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‘Sanibel Joe’ visits students, prepares to host Sanibel PoetryFest

By Staff | Apr 6, 2011

During a recent visit by "Sanibel Joe," students from The Sanibel School worked on their own poetry. Pictured standing in the front row, from left, is Preston Towle, Megan Lomano and Katelyn Ryan. In the second row is Nicky Ashton, Barbara Von Harten, Joe Pacheco, Holly Smith, Dara Craig and Rachel Wexler.

Joe Pacheco was just seven years old when the Hindenburg disaster mesmerized the world on May 6, 1937.

The giant German airship burst into flames as it was docking at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, causing the deaths of 35 people onboard and one on the ground. Sixty-two other people would survive.

Pacheco would go on with his life, become a teacher, school principal and superintendent, before being known as Sanibel Joe, a local poet.

His love of education and writing would soon bring him to the Sanibel School as a member of the Golden Apple Awards Committee where a local teacher was a nominee, a first for the school.

From that chance encounter, Sanibel Joe had a thought.

“During my visit to the school and the nominee’s classroom, I fell in love with the school and its students and decided that I would return and offer them the most valuable thing I possess: the love and the gift of poetry,” Pacheco said. The Sanibel School would conduct a school-wide poetry contest and the winners would receive a $25 prize and read their poems at the Sanibel PoetryFest on April 13.

But that wasn’t all Sanibel Joe would be roped into doing, said reading specialist Holly Smith.

Principal Barbara Von Harten and Smith turned the tables on him to ask if he would read/perform some of his poetry for the students.

They went a step further: Perhaps Sanibel Joe would help in a workshop mode with the middle school students.

“Happily, this local poet performed a variety of his poems such as “Flat Stanley in Florida” and “Where were you on May 6, 1937?” for our second through eighth graders and inspired all with his suggestions,” Smith said.

The school’s fourth graders think the former educator has “humor, creativity and intelligence” and they liked “how well he set the ‘mood’ of his poetry.”

“As preparation for my visits, each grade would be given grade- appropriate lessons on the terms and tools of poetry: rhyme, meter, metaphor, personification, word play and irony,” he said.

“Before my first visit, I was probably more nervous than I had been on my first day of teaching in 1957. As I entered the classroom, I recalled the lines of William Butler Yeats in the poem Among School Children, “the children’s eyes/ In momentary wonder stare upon/ A sixty-year-old smiling public man.

Except in this case, the public man was 80 years old and had come to teach and not just “walk through.

“On my first visit to the school, I wore a shirt inscribed with the pen name I use for humorous verse: Sanibel Joe,” he said. “The name stuck and every time I visited the school the students would call out ‘Sanibel Joe.’

“Common questions in almost every class were: “How old were you when you wrote your first poem?” “Where do you get your ideas from?” “How long does it take you to write one poem?” Ironically enough, those are the very questions their parents and grandparents often ask,” he said.

“My co-planners (Smith and Kathryn Maietta) had selected three of my poems for performance and presentation. My memoir poem on the Hindenburg was part of an NPR Morning Edition 2007 broadcast, Remembering the Hindenburg in Verse and the entire program, introduction, my poem and the historic radio broadcast of the disaster could be projected on the screen. Told in free verse from the perspective of 7-year-old me, the poem provided lessons in history, the use of metaphors and similes, emotion, irony and inspiration for a few poems on the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster,” Pacheco said.

“My poem Flat Stanley in Florida moved the well-known third-grade hero to Sanibel and into narrative verse and rhyme, ending with an environmental message. My sonnet Riddles of the Past used children’s riddles to demonstrate punning, double meaning, humor and word play, the sonnet form and — to my delighted surprise — most of the classes guessed all the riddles,” he said, adding the earliest surviving poems in Anglo-Saxon and English are riddles.

The students were moved and excited by Sanibel Joe’s lessons.

One second grade student, Preston Towle, said his inspiration was the beach because “I live by the beach and I always go down there.

Fifth-grader Nicky Ashton said, “Sanibel Joe is a great poet. The poems he read to us were funny, inspiring and amazing. I think that he has wonderful abilities as a poet and his fascinating work inspires me and helped me to create my own poem.

Middle school poets said they are creating longer haikus like Sanibel Joe demonstrated for them.

The student winners will read their poetry during the festival on Wednesday, April 13.

Sanibel Joe gave a cash prize of $25 for each of the three middle school students whose poems, selected by a school committee, were chosen as winners.

Smith is awarding the same cash prize to the second, third, fourth and fifth grade poets whose poems were selected.

“As a school, the staff knows that all of the students who entered this voluntary project demonstrated great initiative and gained a valuable experience, so it was difficult to choose only one per grade,” Smith said.

But Sanibel Joe may have gotten the most out of the visits.

“Returning to a classroom of children after an absence of 40 years and being able to share my love of poetry and poems with them has been a memorable and rewarding experience,” he said. “With the help of their teachers, I tried to provide the Sanibel School children with the experience of using words and language not only to express themselves but to create works of wonder and joy from their imaginations. Hopefully, my Sanibel School adventure will provide many of them with an important first step toward a lifelong appreciation of poetry and for a few — the immeasurable joy of writing their own poems.”

The grade level poets of distinction and their teachers are:

• Second: Preston Towle, teacher: Laurie Sanders

• Third: Katelyn Ryan, teacher: Ranae Atkinson

• Fourth: Megan Lomano, teacher: Julie Wappes

• Fifth: Nicky Ashton, teacher: Amy Holik

• Sixth: Deanna Craig, teacher: Kathryn Maietta

• Seventh: Rachel Wexler, teacher: Kathryn Maietta

• Eighth: Dara Craig, teacher: Kathryn Maietta