I grew up next door to the local poet in my locality. He also taught at the high school. He was a bonafide hippie long after people weren't anymore. He had long shaggy hair and a beard, and a succession of three wives, the first who was my first piano teacher until she left him and married a local politician and then became a local politician herself. He played the guitar. One time he played the Allman Brothers' "Jessica" for me. I was about seven and mortified. His wife at the time told him I was mortified and he laughed.
One time I was collecting cicada husks off a tree that bordered the properties of both our families (he lived with his mother, grandmother, and whichever wife was around at the time; I lived with my parents, siblings, and pets). He came out and asked what I was doing. "Cool, man," he said, "Carry on."
In high school I had him as a teacher. He was a good teacher. He let us write poems in class--no, he insisted we write poems in class. He let students paint the walls and write all over them.
One time I wrote a poem about a lake of blood with dead swans floating in it (I was a teenager, after all). He called me aside and said, "So, Jessica, what's this all about?" And I told him that I was thinking that maybe after you die, all the things you tried to avoid in life were the things you couldn't avoid anymore. Like the swans avoiding the shore were now drifting towards it, as they were dead. "Cool, man," he said. "Carry on."
He had a radio show and a small yellow chapbook. His mother gave me a copy for Christmas. It was signed. I still have it.
He died a few years ago. He was too young to die. He was the local poet.
And now, apparently, I am the local poet.
The first graders won for the lower grades, and the fifth graders for the upper grades, in case I left you hanging about the contest. Local poets do that; they keep you hanging.
RIP Thom Williams.