In my 16 years as a high school English teacher in Pasadena, CA, I knew several students through the years who kept notebooks of their writings. I remember one young man in particular named Carlton, a shy, studious tenth-grader who always carried around a thick blue canvas binder filled to the brim with looseleaf sheets that sometimes poked out around the edges of the notebook.
Carlton honored me one time by allowing me to see what was inside his blue notebook. After school one day, he asked me if I wanted to see his writings. Of course I said yes, because I'd been curious since he'd first walked into my class with the fat book under his arm. I knew he loved poetry, and I knew he wrote it, too. I just had no idea how long he'd been writing and how committed he was to mastering this art.
Carlton had dozens and dozens of poems written in pencil, in his handwriting, that he had evidently put his heart and soul into writing. The pride and joy in flipping through his book and sharing tidbits with me about this poem or that one were very clear in his face and voice. Some of his poems mimicked the style of old classics. He said: "I know it's not good to copy other writers' way of expressing themselves, but I want to understand famous poets better, so I practice writing like they do. Of course, I'm trying to develop my unique style along the way." How astute this was! I was impressed with his approach and noted, also, that most of the writings were poems reflecting his own thoughts in his own way.
Carlton was absolutely right that what he was practicing was wise. By the end of the year, when he showed me his new collections of poems in the now-fatter notebook, I saw his growth and knew he'd be a well-regarded poet someday. Carlton lived and breathed poetry. He read and wrote it every day, throughout the day. He loved discussing poetry and analyzing it privately.
I came to learn that he came from a poor family, which I suspected by the way he dressed and the shoes he wore. His hair was often unruly, uncombed. I also suspected he didn't bathe daily. I noticed that he wasn't a social student and was often alone during lunchtime and after school. He was a loner, basically. But he always carried himself serenely. He had a kind smile on his face and spoke softly and courteously to others. He seemed, to me, a gentle soul, and I was happy that he was my student. I wondered, sometimes, if he was a poet because of a limited social circle, or if his dedication to writing created his isolation. At any rate, he did not seem unhappy with how he had chosen to live his life through literature.
Unfortunately, I lost contact with Carlton after a couple of years. Did he give up his love of poetry? Did he go to college? If so, did he graduate? What line of work did he go into, for few poets can make a living from their poetry. I wish I knew what happened to Carlton, because I felt in my heart when he was in my class that he was a good human being who enhanced his world in his own quiet, shy, creative way. He didn't seem to share his poems with many people, but he did share with others occasionally. In class, he shared openly, and my other students showed appreciation of his talent. I wondered how Carlton's family felt about his passion for poetry, and if they openly nurtured it. I hope they did.
Carlton was one of the more pronounced cases I've personally known of someone showing, early on, a deep love of poetry and engaging in poetry writing at a young age. I've known many students who kept diaries or journals, or who started collecting their writings while in high school. No one, however, was like Carlton: he had obviously been writing for many years before I met him, and he very clearly was totally dedicated to honing his art, his craft, to being the best poet he could be. It was in his blood. This student was a true poet in his heart and soul.