Tina Parker

Mentors---The path of a poem, part 3

Date of Post: 
Monday, January 11, 2016

Tina in 7th GradeEvery poem's path begins with the mentors who give me direction and courage. Today I go back to 1987, to the 7th grade. Our junior high librarian was always ready for me when my class had our library day. She would press a book she'd selected just for me into my hands and say, "I think you'll really like this one." When a girl is 12, the impact of this action cannot be underestimated. I felt as though she truly "saw" me. I felt an understanding and connection that all children crave. I read every book she recommended, plus many many more. I began to see how big the world is. I saw lives nothing like mine, and I saw opportunities stretch ahead of me.

In that same year, I had an English teacher who had us keep what I know now is a writer's notebook. We wrote in it every day. Sometimes she gave us creative prompts; sometimes we chose what we wanted to write about. Even now as I write this, I can feel in my body the calmness that came over me during that writing time. There I sat, in the midst of my junior high school, in a class of 20+ other awkward and bewildered kiddos; however, when I wrote I escaped it all. It was the first time I felt that escape from time---the suspended moment of creation.

It was in junior high that I began to use my notebook as a place to write the unsayable, the things I perceived no one would want to hear. Now, all these years later, I see it was a way to give myself permission. My junior high mentors of the1980s planted this seed. Fast forward to the year 2000 when another mentor demanded I give myself permission to write my truth--James Baker Hall, with his unforgettable, rhythmic voice, his belief in the night-time mind, and insistence that people say it straight. He intuited the stories in me and taught me to tell them, regardless of how it would affect others. Often the successful poem today is the one that contains lines I feel that I really shouldn't say---lines that could potentially offend or hurt others. I strive always to write the poem I'm afraid to write, and I am grateful every day for the mentors who sent me down that path.