By Joanna Fox
Most of us are not cognizant of the planting of a seed that eventually takes root and changes a life forever. We are so immersed in the experience at hand that we are blind to the hand that is sowing our future. Now, with the privilege of sifting through experiences, I know the exact date, Friday, April 21, 2006, that changed the course of my student Jack Conlon’s life.
Jack was the first student in my Booker Middle School creative writing classes to receive recognition at the Library of Congress in the International River of Words poetry contest. He was one of 50 finalists out of over 20,000 entries worldwide. He was invited to Washington, D.C., to read his poem, Dragonfly, to receive his award from former poet laureate Robert Hass, and to tour our nation’s capital.
Here is the poem:
You dart and weave
Flashing your jeweled body.
Do you paint the flowers
And grow the trees?
You fly through the meadows
And skim the ponds.
Iridescent poet of the sky.
Aside from the honor of the awards ceremony, Jack says the most enduring events of that trip were witnessing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where each staccato footfall resonated with a heartbeat cadence, and visiting the Korean War Memorial at dusk during a chilled rain. Even the scattered cherry blossoms could not soften the hard reality of the import and the impact of the military.
Jack would return to D.C. an unprecedented two more times to be recognized as an exceptional poet at the Library of Congress. Each time he would return to those relevant memorials. Yes, Jack did enter the military, the Marine Corps. Boot camp was tough, but not tough enough to take the poetry out of the poet. He is currently deployed overseas. Periodically we receive pictures from him that are evidence he is viewing the world with the eyes of a poet, telling his poetry through the pictures he takes. I agree with his mother when she says, “I hope someday he’ll pick up a pen again.” To me, he is the Poet Marine.
Joanna Fox, VPA Creative Writing teacher at Booker Middle School, was recently named Teacher of the Year for International River of Words.