Our friend SU HUTCHENS has made my day! For the first time in ages, we have some children’s poems posted. Thanks to Su, four of her 4th grade poets have their work posted this morning using this month’s word as their inspiration. Please go see them, enjoy them, and encourage these young poets. You never know when you are making a positive difference that can change a life.
Su, I know you believe in and practice the power of poetry with your students. Bless you for that. As you know, when I started Word of the Month Poetry Challenge in 2009, teachers across the country started posting poems by their students. Later, the poems stopped coming. Teachers said they were too busy because of changes in their schedules that made it impossible to spare the time to post their kids’ work. It has been sad to see the children’s section of Word of the Month go empty every month since then. In the last few years I think KEN SLESARIK has been the only teacher to post any student work.
If you are a teacher or know one, now is a good time to consider this wonderful opportunity for student writers.
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 poetryworkshop 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 sealedbag. 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 email@example.com.
Catherine Flinn is an award-winning artist, wife and mother from Phoenix, Arizona. She enjoyssharing 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.
Mary Jo Fresch and I have just reached agreement with our publisher on the contract for a new education book to help students increase their vocabulary and understanding of our language. The picture, by the way, was taken of us in a sound booth in California the year Shell published our five-book series, LEARNING THROUGH POETRY.
The new book is to run 150-250 pages and will have lots of room for student samples provided by teachers who would like to be part of the project. We appreciate Ken Slesarik’s quick note to volunteer with his students and we will now be looking for others who would like to help. As we reach a point where we can issue clear messages about what activities we’ll need we will communicate directly with participating teachers to provide the details, but it isn’t too early to get your name on our list.
As for my role, I’ll write all the poems in the book, which will run into many dozens. As I think of it, Poet Heaven. Off we go. Yay!
In Phoenix I visited Esperanza, the school where my friend Ken Slesarik teaches. I met a lot of great kids and settled an old grudge with Ken while I was there. Thank goodness everything turned out okay.