One 16-year-old Sunday morning, circa 1971, listening to New York’s WNEW-FM, I was riveted by an unfamiliar voice singing, “I have seen the mornin’ burnin’ golden on the mountain in the skies, achin’ with the feelin’ of the freedom of an eagle when she flies…” Two weeks passed before I found my way to E. J. Korvettes in search of Kris Kristofferson’s second album, The Silver Tongued Devil and I. I bought that one and his first, wore out the grooves in each, read about his life as an athlete, Rhodes Scholar, Army Ranger Captain, janitor, songwriter, and budding actor, and awakened to a new Possibility.
A slow learner, I spent 21 years as a teacher, basketball coach, and administrator in secondary and higher education until stepping more fully into that Possibility.
Since 1996, I’ve made a chunk of my living as a teaching-poet, conducting poetry-writing workshops for every grade level from first-graders through post-graduate professionals. I’ve worked with the National Association for Poetry Therapy, the Transformative Language Arts Network, the Connecticut HOT Schools program, and in classrooms and community settings throughout the northeast. I’ve been both an in-school advisor and a regional judge for the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud competition.
During National Poetry Month 2005, Frumie Selchen, executive director of the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire (AANNH), invited me to spend a week in the ‘North Country’ conducting workshops and readings, co-funded by grants from NEFA, the NEA and AANNH. I spent time with hospice workers, mental health professionals, students, seniors, and the general public across Littleton, Plymouth, Conway, Lincoln, and Lancaster New Hampshire, and in virtually every workshop when someone asked what inspired me to write poetry, my response was a brief rendition of first hearing Kristofferson on the radio.
Just before an evening gathering of poets and poetry lovers at the Riverside Counseling Center, a woman burst through the door and announced, “I can’t stay, but you have to see this.” She showed me the front page of the April 1 entertainment section of the Caledonian Record with a story about and photo of Kris above the fold, and my photo and the story of the residency directly below. He was filming Disappearances in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and would be performing a fundraising concert and reception for the film on April 24.
I attended the concert and reception with my stepson, Noé, got to tell Kris a two-minute version of my WNEW moment, and showed him the newspaper, which he signed.
What I believe now is that Kristofferson’s songwriting, and perhaps much of what all artists create, is a form of ‘narrative healing’—be it verbal, visual, somatic, auditory, or tactile. His earliest lyrics capture the exhilarating, terrifying move from his familial, traditional, expected path of athlete, scholar, and soldier to following his soul’s calling as a writer.
In 2015, I’m blessed that my work allows me to integrate poetry-writing with healing and development. While I like to think I’d have arrived at his place one way or another, I choose to believe that an unfamiliar voice in my 16th year showed me the way, and that the "goin’ up" is, indeed, "worth the comin’ down.”