On a Friday afternoon last April, I stood in the back of a classroom and watched John Rybicki, author of Lookout’s first poetry collection, When All the World Is Old, pace in front of a group of middle schoolers. John wore a short-sleeved blue shirt that showed off his wiry, muscled forearms, and he could barely stand still as he addressed the class. He would hold his arms above his head or spread them like wings; sometimes he’d step in close to talk to the kids, other times he’d lean way back to convey the scope of some grand bit of wisdom.
“On the page,” he told the kids, “where anything is possible, I’m a different kind of animal. And I want to cultivate in you, after your parents have been protecting you, trying to put a protective coat of their own skin around you, a sense of lawlessness and danger and emotional jeopardy. And when it happens on that canvas in front of you, you become godlike in your scope. A drop of God’s fire fell from the heavens and lodged in each of us.”
I remember being bored to tears by most of the special visitors I saw in middle school. But I also remember those visitors who just electrified me—the ones who approached us on our level, who talked to us like peers, who had more energy than you usually find in a classroom. Seeing those students sitting straight up at their desks, their eyes alight, I knew John was one of those visitors for them, one they’d remember for a long time.