse…

    For the most part of my forty years I’ve given little thought to this form human expression and now here I am, digging it too much.

    sorry, I disgress. I ended up in this blog while searching for AGT games. There’s something quite poetic in cluelessly learning more about personas as they roam around worlds made entirely out of words pursuing their goals…

  2. Fran Quinn says:

    When I think of the internet, I think of speed. Yet it took me nearly 2 years to get to know you had made this comment about me. My time to thank you. I remember those early days in Westboro very well. Send me your snail mail and I will be glad to send you my other two books. It was great to hear from you after so many years, Fran

  3. Norma Snapp says:

    I found you when I was looking up Fran’s address so I could send him a check for his Indianapolis Workshop. I attend sometimes in person, and sometimes by Skype from either the beach or the mountains of California. After meeting Fran, most of my discretionary spending goes for poetry books. I enjoyed reading your post.

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