One day while I was working at Sam Ash, many years ago, a guy came in to buy some things and we got to talking. He told me about this open mic near USF at what used to be Holiday Cafe. That guy probably has no idea that tip changed my life forever.
I started attending this regular Sunday night open mic and met my first poetry mentor, Charles Kory. Charles was in his first few years at USF and had graduated from the creative writing program at Blake High School. Having listened to my poems for a few weeks, he said to me, "You know, you should go to Blake." I was already in my sophomore year at my neighborhood high school, but he told me that I can still get in my remaining years. So I took his advise and applied, a few months later I got accepted.
My last two years of high school, I studied poetry with the teacher there, Gianna Russo. Gianna has been a staple of the poetry scene in Tampa for probably longer than I have been alive. She helped me to write more, to write better, to help others become better writers through workshops. She took us to the Writer's Conference and guided us in the creation of chapbooks (small collections of poetry) our senior year. My life was ever changed by those two years with her. I understood how the application of techniques to my self-expression created well-crafted poems, which often contained more truth than I was even aware of. It was through this process of creation that I felt a connection to something deeper. I would say in a small way, I felt like a mystic. Gianna was my experienced guide through these inner realms; she gave me the map to the intersection of my individual and the collective unconscious. She may not see herself this way, but for me, she was a shaman.
Lucky for me, our relationship continued after high school. Almost 10 years later, I am a longstanding board member in her non-profit
. YJP publishes new chapbooks by Florida poets every year through two annual contests as well as hosts some of the best poetry events in Tampa.
Though Gianna admirably hands credit over to her poets and students for their part in their creative work, but I will state right here that our love for our craft is no doubt infused with her belief in us. Though Gianna is not officially in the role of teacher for me, she still teaches me about community, dedication, and love of the arts. It is because of her the I KNOW that poetry can make the world a better place because I experience it. She is just following her heart, but look at what beauty emerges from that. It's something that we all can learn from.