Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

Like jumping off a lake dock or diving under ocean waves, good poems shock us back to our senses. They ask us to pay better attention than we normally do. They surprise us with sudden changes in the temperature of their language, feeling or story. This column will introduce one such Maine poem each Sunday.

We begin with one by Wesley McNair, our former Maine poet laureate. During a five-year term that ended in 2015, McNair edited and introduced a poem a week in this and other newspapers around the state. His 10th collection of poetry, “The Unfastening,” will appear later this year.

“How I Became a Poet” opens with what seems like a lighthearted childhood scene, but by the second stanza, we see we are in for something else entirely. This poem puts us inside the heart and mind of a boy who’s father has gone and, by its title, also suggests that this early loss turned the boy into a poet.

How I Became a Poet

By Wesley McNair


“Wanted” was the word I chose

for him at age eight, drawing the face

of a bad guy with comic-book whiskers,

then showing it to my mother. This was how,

after my father left us, I made her smile

at the same time I told her I missed him,


and how I managed to keep him close by

in that house of perpetual anger,

becoming his accuser and his devoted

accomplice. I learned by writing

to negotiate between what I had,

and that more distant thing I dreamed of.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is the Portland poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2010 Wesley McNair. Reprinted from “Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems,” 2010, by permission of David R. Godine.

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