In 1985, when I was in Year 11 at Dalby State High School, my English teacher Mrs. Wylie allowed me to write a poem instead of an essay for a unit that I don’t even remember. We were probably doing a poetry unit; most likely protest/social poetry with poets such as Bruce Dawe and Paul Simon, as I seem to recall reading, “The Sounds of Silence”, “Blink, Blink Hospital Silence” and “Homecoming”.
That first poem was called “Summer Skies” (gag) and is a pretty clichéd piece of juvenilia, but at that time I liked it. So did Mrs. Wylie who gave it 9 out of 10, my best mark for an English assignment ever. So did Mr. Green the English HOD who read it out to his class. So did Bruce Dawe who was the judge of the 1985 Senior Secondary Poetry Prize and Peter Putnis who included it in the anthology “Through Our Eyes” published by DDIP. So did the editors of the 1985 D.S.H.S school magazine who published it at the end of the year.
In fact I remember taking a school day off and my parents driving me to the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (USQ now) for the official launch of the collection and meeting Bruce Dawe who’d we been studying in class. That was pretty trippy. Reading a poet on the page is cool, but to actually meet the author of the work you were analyzing was on another level of awesome. I don’t remember what he said to me (I wish I could), but it was enough to be in his presence and to see a living and breathing poet at work.
So I thought to myself that this single poem had some legs and if one poem could affect so many people, then maybe I should write another. Thirty years on and I am an English teacher myself and I tell my students this genesis story of how I started writing poetry – due to the encouragement and flexibility of my English teacher. Consider my pleasant surprise then at our 30th high school reunion on 22nd October when I saw Mrs. Wylie standing in the function room of the Dalby Leagues Club amongst her former students, looking much the same as I remembered her. How special it was for me to go up to her and thank her for that small, but precious gift all those years ago in her class. I wasn’t sure if she even knew that I had gone on to write and publish poetry, but it didn’t matter. In the 1982 Ridley Scott film, “Bladerunner” the replicant Roy Batty says to Eldon Tyrell, “It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.” Sometimes it is though, when the maker doesn’t even realize that they have made something wonderful.