Tuesday, June 11, 2019

#111 Backstory of the Poem "Cemetery Mailbox" by Jennifer Horne

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***This is #111 in the never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

#111 Backstory of the Poem
“Cemetery Mailbox”
by Jennifer Horne

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? 
ing home by one of my regular routes, I pass a large cemetery. One day, I noticed for the first time that there is a mailbox at the entrance to the cemetery (Right and Below). Instantly, I began to wonder: what kind of mail goes to the cemetery mailbox? From there, a poem began to form around what kind of letters people would send to a cemetery and specifically what I would write if I sent a letter to such a mailbox.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I came home and began to write notes in my notebook. I always start poems by hand and only when they seem to have taken shape do I type them on my computer. I like to keep them fluid for revision in the early stages, and typing them too early seems to “set” them prematurely.
     I have a large study with many windows in my house on a lake near Tuscaloosa. It’s a wonderful place for writing poetry and provides me with the quiet and natural beauty that for me is conducive to writing. My desk is an old wooden table that my mother bought in a used furniture store in downtown Little Rock; it’s piled with papers, a dictionary, and various little objects: a bowl my sister gave me, a goblet I made in a college pottery class, a postcard of the artist Walter Anderson, a watercolor by a friend, a scallop shell.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? I began the poem in June 2014.

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?
I wrote three or four drafts of this poem, plus some minor editing with my publisher as we prepared the chapbook. The length of the poem and the lines remained fairly constant, but I cut the beginning and added to the end. Initially, the poem ended with the line “before we woke” but I felt it needed something else, and I saw an opportunity to bring the poem back around to the cemetery from the memory of childhood. 
     It’s common where I live for people to set up fruit and vegetable stands during the summer, and there was one across from the cemetery where we used to occasionally stop and visit with the seller. It occurred to me that he was kind of a guardian of that intersection, and I wrote those lines, and then, after showing the poem to a writers group I’m in, revised them from “guardian angel” to just “guardian.” (Below:  Peach Roadside stand in Georgia)
Initially the poem was all one stanza, then I divided it into six-line and three-line stanzas, and in the final version, three-line stanzas, or tercets, seemed to work best. This was in part a happy accident, as when the designer laid out the book, the stanzas as I had them didn’t work with the layout; when we changed it to tercets, it worked perfectly. I wouldn’t have changed the poem just for it to work with the layout if I wasn’t happy with the new version, but as it turned out I was.
Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? The poem initially began:
“Let’s get the joke
out of the way
first: it holds dead
In revision, I felt that those lines were too jokey for the direction the poem took, too easy and too distant.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I’d hope that readers would think about their own departed “dearest ones” and what kind of letter they might write to them, as well as find some comfort in the poem from the images of the memories of childhood and the generosity of the fruit and vegetable seller. I like the idea of keeping the dead in our hearts and of continuing to converse with them as we go through our own lives.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? I do use the word “weepy” in the third stanza, and so that’s an emotional image in the poem, but I think I felt more in writing the lines having to do with bike riding and jogging at the cemetery: the combination of smiling and sadness that, for me, so often accompanies remembering someone who’s died.
     I lost my mother in 1994 (Right), my father last year, and I think of both of them often, along with grandparents, cousins, and friends who are no longer here. I think we have to find a balance between missing and living, and the focus on the fruits of the earth at the end of the day says, to me, that we can find sustenance in the moment.
       The cemetery in the poem is not actually where my family is buried, but the poem elides that distinction for the sake of coherence and consistency.

Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Its first appearance is in this book Borrowed Light
Anything you would like to add? To give you an idea of how this poem fits into the rest of the book, here’s a description of Borrowed Light: “What are the sources of light we live by? How do we sustain ourselves when times are dark? In Borrowed LightJennifer Horne uses an architectural term that refers to bringing sunlight to rooms without windows as a metaphor for finding illumination through nature, art, dreams, and other people. Many different kinds of light appear in this book: morning light and twilight, porch light and candle light, the glow of fireflies and the hard clarity of winter light. Seeking “light, perspective, something new” Horne imagines a world in which both choice and serendipity play their parts, and writing is the key to the discovery of new ways forward.”
“Cemetery Mailbox,” by Jennifer Horne, from her chapbook Borrowed Light (Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2019 (Available by mail from the publisher at: http://bonnierobertspoetry.com/press_mule_on_a_ferris_wheel  and online at: https://smile.amazon.com/Borrowed-Light-Jennifer-Horne/dp/0984276475/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=borrowed+light+jennifer+horne&qid=1552064915&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmrnull)

Cemetery Mailbox

My letter,
addressed to them all,
written by hand, would begin:

Dear dearest ones,
Some days I miss
you so much

I get weepy
at the drugstore
among the greeting cards.

