Jennifer Horne

Jennifer Horne

Welcome

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Greetings! I’m a writer, editor, and teacher, and I enjoy connecting with readers and other writers. In November 2017 I was commissioned Alabama Poet Laureate, for a four-year term. My latest book is a poetry chapbook, "Borrowed Light," and my current writing project is a biography of the writer Sara Mayfield. You can find out more about me and my work here, as well as read the posts I write occasionally, as the spirit moves me. I call this blog "A Map of the World" because I think that, as writers, we each map the world through our own lives and imaginations. Welcome to my particular map! To get in touch, you can email me at forjenhorne@gmail.com, find me on Facebook, or follow me on Instagram at eyewitnesspoet. I'm also on Twitter as @ALPoetLaureate.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Echoes of Bucharest


I’ve been thinking about Romania lately. Almost thirty years ago now, I lived there for an academic year with the man who’s now my husband; Don had a Fulbright fellowship to teach American Literature at the University of Bucharest. I’d lived abroad once before, in England, but I was unprepared for the hardship and disorder in that recently liberated country. Only a year and a half before, the Romanian people had overthrown their monomaniacal, brutal dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu. He had impoverished the country, destroyed the livelihood of or imprisoned or poisoned or killed anyone he saw as an enemy, shredded the social fabric of the culture by sowing mistrust and disinformation. He demolished a large part of old Bucharest and starved and froze the population to build his massive, gaudy “People’s House,” a testament to his narcissism.

After the revolution, when we arrived, the country was struggling to regroup and to form something like a democracy. Without access to the embassy commissary, we bought groceries where everyone else did, and I remember how, because of so many shortages, people would stop you on the street if you were carrying home toilet paper, or oranges, or fresh fish. Where did you buy it? How long ago? Lines would form as people rushed to get whatever they could, based on word of mouth. Only a week after we got there, we heard that miners from the Jiu Valley with a history of violence were coming to the city to air their grievances as part of a strike. We stood beneath large trees in the dark and watched as government tanks rolled down the broad pedestrian avenue of Tineretului Park, near our apartment block, staging in preparation for the miners’ arrival. The next day, the Embassy contacted all the Fulbrighters and told us to stay inside until further notice.

The parallels to this moment are not exact. The history of Romania even in the one year we were there is so very much more complicated than I’ve outlined above. But in the last weeks I’ve had flashbacks to that time, as we dash here and there and make endless phone calls to an overwhelmed state hotline and send emails to whoever we can think of in the hopes of getting an elusive vaccine shot, as we watch the nation’s capital and all state capitals prepare for violence on Inauguration Day from those who are hostile toward anyone who smacks of being an intellectual or a liberal or an elite, as we await the departure of a would-be dictator who cares only for himself and the monuments to his grandiose sense of self.

In Bucharest, I had the comfort of a credit card with a $1500 limit, enough to buy a one-way airplane ticket home if things got too bad. Secure in my late-twentieth-century smugness and early thirties optimism, I thought that in the U.S.A. civilization was ascendant, civil rights were solved, and I’d never see shortages, riots, or aspirational fascists in my country. I see now that I was naïve, that just as Bucharest, once known as “the Paris of the East,” could be so diminished, so could we, if we don’t open our eyes and face the discordant music of this time.

As I’ve worked on writing this, the momentum of rhetoric keeps trying to take me to a statement of political uplift and a call to action. But for this poet, at this moment, that feels premature. What feels true is what I know about writers and artists: that we are the noticers, the trained observers. We are able to see the one telling detail that will make something come alive for others, to convey a human truth. Artists and writers open themselves to everything, serving as a kind of filtration system for society, often feeling more than is comfortable and thinking more than is easy. We stand for beauty when things are ugly, and for meaning when so much seems meaningless. Whatever else you may choose to do in these strange times, I am sure of this: if you create something, then you are part of the ongoing remaking of the world, a bulwark against destructive forces, and that matters. 

With Don and some of his students 1991-92 school year, Bucharest.
(I now regret the frumpiness of that mint-green dress, but I had never packed for Romania before and thought it would be versatile and washable.)

The view from our apartment in December.

Parcul Tineretului, Bucharest

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

 

Gardening Through the Pandemic

 


In April, when it was becoming clear I’d be staying close to home for several months, at least, I thought about what to plant. I love gardening, but we usually travel for a couple of weeks or more in the summer, and I’ve gotten in the habit of growing plants that can endure some neglect. This year, however, I’d be home and able to tend my plants daily.

Where I live, people were slow to recognize the severity of the pandemic and reluctant to wear a mask, and early on, when we had little knowledge of how the virus was transmitted, I feared going to the garden center. So, like half of America, I went to order seeds online and found that I was already in the territory of “back orders” and “sold out.” The seeds I finally did get were unreliable: some tomato seeds took a month to germinate, even in prime potting conditions, some of the green bean seeds never came up, and one “Italian green” squash created beautiful, abundant vines and leaves and one large squash.

The green beans and other varieties of squash were in the big beds my husband dug and filled in during the first couple of months at home, beds in our sunniest places with rows and hills of plants meant to produce produce. My gardening, in our mostly shady yard, has shifted to large pots on the sunny patio, and I generally enjoy buying flats of whatever flowering plants strike my fancy that year in coordinating colors and varied shapes and textures. The other half of the patio is herbs—basil for caprese salads, along with parsley, chives, oregano, thyme, and rosemary.

