My wife and I just recently moved and while reorganizing things I found an extremely important totem from the past. The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry is one of the most important books in my personal library. Not because it holds any collector’s value or even because it’s my favorite book, it is simply because it’s an amazing reminder of a chance taken. It’s one of those valued pieces of pure sentimentality.
I had a spectacular English teacher during my junior year of high school. She was one of those rare educators that honestly gave a shit and put out genuine effort. Before entering her classroom doors, I didn’t even really care to read and really didn’t see the purpose of literature. Mrs. Smith turned my world upside down by showing me the importance of it all. Her curriculum focused on creative writing and reading comprehension. She believed that everyone enjoyed reading, the trick was finding what appealed to the individual. Her approach was one that I hadn’t experienced before that and I bought in completely.
My world was truly turned on it’s side when Mrs. Smith started the section on poetry. Seeing that everyone and everything has poetry in it revolutionized my thought process. She saw how much I enjoyed reading the works of authors like Dylan Thomas and Edgar Allan Poe. She also recognized much I enjoyed the release granted by writing putting my feeling down on paper. She was an endless fountain of encouragement, pushing me to enter poetry contests, constantly printed off poems from a variety of authors for me to read and offered an abundant amount of constructive criticism on my writing.
One day after class, she was going over one my poems with me and she handed me Alan Kaufman’s Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. It was a vast collection with poems from the likes of Jack Kerouac to Patti Smith to Tupac Shakur. It showed me how that, in poetry there are no rules. You are given uncompromising freedom to say what you want. I’d never read anything like it and I knew from that moment on, I would be writing poetry.
This book, those authors and that teacher successfully pushed me to be a writer. I so deeply appreciate a teacher taking a chance on a misguided kid and showing me an entire world of art I didn’t know about. So many of the things I value now were heavily influenced by Mrs. Smith back then. She was a phenomenal teacher who I’ll continue to cherish. Her best intentions and eye opening lessons will continue to dwell within the pages that well worn book upon my book shelf.
Cody Jemes is the co-host of the Bored Shenanigans podcast available via iTunes and Stitcher. See more of his articles here. Also enjoy his poetry blog here or download his e-book here. Be sure to follow Bored Shenanigans on Twitter or Facebook.