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The Accidental Poet

Through a passion for the written word, Jim Ciletti found his voice.

Jim Ciletti is a bookseller who also loves and supports libraries.

Jim Ciletti is a bookseller who also loves and supports libraries.

Jim Ciletti grew up without any books in his Italian immigrant home in Pennsylvania, dependent on school or local libraries for reading material. But when he went to the Jesuit seminary as a young man, he found respite from that sterile environment in writing.

“I felt like my feelings and emotions were dying,” he says. So he started writing about them. After six years, he left the seminary to teach and write. “I never decided I wanted to be a poet. I just wrote. Somebody else said I was a poet, and I said, ‘OK.’ I don’t think anyone decides to become a poet. But I discovered the joy and fulfillment that comes with the ability to marry your life experience with language that expresses it.”

He adds, “That led me to wanting to share it. Poetry is how our feelings talk and how we share those words with family, friends, and others. I don’t believe you’re really a poet unless you share it. You have to exercise the voice that has been gifted to you.”

Ciletti’s poetry has been published and won awards, but he’s also dabbled in short stories and is working on a novel. With a master’s degree in English, he found that crossing genres was fairly easy—even freeing.

Poetry and novels both should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, he believes. Poetry is grounded in real experience and emotion, and novels offer the chance to tap into the imagination, create characters, and enter the world of make believe, he says. “It’s a chance to look at the larger picture of humanity.”

His novel is about the spiritual journey of 30 young seminarians, who attempt to discover their religious vocation. Yet his own journey led him elsewhere. “I discovered that I was not meant to serve the sacred word, but to serve the secular word by being a poet and writer out in the world. I felt like I was fulfilling the mission to be who I really was.”

This led him to volunteer to teach creative writing in southern Colorado prisons, which he did weekly for 10 years. “I knew what it was like to be in the emotional prison of a seminary. I believe everybody has a voice, and if those men could find their voices through writing, they could become the best person they could be.”

Ciletti also has been a bookseller for many years. He owned Aamstar Books before incorporating that endeavor into his wife Mary’s successful, independent bookstore, Hooked on Books. He still searches for and sells antiquarian books but, he says, “Mary is the real book genius.”

Despite the fact that they make their living selling books, the Cilettis are passionate supporters of libraries, having donated thousands of books to the Friends of the Pikes Peak Library District fundraising book sales. “Mary and I want to live with intelligent people. Reading is just a journey to intelligence. Intelligent people support a vibrant democracy,” Ciletti says. “Besides, libraries offer services a bookstore can’t. We can’t carry every book. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We support the library, and the library supports the intelligence quotient of the community.”

He’s also been involved for many years with the local Arts, Business, Education Consortium. He helps organize the annual gathering, but mostly he “tries to help them see the big picture” of what the arts mean to a community. The Pikes Peak region has numerous artists, writers, and other creative people who should be recognized, he says. “We are all invigorated by the richness they bring.”

At 75, he still teaches writing workshops, does poetry readings on request, and runs the second (downtown) Hooked on Books store. He wants to reinvigorate a group called Poetry West, for which leadership has been lacking in recent years, and recruit a new generation of poets. He knows electronic devices have taken over a younger generation, but he sees them as tools to develop writing skills, not replace them.

In addition, he’s an avid gardener, cook (especially Italian food), and winemaker (he just planted some new grape vines). But, overall, this former poet laureate of the Pikes Peak region says his mission is to foster creativity. “The role of a creative person in society is to make a difference,” he says. “We have to empower others to use their own creativity.”

For a full list of Jim Ciletti’s awards, published work, and community involvement, visit https://ppld.org/local-authors/ciletti-james