Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Touch of the Poet: On Writing an Acknowledgment

I celebrate the ninth anniversary of WORDS ON THE LINE with a gem from one of my writing students, Joseph N. Kennedy, Superintendent of MTA Bus Company's Queens North Road Operations, at the Casey Stengel Depot, Flushing New York. Joe, who attended a four-week writing class that I led for New York City Transit Department of Buses, was a great student. He is relentlessly good-humored in his comments, deeply committed to his job, appropriately opinionated during class discussions, and consistently correct during writing exercises. Most importantly, he is a solid guy: he is a man of his word.

During an email exchange in which we were expressing best wishes for the new year, I wrote a modest poem to him and some of his colleagues:
Haven't heard too many customer fusses
Since you folks are managing Buses.
The riders won't for too long chafe,
Cause when they're riding, they feel safe.
 So for all the great things you guys do.
I wish a great 2014 to you.
Here is how Joe responded:
In response, please note:

When I was instructed by mail to attend your class,
I figured it would be boring.
I assumed I would go, and sit on my ass,
And likely end up snoring.

To my surprise, and much to my delight,
I discovered quite the contrary,
You challenged us until we got it right,
I related this to my wife Mary.

I looked forward to going on Tuesday morning,
And tried hard not to be late.
I apologize that I gave no warning,
when I arrived a little past eight.

When class was over, and we were sent on our way,
I admit to being disappointed,
Although I must now proudly say,
My writing skills are anointed.

When people now comment on the strength of my prose,
How it is wonderful and not at all shallow,
I simply reply with wrinkle of my nose,
I owe it all to Phil Vassallo!

Now if that's not a reason to go on teaching forever, I don't know what is. Joe closed his masterpiece by writing "My apologies to all poets past and present." The truth is that Joe did the poets proud. I told him that the student outdid the teacher. 

I share this gem not to brag about the praise I received, but to underscore the power of writing an acknowledgment. I tell people that a thank-you note should contain three elements:

  • Purpose – the reason you are expressing gratitude
  • Value the impact that the person has had on you
  • Commitment – the enduring connection between you and the person

The first three stanzas of Joe's poem express the purpose, the fourth stanza states the value, and the last stanza asserts the commitment. It is a perfect acknowledgment, one that I will always remember. So if you want to write an acknowledgment, remember these elements and especially Joe's poem. 

Thanks, Joe. You are a class act.