Today I want to talk about an old friend of mine, KEN SLESARIK. He has an important book just out so I want to help introduce it and share some information about the man, husband, father, teacher, poet, grief counselor, speaker, and author.
Ken and I met in 2011 at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. I gave a Highlights Foundation poetry workshop that year and he was one of the participants. It was a wonderful group of wonderful people. After eleven years, I’m still in touch with all but one of the poets. Since then, I visited the school in Phoenix where Ken taught special education students. An example of his humor is this fight we staged while I was there. Ken, by the way, works out in a gym where he can put on those gloves for real.
A few years earlier, he posted a picture of me, shirtless, with Brad Pitt’s torso. My wife, Sandy, got a kick out of that. She was Pitt’s guidance counselor in middle school and high school.
Let’s get to you, Ken. I recently received a copy of your new book, GRIEVERS AND POETS: WHEN A LOVED ONE DIES. Your poems about your subject, which you know well, go marrow deep. The talented artist, your daughter CATHERINE FINN, provides the perfect tone and interpretations. I was especially impressed by two of the poems, “The Grievers’ Creed,”
which concludes: “On days the burden overwhelms/I welcome some relief/and thank you for your loving thoughts/that help to ease the grief.” The other poem is, “The Griever’s Journey.” I know that your talent, thoughts, and personal experience invested in the book are going to make a very positive difference in the lives of others who grieve the loss of a loved one.
Tell us the back story. Not many authors tackle this difficult subject. Why did you?
My son, Kenny died in December of 2019. That event nearly destroyed me in so many ways. We had a very close bond. I raised him by myself and losing a child is most certainly not the natural order of things.
After many months of therapy, grief work and exploring my pain through poetry, I began to find some meaning in my loss. There is a concept called “Post Traumatic Growth” that people can experience. I would give anything to have my son back but there is no denying that I am now more assertive and have a greater empathy towards others. Although I realize I will never be the same person I was even moments before finding my son, I am currently experiencing some growth and it’s empowering to realize that I have survived the unthinkable and that I am emerging with a deep desire to share that experience for the benefit of others.
Tell us a little more about the book and your writing process.
I wrote most of it while holding my son’s unwashed basketball jersey that I keep in a sealed bag. That may seem extreme, but I found it healing as I reached a sweet spot of openly mourning and not really being concerned if what I was writing was “good” or not. That led to a higher percentage of stronger first drafts and then of course the real work began. Most of the poems were autobiographical and hopefully authentic and on a child’s level. I feel so grateful to have shared the experience of creating this book with my daughter, Catherine who did the beautiful illustrations and is an award-winning artist. Also, my wife, Julie did the formatting, so it was a family project. In some ways I feel as if this book is my little mark on the world and I hope it honors my son. Everything from the eye color of the main character to the occasional random basketball in a few illustrations are subtle nods to Kenny. Aside from those personal touches I hope our book offers a realistic comfort to those that grieve.
Ken, I know that writing this book has helped you and will be good for your readers. Do you have future plans? Will there be a sequel?
As for my future plans, next year (2023) I will have another poetry grief book for upper elementary age children called “Finding Meaning After Loss.” Eventually we will do a board book for babies and novel in verse for teens as well as a memoir/self-help grief book for adults. That way I will have these poetry grief baskets for grieving families when I retire from teaching in 3-4 years. This gives me meaning.
Grievers and Poets: When a Loved One Dies
People grieve differently but there is also a commonality and shared suffering. These twenty-four poems take the reader on a compassionate journey that explores what grievers may experience after a significant loss. It is realistic and acknowledges that although you may never be the same, you can find meaning while you honor the person who died. The poems have a definite arc with real pain and gradual healing. The characters are children supporting each other in their losses and with their poetry The topics are research based and things like embracing the pain and finding meaning as you journey with your grief are explored. A companion guide to facilitate children’s poetry grief groups will be available soon.
Ken, thank you for being my guest today and sharing your mission for those who have lost a loved one. I’d like to conclude by adding some biographical information about you.
For additional information and sample poems please visit grieversandpoets.com.
About the Author and Illustrator:
Ken Slesarik is a special education teacher, children’s poet and grief educator from Phoenix, Arizona. Ken has spoken at conferences, written poetry curricula, and enjoys providing professional development for teachers. Ken’s mission is to empower those who grieve through the healing power of poetry.
It is Ken’s sincere hope that people will find comfort from our common grief and his poetry. If you are interested in hosting Ken and his poetry program for grieving children or if you need a family night speaker centered on grief and loss, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Flinn is an award-winning artist, wife and mother from Phoenix, Arizona. She enjoys sharing her talents with people of all ages and plans to incorporate science in her work as a children’s
illustrator to inspire girls and women. She grieves as well after losing her brother, Kenny.
Grievers and Poets: When a Loved One Dies is available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578973774/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glt_i_ZJ4MBDKP25NDSP43WRQT and at email@example.com