The most important thing in life, my father taught me, is to make good money. He was a child of poverty, and I think what he really meant was that the most important thing in life is to fit in. Having a stable middle-class income would have allowed him to do that. But I was young and didn’t think much about fitting in. In fact, I spent most of my childhood reading. It also never occurred to me that I might not be able to make a living. And so I became a poet.

I spent ten years working in the Poetry in the Schools program in Washington State, Alaska, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. I went from school to school helping kids write poems. Once, in Miles City, Montana, I was trying to get across to a group of sixth-graders the power of our senses — as well as the dislocation and excitement we feel when we do something out of the ordinary. So I asked them to lick a tree.