For the second time this school year, local literary icon and poet Joe Pacheco paid a visit to The Sanibel School.
Back in March, Pacheco helped coordinate a poetry composition contest for all of the elementary and middle school students, from which the pupils published their own book, entitled "Sanibel Poetry." The softcover book, which was also illustrated by the children, was dedicated to "Sanibel Joe," as he is known to the young, aspiring writers.
"Thank you so much for dedicating 'Sanibel Poetry' to me," Pacheco told the students in a letter last week. "The poems and the dedication are one of the best gifts I’ve received since I moved to Sanibel from New York City 15 years ago. The poems express your love and appreciation of our island’s beauty... and some of them are awesome.”
Pacheco returned to the classroom last Friday morning in order to deliver a special "gift" to all of the fifth graders.
"The only way I could really thank you was with a poem of my own," Pacheco said. "I would have replied sooner, but I had to wait for the Muse to visit me with a poem written especially for the fifth grade of Sanibel 2010-11."
After being welcomed back by principal Barbara Von Harten, students smiled and sat quietly as Pacheco recited his newest composition, entitled "The Sanibel Fifth Grader To A Northern Friend."
Come visit me on Sanibel
And we will spend your spring break well,
We’ll watch the gulf and sun conspire
To start each day with sunrise fire
And as we walk upon the beach,
Gazillion shells within our reach,
We’ll stop and stoop and sift and crouch,
Put periwinkles in a pouch,
Collect sand dollars, cones and pens,
To bring back north to all your friends.
A necklace made of every shell —
Come be my friend on Sanibel.
Come learn with me on Sanibel,
Our nature isle where green dreams dwell,
Where sanctuaries free wild life
From human and survival strife;
Where CROW is not the bird you think
And “gator aid” is not a drink;
Where stars shine bright beneath “dark skies”
Toward which no high rise dare to rise;
Where turtle hatchlings run out to sea
From nests we’ve guarded carefully,
And beach enclosed with rope and sticks
Protects our snowy plover chicks.
"Ding" Darling Refuge helps birds thrive
As we ride our bikes on Wildlife Drive
Spoonbills and herons, pink and blue,
Wade by the thousands as we ride through.
Come play with me on Sanibel,
At fun and games we do excel:
The Rec Center next to our school,
Has tennis courts, an Olympic pool,
A skateboard rink, a full-sized gym,
A fitness center to keep us trim.
All these and more to enjoy full well,
When you visit me on Sanibel.
As Pacheco concluded his poem, all of the students, as well as teachers Amy Holik and Holly Smith, offered a long ovation of applause. Afterwards, "Sanibel Joe" handed out autographed copies of the poem to the students, shaking each youngster's hand.
"It's been an honor to work with all of you," he added, holding his copy of "Sanibel Poetry" close to his heart. "This is such a special book you've created for your parents."
Von Harten was the first to thank Pacheco for returning to the school and creating the personalized poem for the fifth grade classes.
"What he did was so wonderful — this truly was a celebration of creative writing," she said. "I was overwhelmed by the quality of the poetry the students turned in. Sanibel Joe really did inspire them."
Pacheco, who said that he hopes to receive more poems from local students in the future, praised the efforts by the youngsters and teachers. He was also happy that his latest work was received so well by the 10- and 11-year-olds.
"I was careful of how I voiced the poem, which had to be articulate to this age group... but not too sing-songy," said Pacheco. "Some of these kids are quite literate. They are reading on an eighth grade level already. I was amazed that they could understand some very complicated poetic devices."
What was easy to understand, for Sanibel Joe, was their instant appreciation for his unique gift.
"If they've learned to love poetry at this age," he added with a smile, "then they'll always love it."
Joining island poet Joe Pacheco, second from left, during his return visit to The Sanibel School last week are principal Barbara Von Harten, left, and teachers Amy Holik and Holly Smith.