Both my parents were teachers, who met at the University of AL. My mother eventually taught 2nd-grade reading; my father taught math, history, and political science. To improve his income, he later became a seller of insurance, not something he liked, but it met the needs of my mother for a beautiful home on a five-acre hill. I was the second child, who must have been unplanned, since my parents protested too much my whole life how I was "planned." My sister was three years older. My parents were older--my father 43 when I was born; my mother 35. They had waited until WWII was over to have children; and we were part of the Baby Boom Generation. As children, we lived close to the city limit line of Florence, Al, a provincial southern town. We were free to roam the mile-wide pasture next to our house and to swim in and dig clay from the clean (clean and clear!) creek that ran beside the pasture. We climbed trees and made tree houses. My sister died a tragic death in 1962. That was the defining moment of my life, but there have been other defining moments since, and I have fought against being defined only by that moment. It has been a struggle, but I find much joy and adventure in living. I have a BS in French and English from Auburn University and a MA in English Literature from the University of Alabama, Huntsville. I have done extra study in French at the University of Dijon, France (summer studies for teachers), and a graduate seminar in French at Vanderbilt University. I studied "The Paris of Balzac, Badelaire, and Flaubert" for the summer with Brown University as an NEH Fellow and the works of Rumi as a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey in 1999. I completed a four-year program of theology from Sewanee, Education for Ministry, by extension, in the 1980's. I could have gone on to study to become a priest in the Episcopal Church, but, by the time I had finished the program, I realized I am not an authority on anything to do with God (or much of anything else to do with the mystery of this life) and would feel most uncomfortable, not to mention "silly" wearing any priestly robes. It would not be me. I decided, instead, to continue to pursue my poetry, which feels exactly like who I am, and to work with children and adults to offer creative ways to find and express the self through poetry and other creative ways.
When I was only 15 years old, my father read French novels to me--in English, that is. He loved Camus, Voltaire, and Montaigne, especially. He taught me to think, using the Socratic method. For example, in L'Etranger, he might ask, "Why do you think Camus has only a single light bulb on a cord in the room of the coffin?" I might not have any idea, but that was not my father's point. He wanted me to think about what I was reading. I also came to love French writers; two of my favorites--Baudelaire and Flaubert. In college, I set out as an English major, but ended up as a French major because I enjoyed French literature, actually, more than English literature. I did get my Masters, many years later, in English Literature, but I think I was more influenced by the Irish writers--Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, Tim O'Brien (one of my favorite books: At Swim-Two-Birds). The most important writer to me, of my whole life, however, has been an American poet--Walt Whitman. I fell in love with Whitman, but, actually that was long after I had become a poet. I don't share his feelings about the greatness of America or the glory of life in the city. I feel a great kinship with him in his sense of connectedness with everything, his belief in everything being connected, and also the sometimes bold, earthy sensuality of his language. I think Whitman finds beauty even in ugliness, and this ability is also what most attracts me to the works of Baudelaire. Being a poet/writer was also possibly in my genetic heritage. My great-great grandmother was named Jane Story. She was pure-blooded Cherokee. Her name was given to her by white men because she was a story teller. My father was a tall tale teller! And a good one. My father's mother loved poetry, even though she only went through the third grade. At ninety, she could still recite the whole of "The Wreck of the Schooner Hesperus." On my mother's side, my grandmother wrote rhyming poetry about her family life with her five children, and my mother wrote limericks. In my family, language was an important matter. We had to look up words we didn't know; our parents didn't talk down to us as children. We often spoke of the etymology of words and also their nuances. Every Saturday, my mother took my sister and me to the Florence public library, which was a quiet and sacred place. We checked out six more books to replace the six we had turned in. She always showed me that my name was in one of those books, high on a shelf--a shelf that looked like a monolith to me. She brought down a collection of poems by Robert Burns, another poet I have always loved. My mother had named me after one of his poems, "Bonnie Leslye." She would say, "See, Bonnie, there is your name, written in a book." And she would read me the entire poem.
When I was growing up, I had absolutely no idea of being a writer and certainly not a poet, though I did write newspaper stories for my family on the backs of old sample ballots, which used to be quite large. And I once wrote a three or four-page novella about a little red-haired boy who found out he was adopted and ran away from home. I also loved to tack little notes to what I called "mailboxes" on my parents' and my sister's door to leave messages of great import: "When is dinner? I am hungry."
