An Interview with Poet John Kaniecki – ‘Poet to the Poor’

John Kaniecki is an old school poet, prose writer, and a New Jerseyan. He has seven published poetry books and , and his work appeared in hundreds of outlets. His poetry sharing common humanity led him to win the coveted Joe Hill Labor Poetry Prize in 2012. We asked him a few questions about his life and work.

Please introduce yourself

I am an artist focusing in the medium of words. I write poetry, song lyrics, and prose. I am also a Christian and an activist. I am a board member of New Jersey Peace Action and a Solidarity Singer. I attend the East Orange Church of Christ.

Q. How did you get started as a poet?

I started when I was disillusioned with engineering school and reached out in a new direction. I spent a good number of years dealing with mental illness and I wrote poems and song lyrics. In psychiatric hospitals I would write poems for my fellow patients, the staff and guests. I liked to write song lyrics because I didn’t think that I would ever be able to have a job and I wanted to have a hit song to pay my way in life.

Q. Do you come from a literary background?

No, though my dad liked to read and my mother encouraged my creative efforts.

Q. You write a lot of poems about poor and marginalized people. What guided you in the confluence of your poetic as well as social, ethical, racial justice or political imagination?

I spent about ten years working as a volunteer missionary in the inner city of Newark. On Chancellor Avenue near the border with Irvington and Hillside to be exact. In my desire to be a more effective evangelist I studied the histories of various groups that are marginalized in society including African Americans, Native Americans and workers in general. The heroic struggles of these people against overwhelming oppression inspired me to write.

Poet to the Poor, by John Kaniecki

Q. Where, when, and how often do you write?

Nowadays I write when I am inspired which isn’t too much. When both of my parents died in the same year I did a tremendous amount of writing. I turned my emotional suffering into art.

Q. Do you have a favorite poem?

Tea With Joe Hill is the favorite one that I wrote. Otherwise Middle Passage by Robert Hayden, Birches by Robert Frost and Ozymandias by Shelley.

Q. As an author, how did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Getting published only encouraged my writing. I never wrote to get published but only for the joy of writing.

Q. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?

To write a rough draft first.

Q. Finally, I was wondering if you’d be willing to talk about the poem “Sylvia’s Garden.” Could you talk a little bit about this poem and its composition?

My wife Sylvia loved her garden. The poem was one where I was inspired. I can’t remember exactly but the piece probably took less than ten minutes to write if that. The poem is factually correct in that our neighbors on one side are Trevor and Ron on the other.

Q. Do you have a new poetry book in the works?

I have a massive collection of poetry that hasn’t been published or even submitted to be published.

Q. What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are just starting out?

Keep on trying, there is a market for everybody and you can find your niche.

Q. What’s next for you?

I am following my heart and I like working on Dungeons and Dragons games. It is a creative release and it distracts me from reality. I have some song lyrics with a Ugandan singer named Aleena Zahir that shows a lot of promise. I hope the dam will bust and I’ll be flooded with success.

"A poem should burst with meaning." – John Kaniecki

Spare Change

Spare change, spare change, spare change

A lamentable moan

As a chanting solemn monk

Full of sorrowful spunk

Businessmen, business women

Flurry in a worry hurry

Dreading the daily encounter

A pin prick deflating

The high flying balloon of picture perfect reality

But there is just one passage

This solitary tunnel from the train

A living thistle a scornful thorn

Spare change, spare change, spare change

A pitiful cry in torment

The upper crust yuppie army hastens the pace of their march

Refusing to glance at the creature’s anguished face

Worse yet, the two stubs for arms

Fill the professionals with alarms

A scant few in guilt

Will toss a coin or dollar bill

In the cup the man cannot grasp

Lying at his torn shoes

Life is full of cruelties

Privilege gravitates

Wolves in packs

Beauty Vogue style

Little tin gods speaking tongues of blasphemy

Abhorring the ugly, the deformed

Even the common

See Jesus touching the leper

Spare change, spare change, spare change


By John Kaniecki

My love she lies beside me sleeping our dream

My breath is hushed as my pen dictates scream

She is the angel that makes life easy

She is the devil that knows how to please me

Lover, Friend, Doctor, Nurse, Mother and Wife

The steadfast anchor the Love of my life

How many angry words have you forgave?

How many times my life came to save?

I do not have any greater desire

Then to kiss your lips and embrace your fire

You are fantasy a lady and more

In agony the woman I adore

When the well is empty from you I drink

When my mind is barren your thoughts I think

You are my black rose delicately tough

I ask for more I’ll never have enough

I pray your inner hopes of righteousness

Will awaken you with fulfillment’s soft kiss

I am the sage you humble to a fool

I am a god your life I cannot rule

Sleep dear child as I chase futility

You will never know what you mean to me.

About the Poet: John Kaniecki is a poet and prose writer based out of Essex County, New Jersey. In his poetry you’ll find the great and the small, the ordinary and extraordinary, and a shared common humanity. Kaniecki is happily married to his wife Sylvia who resides in a nursing home suffering from dementia. In the year when Sylvia was bed bound, he took care of all her needs, giving him the feeling of having the most purpose and direction in life. You can see more about his published book ‘Poet to the Poor’ here.