PITTSBURG — For the most part, Melissa Fite Johnson writes about what she experiences and sees.
That even includes a frustrated woman at Mall Deli, who managed to make it to Johnson’s award winning chapbook of poetry titled “While the Kettle’s On.”
Johnson, 34, is an English teacher at Pittsburg High School and found out her first published chapbook won its second award earlier this month.
“I just love writing, it is my passion. I am also a teacher and I am passionate about it as well,” she said. “It is a different kind of love … I’ve always felt the best about myself when I'm writing.”
Her 50 short poems span over 10 years of mainly personal
experience with topics on family, body image and being vulnerable. She writes in a free verse style.
“People who are like ‘poetry is not for me,’ I don’t think they would feel that way about my poetry,” she said. “They still might not like it, but they will understand it.”
Johnson was born in Dadeville, Missouri, and moved to Pittsburg at age 2 when her dad took a job at Pittsburg State University. The job was short-lived. Her dad, Jerry, had a stroke, leaving half of his body nearly immobile.
He died when she was 16.
“I always regretted that he died when I was 16 … people are always brattiest at that age and I like to think he would be proud of the adult I grew into,” she said.
At the time, she didn’t realize she would follow much of his footsteps, also becoming an English teacher and inheriting his passion for writing.
She later found out details about her father which riveted her and made him a frequent subject of her writing.
“I didn’t know that side of him,” she said. “Being in the Peace Corps, Robert Redford looks, good at everything.”
“I’m sure that a lot of what I do is a tribute,” she said.
Johnson said she has carried a journal since she was young and still does today. She enjoyed writing, but didn’t discover a love for poetry until hearing modern poetry in Laura Washburn’s creative writing class at PSU.
“She’s a poet and she kind of won me over to her side,” she said.
She liked the class so much, Johnson has taken about 10 of Washburn’s classes during her undergraduate and graduate studies at PSU.
The two also are in a poetry group together that meets every other Sunday and helps revise each other's work.
“(Washburn) is one of my very best friends, she is my mentor,” Johnson said. “She has done as much to shape my life as anyone else.”
The idea to publish her chapbook came in 2013 when Mike Hogard “interrupted” her classroom and said quietly ‘do you want to publish a book.’”
In February 2015, the chapbook was published through Hogard and Al Ortolani’s company, Little Balkans Press.
Johnson found out in October 2015 the chapbook won Kansas Authors Club’s Nelson Poetry Award and earlier this month was recognized again with the Kansas Notable Books for 2016.
“I am excited about both,” she said, adding she was the only chapbook selected for notable books.
Johnson said she hoped to publish 500 copies and is at roughly 400, so far.
The chapbook costs $12 and can be bought at Spellbound Bookstore and Cafe and Root Coffeehouse. A signed copy can be purchased through melissafitejohnson.com.
Johnson said she is currently working on a fictional chapbook taking the views of a mother and her daughters.
“To me a poem is really about imagery and having consistent language and details hopefully no one has thought about before,” she said.
— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.