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Joanne the Poet - The Poetry of Joanne M. Clarkson


Most poets can point to one famous, accomplished poet who truly taught them the art of poetry. Mine didn’t come through a degree program or workshop, but through children, specifically my son. We lived in Illinois when Gwendolyn Brooks was poet laureate there. One of her most heart-felt missions was to encourage children to read, write and love words. To this end, she sponsored a contest each year. Kids from throughout the state were invited to submit their work and she would choose 12 to come to the University of Chicago to have lunch with her and to read and discuss their winning poem.

When my son Ben was 7, he was one of these lucky young poets. I don’t remember all of his poem – I have it somewhere – but we had been out trying to fly kites. Later than week, I think it was at school, he was in second grade, he wrote a little poem which ended:

A bird and a kite can do the same thing

But a kite cannot sing.

I got to accompany Ben to that memorable luncheon. I had admired Ms. Brooks’ poems for as long as I could remember and to sit and talk with her was a dream come true. She was so friendly, humble and approachable. The children loved her and I could see how very much she loved them.

I worked for a library system back then. Gwendolyn and I kept up a correspondence mostly about poetry and young people. I think I can say we became friends. She even wrote a little blurb for the back of my book, “Pacing the Moon,” which read: “These poems are vital, sensitive and meticulously managed.”

Over the years Ben and I had mentioned that experience a couple of times, but I didn’t really know how significant it was for him until his second daughter was born. He named her Gwendolyn and told me it was after one of the greatest women he had ever met, Gwendolyn Brooks. Our little Winnie is now 2 years old. This name has no part of racism or anything else that divides the fabric of humanity. It’s about honoring those who have inspired in us without regard for anything else.

A Black woman from South Chicago now has as part of her legacy is a little white girl from wine country in eastern Washington State. What could be more perfect than the poetry of that connection?

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