SUN CITY CENTER
It took John F. Foster 75 years to find his passion. He located it somewhere between meter and rhyme.
Foster is a poet. For the 78-year-old former French teacher, the poetry bug came on fast and furiously. Since 2008, he has published three collections of poetry, entered poetry contests and begun teaching classes to would-be poets.
"The challenge of working words to fit a prescribed pattern, whether rhyming, syllabic or metric fascinated me," said Foster, who moved to Sun City Center from Troy, N.Y., in 1990.
He finds inspiration everywhere. A photo of a century-old plant in bloom. Three live chicks found under their dead mother's wing. A newspaper account of a world-famous violinist playing in a D.C. subway station with a hat for donations.
Foster traces his love for poetry to his father.
"He had a great love of words, enjoyed doing the Times crossword in pen, and he took pleasure in writing humorous poetic tributes for friends and family," Foster said.
Like his father, who worked as a businessman, Foster spent his career on the outskirts of poetry. Occasionally, he wrote humorous limericks. He penned light verse for colleagues and friends. He read classical and modern poetry, and eventually began to try to understand the craft itself.
Despite spending his working years as a French teacher, he would ultimately chase the dream his father had let slip away.
The turning point for Foster occurred through sheer serendipity. He submitted a 24-line humorous poem, Automania to a poetry contest sponsored by the Hillsborough County library system in 2008.
It became the vehicle for Foster's discovery of his own talent for the craft. He didn't win, but the contest inspired him. At 75, he published his first book, Discovery! A Wordcrafter's Journey. Two more books soon followed.
Foster's daughter, Elizabeth, a photographer, took the photos of his first and last book covers. The photo of Foster's inaugural book is of a tree trunk rising out of the aqua blue water of Trunk Bay in St. John, The Virgin Islands.
"I am truly in awe of him," said Elizabeth, 49, who lives in Clearwater. "In his retirement, he has discovered a new passion in his life and is actively pursuing it."
Aside from writing, Foster has taught poetry classes at the senior graduate school at Freedom Plaza, a retirement community in Sun City Center.
Administrators there say he was well received by all of his students. Frank Daniels took the same class from Foster twice, once in 2009 and again the next year. He credits Foster with introducing him to the world of Haiku and Senru, two forms of ancient poetry.
"I never wrote a line of poetry in my life until I took John's class," said Daniels, 84.
Although writing can sometimes be a solitary endeavor, Foster said it gives him a sense of community. He posts his work on websites and receives feedback from poets as far away as Australia.
"I might enter a poem online one day, and within 24 hours receive critiques and responses from half a dozen poets around the globe," he said.
Foster challenges himself to write in new poetry forms.
So far, he's tried writing in about 20 different poetry forms. They bear exotic sounding names like Ya Du and Than Bauk, two poetry forms from Burma.
Foster's preference though, is still rhyme and meter. His favorite poet is Robert Frost.
"For me to have done this at 78, this might inspire others," he said. "It is never too late to realize and develop your talents."
Reach Shawnequa Shand at [email protected]