Journey of Please Hear

The history behind "Please Hear What I'm Not Saying" began years ago in 1966 when I wrote the poem just after I had begun teaching at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. A Jesuit seminarian at the time, I typed it out and shared it with some students, friends, and family. I didn't put my name on it because there seemed no need to--not only did these people know it was mine but I hadn't the remotest idea of publishing it. In retrospect, I guess my vulnerability in the poem might have had something to do with leaving off my name.

I soon discovered "Please Hear" touched a chord in great numbers of people and had taken on a life of its own. Between 1969 and 1980 alone, I learned of more than two dozen publications across the country that had printed it, two albums (one of them British: "Rosko Speaks") that recorded it, and numerous stories of conferences using it and people sharing it.

Here are but two examples. I was intrigued to read that one of the conferences at the 1973 Association of Humanistic Psychology convention in Chicago was entitled "Please Hear What I'm Not Saying" and decided to attend it. I had no sooner sat down than the conference was begun with a reading of my poem. And then there was the woman in one of my counseling groups at Loyola University who was moved to share with us on our final night a favorite poem that she carried everywhere with her. She proceeded to take "Please Hear" out of her purse and read it to us as her gift.

In almost all of these instances of its spreading, the poem's author was "anonymous" or "unknown" or "traditional." You might imagine my goosebumps in realizing how far "Please Hear" was reaching and knowing that the unknown author was me. Even more than gratified I was awed, awed to see that I had gone deeply enough into my own individuality to touch something universal beneath. The fact that I was personally not getting credit for it was not that important--in fact, I've often mused that its very anonymity may have contributed to its success.

Upon discovering a few years later another's claim to have written it, however, I decided when the time came to publish a collection of my poems, I'd not only include "Please Hear What I'm Not Saying" but this time attach my name. Two of my subsequent books that include "Please Hear" are For the Mystically Inclined (2002) and Please Hear What I'm Not Saying: a Poem's Reach around the World (2011)

Asked recently what inspired me to write "Please Hear," this is what I can remember.

I had been studying to be a priest for about seven years at the time (1966 when I was 25) and was in my first year of teaching at a Jesuit high school in Chicago. The young priest who had been my own inspiration to give poetry a try several years earlier had opened me up to a French writer Charles Peguy whose fluid type of free verse appealed to me and, I see now in retrospect, clearly influenced the style of "Please Hear."

I don't remember sitting down to write a poem so much as following a prompting to jot down some reflections and realizing when it was finished that, hey, this is kind of a long poem that I could type up and share with some folks. Which I did. Not even a remote thought of publishing it, hence I didn't even put my name on it. I had no inkling it would go beyond the people I was giving it to, and they knew it was mine.

I didn't have anyone in particular in mind that I was writing to but realized by the end, as I put it in the final four lines, that it was really everyone I was writing to, because I sensed it was somehow everyone I was writing about. I don't remember being in a particularly agitated or depressed state of mind either. I was just pondering a basic personal reality, long acquainted with, and intuiting in the process of writing it that it was a basic reality of others as well.

What surprised me was how quickly it flowed out of me, maybe in two days max, contrary to my normal grunt and grind efforts with far shorter poems. In retrospect I'm guessing it was precisely because my ego wasn't straining to craft a poem that I was able, simply musing with pen and paper, to let something long percolating rise to the surface. I didn't think much more about the poem until, beginning in 1969, it started coming back in a variety of ways. That's when it started dawning on me that I had touched something within a lot of people who resonated deeply enough to want to pass it along.

I am in awe to have given birth to it (actually it's more like serving as midwife) and to keep learning of its reach. An amazing number of websites around the world that are still using "Please Hear What I'm Not Saying" today attests that its journey is not over yet.