Saturday, October 30, 2021

Prompt #374 – Someone Who Changed Your Life for the Better

(Me, Charlie's Wife Leni Fuhrman, Charles DeFanti)

For our last prompt, I wrote about my seventh grade English teacher and the autumn poem to which she introduced me. I invited you to write poems about October and/or autumn. This time, I'm writing about another teacher, this time a college professor, who has had a powerful impact on my life. 


I started my undergraduate work as a physical education major when I was 17 years old and quickly realized that it wasn't right for me. I decided on phys ed because I was involved in dance and gymnastics, and I thought it would be a good fit. Sadly, it wasn't. One afternoon, I was hit in the mouth with a field hockey stick during a game (oh, how I hated team sports). With a bloody lower lip and all the rage I could muster, I walked off the field to the sound of our instructor yelling, "Kenny, where the hell do you think you're going?" 


In those days, we were assigned counselors. Mine happened to be my freshman composition professor, Charles DeFanti. I marched myself, bleeding lip and all, into his office and asked him to get me out of that "blankety-blank" major. He very calmly handed me a handkerchief and asked if I needed medical help. I said, "no" (the cut was small and didn't go through my lip, it just bled a lot). 


So ... I sat there fuming and mopping my lip with his handkerchief. When I calmed down and the bleeding let up, DeFanti (as the students referred to him) asked me if I was serious about changing majors. I definitely was! He asked what major appealed to me, but I didn't have a clue. He then asked me what I liked to do. I replied that writing poetry and reading were the things I enjoyed most, to which he replied,"Okay, good, you can be an English major." I had no idea what was involved in transferring from one major to another, nor did I have a clue as to what was expected of English majors in terms of courses, but DeFanti took care of it all. In record time, I was happily and deeply immersed in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and the intricacies of American English grammar. I never looked back.

In the years after college, I taught English, creative writing, and gifted ed. After twenty years in the public school system, five years at the College of New Rochelle, and ten years at a local Police Academy, I retired from teaching and have been writing poems and nonfiction since. If it hadn't been for Charles DeFanti (his caring, intelligence, and good judgment), my life would have taken a very different course. 


Most importantly, Charlie's influence on my life wasn't momentary. He and I have stayed in touch for 55 years, and he has remained a dear friend, a trusted mentor, and a major source of encouragement in all areas of my life. Without his indelible support and the role model he has provided, it's doubtful that I would have been able to accomplish much in the field of writing at all. My gratitude to him has been, and will always remain, a profoundly relevant part of who I am.

In talking to friends, I learned that a number of them have had experiences with important people in their lives who, as Charles DeFanti did for me, made their lives better just by being there for them. Perhaps you've had a similar person (parent, spouse, friend, child, teacher, mentor) to support, guide, and direct you.

For this prompt, I invite you to think about your life and to pick one person who has helped to empower you, who has directed your course in some special way, and who has led you to actualize your potential.





1. Begin by thinking about the people who have impacted your life in special ways.


2. Choose one person to write about.


3. Create a list of the ways in which this person has contributed positively to your life.


4. Make a word or phrase bank of your person's special attributes and qualities of character.


5.  Keep in mind that most poems have strong emotional centers that don't smother meaning with sentiment. (There's a big difference between sentimentality and poetic sentiment.)

6. Work on a sense of immediacy (even when you write in the past tense). Stay away from the passive voice, and be wary of "ing" endings.


7. Avoid over-use of adjectives and too many details (bulk without substance can be deadly).

8. Remember that imagery is key, and write about things, not ideas. Show, don't simply tell.


9. You poem may be ode-like in content and form, it may be a thank-you poem or a narrative, it may be presented in the form of a letter, and it may be composed in lineated or prose poem format.


10. The idea is to honor someone special who has encouraged you to be your best "you."


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Prompt #373 – Autumn


Many (many) years ago, when I was in 7th grade, we had two periods of English every day. One was for all the technical aspects of grammar, and the other was for literature. Diagramming sentences was a little too much like math for me, and all the rules of where to place commas escaped me (I simply put them wherever there was a natural pause). Of course, I loved the literature classes best.


Our literature teacher was a young woman named Dorothy Muccilli (1932-2018). Miss Muccilli introduced us to all kinds of written art, but she had a special love for poetry, and she encouraged us to write poems as class assignments. She was the only teacher who actually told me she thought I had a gift for writing poetry. Needless to say, I adored her and her class. 

That October (I was 11 years old at the time and would turn 12 in November), Miss Muccilli read a poem to us by a poet named Bliss Carmen. The poem was titled "A Vagabond Song." I remember how the words of that poem touched me and how my response to it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I could visualize the images but, even more importantly, I "felt" the poem in some deep place that I now call "spirit." 

Something special happened with Miss Muccilli's reading of Bliss Carmen's poem that resulted in the moment I consciously realized how much I love poetry, that poetry would always be part of my life, and that I always wanted to write poems. Yes, definitely a conscious realization, although I wouldn't have called it that back then. Why that poem, why then? Who knows, but it brought about a revelation for me that has impacted my life ever since.  


I memorized "A Vagabond Song" when I was in 7th grade and, believe it or not, I can still recite it from memory today (60+ years later).


A Vagabond Song

        By Bliss Carmen

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.



The Prompt


 The prompt I offer you is to simply write a poem about October (or autumn in general).




1. Jot down some ideas about this time of year. 


2. Make an image "bank" from which you can draw when writing your poem.


3. Evoke a feeling through the details you include.


4. Put yourself into the poem; write in the first person and consider writing in the present tense to create a sense of immediacy. Also consider not including anyone but yourself in the poem—focus on your reflections and what the season means to you.

5. Watch out for "ing" endings that your poems can live without. Avoid the passive voice.

6. Be judicious in your use of adjectives. Remember that too many can spoil an otherwise good poem. 


7. Edit carefully. It might be a good idea to write what feels like your final draft and then let it "sit" for a day or two before you come back to it. 


8. Enjoy the writing!

I send you, dear blog readers, my very best wishes 

for a healthy, safe, and beautiful autumn season!