Early spring quarter, a Book Rep dropped by my office, blustered into my office a little out of breath, her paisley shirt pulled out of kilter by her immensely professional bookbag. Her name was Simone. Prompted by her breathless entrance, I did something I never do with book reps; I invited her to sit down.
Simone began telling me about how she had taken a few years off, but perhaps I knew her from before–I seemed familiar to her? I didn’t think so, but, yes, I’d been at the college eight years ago, so maybe. What was I teaching? What books do I currently use? What might I like to see? And then Simone’s eyes lit on one of my bookshelves, and she burst into tears.
“That book,” she said, pointing vaguely. “That’s my mother’s book.”
The book was Writing Poetry by Rico and Guth. I took it down from the shelf and handed it to Simone, along with a box of tissues. Then, instead of talking about books, we began talking about our mothers. Simone told me about her mother’s other book, Writing the Natural Way, and how she’d been in graduate school when Simone, the youngest of three daughters, was a little girl. She told me how she had gone to classrooms with her mother and drawn pictures on the back of her mother’s homework.
We talked about what I am writing, and about my three daughters. We talked about my mother. When Simone left my office, I hopped onto amazon.com and ordered a copy of Writing the Natural Way.
When the book arrived a few days later, I found that it is all about mapping and clustering, those damnable little bubbles all over the page, brainstorming. In the 80s, my teachers were daft for clustering, which I found annoying. Wasn’t I in school in order to stop being natural? Wasn’t I in school to learn something, well, brainier?
Holding this book in my hands, I remembered Judith Werne and Pat Nerison, my very first English teachers at Edmonds Community College. They must have read this book or attended a conference workshop with Gabriele Rico. I saw it differently now. It was an invitation. For another thing, there were drawings in the book labeled, “Simone, age 2 3/4,” “Simone, age 3 1/2.”
I read a chapter. I got out my notebook and I drew a cluster. And then I wrote.
(If you have time, I highly recommend this video, which Simone forwarded to me and gave me permission to share. It is a tribute to Gabriele, but is also a visual poem about love, aging, and death. You can visit Al Young’s blog for additonal information. )