“I never considered myself a poet,” said Kim Reardon. “I wrote one poem in the 1960s and never wrote poetry again. But I work in a school that embraces language arts, reading, and poetry every day.”
That school is the Robert Fulton Annex in North Bergen, where Reardon is the school nurse. And now she is also their resident author, with her recently published book of poetry, Lines of Life.
It was only about three years ago that Reardon discovered her love of poetry. Or rather, “poetry found me,” as she put it.
“I was helping one of the teachers put a bookshelf together and she had all these poetry books and asked if I was into poetry,” said Reardon, who responded that she wasn’t. The teacher suggested she read a book of verse by thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi. “The whole book is actually one poem that just went on and on. It was translated by Coleman Barks. I was like ‘Oh my gosh’ and it just prompted me to write. I started jotting down thoughts which turned into poems.”
That other teacher was Mercedes Mulligan, a language and linguistics instructor at the school, whom Reardon calls “a colleague, a friend, a motivator and inspiration.” With encouragement from Mulligan, Reardon continued to delve deeper into her feelings and find new ways to express herself. “We would just talk about the poems and talk about the feeling behind them and I started to realize poetry can do everything but lie,” Reardon said. “The truth just comes out whether you want it to or not.”
The art of poetry
It soon became a journey, with Reardon discovering not only an affinity for poetry but an appreciation for the mechanics of the art. “I didn’t know what haiku was, I didn’t know alliteration,” she said. “It just evolved. I can’t make myself write. I don’t sit down and say okay you’ve got to write. All of a sudden something will just trigger something.”
Many of Reardon’s poems are short, with rich, descriptive imagery, recurring themes, and stylistic parallels.
“Some of her poetry is funny,” said Mulligan. “It’s also very sensual. It’s very erotic. Some of it is extremely dark.”
“Poetry is medicine.” –Kim Reardon
“People who have known me for decades ask is this poem about such and such and I’ll say it might be, I don’t even know,” said Reardon. “Sometimes I’ll visit a poem and it means one thing and another time it’s different.”
Hudson County girl
Reardon was born and raised in North Bergen. “A few decades ago I moved to Bergen County but I still consider myself a Hudson County girl.” Having worked in hospitals and then as a nurse in various Hudson County schools for the past 25 years, she has a lot of life experience.
“I was past president of the Bergen County Nurse Association. I volunteered for the medical reserve corps in Bergen County. With the American Red Cross I was deployed to Katrina,” she said.
But it’s when she’s talking about her students that she gets most animated.
Considering teaching a team effort, she has nothing but praise for the staff at Robert Fulton Annex. “Our [school] director, Ms. Galvin, she’s just fantastic,” Reardon said. “She leads by example and motivates everyone. Our goal is to help every student achieve success.”
Many of the students at the school are not native English speakers, and the teachers work hard to instill an appreciation for language, with schoolwide efforts like “poem in your pocket day” and an annual yearbook of writing by students and staff. It was in part this love of language that inspired Reardon, and she has in turn become an inspiration to the kids with her published work.
“She is the angel of mercy in our school,” said Ms. Mulligan, who teaches the advanced students at the school. “If we need anything, we all just go to Nurse Kim. So for the students to see her in this wonderful perspective, as a poet, as a writer, it stimulated them. She’s a wonderful writer. I’m so proud of her.”
“One of the first poems of hers I read was ‘In Lieu of Flowers,’ ” said Mulligan. “I was having a bit of an emotional situation and I went to Kim and I spoke to her about it and she came up with this poem and that’s when I knew. When I read that poem I realized that Kim’s poetry is very healing. I felt so much better. I felt healed.”
Reardon shows no signs of slowing down. “More poems are writing me. I jot them down. It’s a great tool, even for the students. I know in hospitals they’re using poetry for patients to just express themselves. They use it even in prisons. Right now my goal is to get the word out that poetry is medicine. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s therapeutic. It’s truthful. It’s a great educator. It’s inspirational. It allows for networking and it takes you places you never thought you could go.”
“I believe we’re all poets,” she said. “You just have to be brave enough to write it.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.