This is my entry this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This is late for the free week, but there's no voting, so I'm going to post it anyway. The topic is "Tribute," and it's supposed to be dedicated to the person who inspired our writing.
I would not be the writer I am today if not for my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Jonnie Stahl. She was a young teacher in those days, in her 20s, and she had a platinum short haircut and eyes full of merriment. I adored her; I wanted to be like her, and for years, I told everyone I wanted to be a teacher.
Mrs. Jonnie Stahl was gentle yet vivacious; she was full of energy and enthusiasm for Language Arts, which she taught to me and the entire second grade at White Deer Elementary School in White Deer, Pennsylvania. I'm sure I learned many important lessons from her, but the one that stands out in my memory is the first day we wrote poetry.
That day, she told us she had a special treat for us, and she read to us some poems in her musical voice. I was enchanted by the beautiful words. But then, the best part: she told us we could write our own poems.
She gave us simple instructions on rhyme and meter, having us tap a rhythm on our desk with our pencils to find the beats in the poems she now handed us to look at. She told us all to spend some time thinking about a subject to write about and then to write a four-line poem of our own.
To me, the words came quickly. I finished far before the rest of the class and, ever the brownie, put up my hand to announce that I was done. Here is the poem, one of the few samples of my poetic work I've ever memorized:
Grass is green,
the tulip's red.
Night is black.
It's time for bed.
When the writing session was over, we were encouraged to read our work out loud. She praised me for my work, just as she praised everyone who read their work. But to me, that moment was a revelation. I was hooked: writing poems not just for class but also on my own.
Because of that class on that day, I went on to earn a MFA in Poetry, and for 10 years I have run the online literary magazine, Wild Violet, and have published a chapbook, along with completing two other poetry manuscripts.
She introduced me to poetry, and she changed my life. Thank you, Mrs. Johnnie Stahl. Thank you.
An article with a photo of Mrs. Johnnie Stahl today.
I could thank many others -- my parents, who read to me incessantly and taught me how to write my name before I entered kindergarten; my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Barbara Stahl (no relation), who was vibrant, silly and encouraged me to read in front of the class; my sixth-grade teacher and enrichment instructor, Mr. Michael McLaughlin, who had the class write creative pieces and had us read them to each other; my high-school English teacher, Mrs. Hort, who challenged me and introduced me to some great literature; and of course, my poetry professors at Penn State: John Haag, Bruce Weigl and Robin Becker, who helped me refine my poetic voice.