Unwilling to go shopping and risk my and my husband’s health, unable to get all the seeds I wanted online, I mostly made do with seeds I’d saved, plants I’d overwintered, what I found in the yard, and what came up on its own.

I’d saved basil seeds from earlier years, and garlic chive seeds as well. I ordered way too much parsley seed and found that it did well in pots but not so much in the ground. The oregano had overwintered, and in three pots nestled together in a wagon has made a kind of elevated hedge. Rosemary starts are easy, so I got several going and transplanted them into pots.


A geranium that made it through the winter indoors moved outside to hang from a beam, and the begonias that nestled in a windowbox pot next to the house decided it was their moment to bloom, big. Happiest of all were the coleus, which had started from shoots my hairdresser gave me in February when I admired her healthy plants. She cautioned me quickly not to thank her for them or they wouldn’t grow, so I didn’t. I haven’t gotten a haircut since then, but I think of her every day as I admire the three-feet-tall, lime-green plants, with tiny white blossoms that attract hummingbirds. Similarly, I have several new gardenia plants that I started from cuttings from a plant that overwintered outdoors.


We live in the woods, so there are growing things everywhere.  I found some small nandina bushes and transplanted two into big blue-glazed ceramic pots for symmetry. A few plants I dug up at the edge of the woods just appealed to me for their color or shape, although I have no names for them, and as I surveyed the yard I found a tiny shoot from a fig tree my stepdaughter had given me several years ago. It had just barely survived in that spot, but I put the little rescued sprout into a huge pot and suddenly it was growing like nobody’s business.

It’s been a time of volunteers, and I had plenty of those in my pots as well: the perennial pink salvia I first bought at the University of Alabama Arboretum’s annual spring plant sale years ago, an event I always loved because I connected with gardening friends I rarely saw otherwise; black-eyed Susans that come up in the yard and now live abundantly in pots as well; the sprightly, purple-blue torenia and stately, yellow-flowered nicotiana a friend gave me from her garden in years past; a cantaloupe vine that came up in a pot last year from composted soil, and then reappeared this year, producing only a single golf-ball sized green fruit, but lots of pretty yellow flowers. The same friend who gave me the torenia and nicotiana gave me a moonflower plant this year, and I’ve loved having its gorgeous white flowers, with a delicate scent, right next to the door. I’ll save those seeds for next year.

The marigold seeds that came in the mail did do beautifully, planted in the pots with the tomato seedlings that finally started growing, producing late-summer cherry and pear tomatoes. I wrote this poem about them, in response to a prompt from a poetry discussion group I’m in:

Companion Plantings

 

It was the marigolds

that reminded me

on a blazing August morning

how different plants

can grow companionably

in the same soil.

 

A dragonfly, black and sleek,

keeps returning to the same

support pole, surveying

the cherry tomatoes.

 

He is the soul

of a dead relative.

I’m not sure who

but I believe

he observes me

with familial affection.

 

On a certain day

the marigolds

and cherry tomatoes

harmonized their hues

deep oranges

confirming affiliation.

 

When I stepped outside

I could see

what they had done

tuning themselves to perfection

while I slept.

 


In this poem, I express a sense of connectedness that I feel to nature and to people, living and dead. This season of life, this pandemic year, has reminded me how connected I am through plants to so many people, and of how seeds and plants take their own time and their own course. Even as I pick green tomato hornworms off my tomato plants and lament the damage they’ve done, I marvel at their ability to blend in with the plant’s structure and color, and when I read about them to remind myself which moth these caterpillars become (it’s variously known as the sphinx moth or five-spotted hawk moth), I learn that, unbeknownst to me, their pupae survive the winter underground. I have to admire that kind of perseverance. I’m thinking, now, what to plant when cooler weather arrives.



Sunday, May 17, 2020

A poem for the Alabama high school graduating class of 2020:

It's long been a tradition for poet laureates to write an "occasional poem" to mark specific occasions or moments in time. In these unusual times, I've been moved to write an occasional poem for the Alabama high school graduates of 2020, titled "Beyond the Numbers." The text and video are below; feel free to share.


Beyond the Numbers
            —for the Alabama high school graduating class of 2020


You are from 67 counties
            in a state of 5 million people
                        a quarter (or so) of whom are under 18.
You are 50,000 in number,
            in a state of 52,000-plus square miles,
                        more than a square mile for each of you!
You are from Mobile, Montgomery, Madison, and maybe even McMullen,
            from Birmingham, Bessemer, and Brilliant,
                        Tuscaloosa, Trussville, Tuscumbia, Tuskegee, and Twin,
                                    Alabaster, Auburn, and Allgood.

You’re told you are the future, the promise, the hope—
            and you are, but you are also
                        sad, tired, frustrated, and discouraged—at least sometimes.
You see so many numbers in the news these days:
            gatherings of 10 or more, 50% capacity,
                        not to mention the number of infections, the almost 500 deaths.


So what’s beyond today? What’s beyond the numbers?
            You are. Unique. A once-in-a-worldtime life.
                        A life that can be inventive, courageous, kind, outrageous,
                                    bring joy, humor, hope,
                                                and open up to the unknown.
This one life. Yours.
            That no numbers can define.
                        Congratulations!
                                    Now, begin.


                                                                                                            By Jennifer Horne
Alabama Poet Laureate

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