Teacher plans to pursue poetry after retirement
The usual advice given to aspiring poets is, "Don't give up your day job." But Wheaton's award-winning poet Donna Pucciani is going to do just that.
In June, Pucciani will retire after teaching for 38 years, the last 18 in the English department at Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream. Then she will have the leisure to follow her passion for writing poetry instead of fitting it in after a long day of teaching and grading papers.
She had always loved reading poetry but never tried writing any until she was assigned to teach a Creative Writing class. She began to write along with her students. When they began to be published and win awards, she thought, "I can do this, too!"
So began her summer pastime, and what began as a casual hobby has grown into a commitment.
Pucciani has just published her third book of poetry, and one of her poems recently won a $1,000 award from the Illinois Arts Council.
But Pucciani is not the stereotypical poet, languishing alone in a garret. She has been mentored and inspired by a host of local talent.
"A colleague of mine at Glenbard North taught English, coached football and wrote poetry," she said. "He recommended an organization called Poets and Patrons of Chicago. When I joined them, I found a lot of support.
"They have quarterly assignments and critiques. They're open to anyone within a 50-mile radius of Chicago, and are always looking for anyone who wants to put their poetry out there for suggestions. You submit anonymously."
In turn, Poets and Patrons suggested that Pucciani publish a book of her work.
"This is a different undertaking," she said, "because poetry doesn't sell and very few publishers accept poetry manuscripts."
They also suggested that she submit to the Poets Club of Chicago.
"This is an invitation-only group," she added. "You have to submit to a membership committee. We hold monthly group sessions where we criticize each other. They were the biggest help in sharing publication tips."
Pucciani currently serves as the group's vice-president.
Her first book, a chapbook, or pamphlet, "The Other Side of Thunder," was published by Flarestack Poetry in England.
"That was a tremendous boost," she said, "but it's unfortunate that I had to go to England to get a publisher to even look at it."
After sending out more than 25 manuscripts and getting a flood of pink slips, Windstorm Creative, a publisher in Washington state, accepted her first full-length collection, "Jumping Off the Train." It was released in the fall of 2007.
Most of the poems in this collection previously had been published in such diverse magazines as Hawaii Pacific, The Journal of Medical Humanities and Spoon River Poetry Review.
Pucciani also draws inspiration from a group called Engaging the Divine, comprised of members of Christian, Jewish and Buddhist faiths, as well as a Franciscan priest and an atheist.
"This group urged me to publish my poetry on the lives of the saints," she said. "I sent it to at least 50 editors. The religious editors weren't interested because it really isn't devotional and the literary folks were afraid of something religious."
Her most recent publication, "Chasing the Saints," was released in January by Virtual Artists Collective.
"Some are very mystical and others are off the wall," she admits.
An example of the latter might be "St. Michael the Archangel: Identity Crisis" or "St. Cecelia Tells All."
Following retirement, Pucciani hopes to do more poetry readings.
"I can't do these while I'm teaching because they go until late at night and I'm too busy grading papers," she said. "I'd also like to expand my poetry connection in England. There is a very warm poetry community there.
"I'm not a slam poet," she added. "My talent is not in performance poetry. That's a different venue. I greatly admire people who can memorize and deliver their poetry in such a lively manner, but that's not me. But I do think there's an art to reading well."
She has already booked a reading in Manchester, England, in the fall.
Each of Pucciani's books is available through the publishers or on amazon.com. They sell for $15 each.