I was encouraged in high school and college to write, and my father so wanted me to write because he thought I had some talent at it. I rebelled. The last thing I was going to do was something that would make him happy. One day, a friend asked me, "Do you think you could write, even though it makes your father happy?" I said, "I suppose so." I was thirty years old, with a three-year-old baby. While she was napping one day, I just sat down in the rocker and wrote my first poem. I had read all kinds of poems in my life and had them read and recited to me, but I had no formal training. There was no such thing--at least that I know of in 1979--as an MFA. Once I started writing, however, I couldn't stop. I think that's a pretty sure sign that one is a writer--when you have to write whether you always want to or not.
There has been a long space between my first three poetry collections and now because I died of "sudden death" six times in one day in 2001. It took quite a while for me to find myself (including my brain) again. Around 2005, I had a book deal with a publisher for my fourth collection, Little Girl Faces on Old Bones. However, I made a political remark that deeply irked him. Two weeks before the collection was to go to press, he called the deal off. I could have sued, everyone told me, but I was too heartbroken, and I had already died six times, as it was, and knew I couldn't face the stress of going to court. Plus, I didn't know how much time I had left, and didn't want to waste it "in the system." Only recently have I revived and revised Little Girl Faces on Old Bones and am beginning to send it out for publication. I have another "collection," which is really one long poem of 46 pages, called Everyday Trees, though I may just call it Every. And, of course, it's not really about trees. I have recently been invited to join a poetry-art collaboration in making a woman's "dress" of poems with other women poets in the country. I am very excited about this project. I continue to write for a local "rag," the Valley Planet (since 2007), in which I express my "irksome," liberal political views and promote kindness and tolerance as opposed to hatred and war. I am working on my memoirs, entitled Chapter I, which I hope will be done before I die. This year, I hope to publish a client's first novel--Souls to Keep--under my very small publishing house imprint--Mule on a Ferris Wheel. I love the spirit of mules, and my daughter nicknamed me "Mule," in a complimentary way. I have spent Christmas a few times with friends in Santa Monica and love nothing better than riding the Ferris Wheel on the Santa Monica Pier. That's how the name of my press was born.
Poet Kennette Harrison found poems in my pantry. Quite a few were published in journals. She took her favorites to a publisher, who called me sometime later, saying, "I want to publish your poetry." Still, it's best not to leave your poems in your pantry.
Elk River Review
Crown-Harmony (at the time, a subsidiary of Random House)
New South Books
Poet's Corner, FieraLingue, an international web site, a part of WOMPO, out of the University of Maine
I love doing so many things. An "overheard" vanGogh quote: "The best way to know God is to love many things." Traveling to the sea is what I love to do most. When there, I feel beautiful on the inside and out, no matter how I feel before I get there. I also love to collect small things. My mother told me I had been collecting little items since I was two or three, and used to drag them around in a brown paper sack. My little bungalow is full of small things now, like miniature palm trees, fish, red birds, an Eiffel Tower, a Jesus lizard, bells, Christmas mermaids, frogs--you name it. I make collages, too. My front windows and front door are collages of postcards from all over the world where I have traveled, and also notes of love from friends, a few drawings from my childhood, Wilhem daFoe looking very sexy, pictures of friends, donkey faces, and so on. I am not a visual artist, but I call myself a "pre-primordial primitive artist." I would not put myself "up" into the category of "primitive" artist. I paint in a "conceptual" way, which means I have no skill, but I enjoy moving the colors around on the canvas, not always knowing what will appear, sometimes knowing what my idea is, sometimes not. I find painting relaxing and joyful. I spend much of my time as a political/social issue activist, writing letters, signing petitions, only occasionally donating money. From time to time, I anger the Mayor of Huntsville for telling the truth, but once in a blue moon, something will get done in the right way. Not very often. I continue to do poetry workshops, such as Poetry Out Loud, mentor young poets, and coordinate the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival, which is my baby--that sometimes bites me on the ankle. I love what the Festival stands for, which is the inclusion of as many types of poets possible in a yearly Festival here in Huntsville, and I love the outcome of all the work. I love to read, of course, but time is limited. I also love to travel to new places and meet people from different countries, cultures, religions.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, The National Resource Defense Council, The ACLU, Doctors without Borders, Save Darfur
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