Driving past innocuous
manicured graves,
I think how you might laugh

to see children riding bikes,
a jogger making use of paved pathways
among your upright stones.

Oh, those summer evenings
filled with fireflies, low murmurs.
You kept death

at arm’s length,
letting our childhood linger,
lit with small glows.

Mornings, you disposed of
the darkened jars
before we woke.

Across from the graves,
the guardian of the intersection
at Keene’s Mill and 216,

eyes rheumy from watching,
departs at dusk.
He leaves behind

peaches and tomatoes which he sells
on the honor system
for five dollars a generous basket.

I’m a writer, editor, and teacher. In November 2017, I was commissioned Alabama Poet Laureate, for a four-year term. I grew up in Arkansas and have lived in Alabama for many years.
     My mother was a poet who encouraged me to write from a young age. I’ve written several collections of poems: Borrowed Light, my new book; Little Wanderer, a collection of road and travel poems; and Bottle Tree, poems set in the southern U.S.  
My short story collection, Tell the World You’re a Wildflower is a series of loosely interwoven stories in the voices of southern women and girls. I love to edit collections as well. My first book, Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern Poets, brought together over 100 poems about farming and gardening in the South.
The two books I co-edited with Wendy Reed, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality   and Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, have received acclaim for the high quality of the essays and their contribution to discussions about religion and spirituality in the American South.  
My most recent edited book, Belles’ Letters III co-edited with my husband, Don Noble; it’s a collection of short stories by Alabama women.
My next book will be a biography of the writer Sara Mayfield (Below), an Alabamian who was childhood friends with Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

@ALPoetLaureate on Twitter 


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
“Shape of a Violin”
by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
by Susan Sundwall

078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
“Garden of Gethsemane”
by Marletta Hemphill

087 March 21, 2019
“Letters From a War”
by Chelsea Dingman

088 March 26, 2019
by Bob Heman

089 March 27, 2019
“Clay for the Potter”
by Belinda Bourgeois

#090 March 30, 2019
“The Pose”
by John Hicks

#091 April 2, 2019
“Last Night at the Wursthaus”
by Doug Holder

#092 April 4, 2019
“Original Sin”
by Diane Lockward

#093 April 5, 2019
“A Father Calls to his child on liveleak”
by Stephen Byrne

#094 April 8, 2019
by Marc Zegans

#095 April 12, 2019
“Landscape and Still Life”
by Marjorie Maddox

#096 April 16, 2019
“Strawberries Have Been Growing Here for Hundreds of
by Mary Ellen Lough

#097 April 17, 2019
“The New Science of Slippery Surfaces”
by Donna Spruijt-Metz

#098 April 19, 2019
“Tennessee Epithalamium”
by Alyse Knorr

#099 April 20, 2019
“Mermaid, 1969”
by Tameca L. Coleman

#100 April 21, 2019
“How Do You Know?”
by Stephanie

#101 April 23, 2019
“Rare Book and Reader”
by Ned Balbo

#102 April 26, 2019
by Jefferson Carter

#103 May 01, 2019
“The sight of a million angels”
by Jenneth Graser

#104 May 09, 2019
“How to tell my dog I’m dying”
by Richard Fox

#105 May 17, 2019
“Promises Had Been Made”
by Sarah Sarai

#106 June 01, 2019
“i sold your car today”
by Pamela Twining

#107 June 02, 2019
“Abandoned Stable”
by Nancy Susanna Breen

#108 June 05, 2019
by Julene Tripp Weaver

#109 June 6, 2019
“Bobby’s Story”
by Jimmy Pappas

#110 June 10, 2019
“When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father”
by Pauletta Hansel

#111 Backstory of the Poem’s
“Cemetery Mailbox”
by Jennifer Horne

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