I'm often asked, as I imagine most poets are, How did you know you wanted to be a poet? Or, What made you become a poet? The truth is I didn't know I wanted to be a poet until I volunteered to test the poetry prompts for a then-forthcoming textbook written by William Stafford and his former student, Stephen Dunning. That book, Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises, was published by NCTE in 1992 and remains one of their bestsellers. My role over a period of about six months was to write poems to the prompts that arrived by mail every few weeks. From the very first one, I knew that something special had happened. I was electrified. I knew I wanted to keep writing poems. And I did, even though I was off to a late start.
Maybe if someone had ever asked me to write poems, I would have gotten off to an earlier start. But I went through school never being asked by a single teacher to write a poem. If it happened in elementary school, I don't remember. I know it didn't happen in junior high, high school, or college. In fact, until I was in college and later graduate school, I barely even read any poetry.
And yet as I look back to the young girl I once was, I think I might have shown some early signs of poetic potential. I've isolated three characteristics:
1. I was a crybaby.
I wish I could say I've grown out of crybaby-hood, but lately I've been tearing up during The X Factor.
2. I was a daydreamer.
I'm glad my parents weren't able to knock my dreaming out of me.
3. I was a liar.
But, for the most part, I did stop. Except in the poems where it's legal to invent.
Now if my parents and teachers and pals noticed my crying, my daydreaming, my lying, why didn't any of them realize that those were really just the early signs of a poet in training?