Jennifer Horne

Jennifer Horne

Welcome

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I’m a writer, editor, and teacher, and I enjoy connecting with readers and other writers. I grew up in Arkansas and am a long-time resident of Alabama, and 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. I call this blog "A Map of the World" because I think that, as writers, we each map our own lives, imaginations, and world. Welcome to my particular map!

Blog Posts

Below you'll find occasional blog posts, as the spirit moves me.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

After the passing of Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison on August 5, 2019, Don Noble and I were invited by Dr. Donna Estill, Dean for Humanities and Social Sciences at Calhoun Community College, and Dr. Stephen Spencer, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Athens State University, to participate in a tribute to her. These are my comments from that event, slightly edited for this blog post.

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Tribute to Toni Morrison
August 23, 2019, Alabama Center for the Arts, Decatur, Alabama

Thank you, Dr. Estill and Dr. Spencer, and thanks to the Alabama Center for the Arts.

I’m happy to be here as a representative of Alabama’s literary community, and honored to be a part of this tribute to Toni Morrison. When we honor a writer, we not only honor her individual words but assert the value of all writing, and the value of literature in our lives. Everyone here today believes that writing matters, that books matter, and that when a writer as fine as Morrison dies, we should mark her passing and celebrate all she gave us.

As someone who has worked in the world of magazine editing and book publishing, I’m going to talk a bit about Morrison’s work and influence in that world. For those of you who want to be writers, working for a literary magazine or a book publisher is, first, a wonderful way for an aspiring writer to gain insights into the different steps of the publishing process, how editors work and think, and what work is being read and published. And you don’t have to get stuck in either/or binaries about your work, either. An article in Slate.com discussed Morrison’s work at Random House as an editor, beginning in the mid-60s, and how she believed that writers need not compartmentalize themselves, saying, “I read books. I teach books. I write books. I think about books. It’s one job.” Indeed, in addition to her novels and to her work as one of the first literary editors to champion and nurture black writers, she wrote many critical essays, including a collection titled Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992). She saw no reason to limit herself to one role in the literary world, but claimed all.

One of the things Morrison helped do was to erase the idea that writers should be limited by sub-categories, in a time—the sixties and into the seventies—when someone might be known as a good “woman writer” or a novel might be good within the circumscribed realm of “black writing”—that is, good within that limited range. Through her writing and her influence as an editor, she taught the world that all experience was sufficient experience for a great novel, that any kind of writer was simply that, a writer, and that if the material were rendered with skill and art, it could reach any reader.

Those fortunate enough to work with her as their editor recalled her range of vision when it came to other writers. Activist and writer Angela Davis, who worked with Morrison on Davis’s autobiography, said that “Toni was an absolutely phenomenal editor. She paid so much attention to detail yet did not insist on having a work become a reflection of her own ideas. She asked me questions that challenged my imagination—she asked me to remember differently. Our relationship was grounded in that editing relationship, which became a friendship as well.” (“8 Women Writers…”)

So many writers, beyond those she edited, were inspired by Morrison’s work, black women especially. Maya Angelou said: “In the midst of my misery, I wrote a letter to Toni Morrison. We hadn’t even met at the time, but I wrote a letter to her to say thank you. Thank you very much for not only seeing me … but seeing me as an African-American woman and loving me. This is what this woman has done through ten books: loving, respecting, appreciating the African-American woman and all that she goes through, whether it’s in BelovedThe Bluest Eye, whatever it is.” (“8 Women Writers…”)

Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage, described the process of reading Beloved as feeling “contextualized,” truly seen, through eyes that understood her as kin, not as other. (“8 Women Writers…”)

Morrison’s work as an editor also fed into her writing. Working on a book titled The Black Book, published in 1974, a pictorial history of African American life, from slavery to the mid-twentieth-century, she studied what one writer listed as “things like the head braces that had once held slaves, bills of sale, photographs, sheet music, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts that she and the project editors accumulated over the course of putting the book together.” (“Women & Literature: Toni Morrison”)

The writer and critic Ismail Muhammed said of The Black Book that “It taught audiences new ways to think about black history, as something that could be studied from the ground up through the actions of black people themselves, rather than through the social forces that surrounded them.” In addition to that, for Morrison, all of those items she studied were material to inspire her own writing, taking, for instance, the story of the actual slave Margaret Garner, who would rather have killed her children than let them be taken back into slavery, and transmuting it beyond what she called “a lump of statistics” into the novel Beloved. (“Women & Literature: Toni Morrison”)  

Morrison, was, of course, celebrated for the art of her fiction writing. As Alabama’s Poet Laureate, I am delighted to be able to share some of Toni Morrison’s poetry with you. She is known, in her novels, for her lyrical language, but was not known as a poet. Nevertheless, in 2002, Morrison “offered five original poems for a limited-edition, letterpress book to help fund the [Black Mountain] institute’s work advancing freedom of expression.” These have been described as “Morrison’s first and only foray into verse” and I’m going to read three of them: “Eve Remembering,” “I Am Not Seaworthy,” and “It Comes Unadorned.”

The poet Elizabeth Alexander, who read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s first inauguration, said: “I can only gesture towards the holistic grandeur of [Morrison’s] vision, her consistent historical excellence, and her invention … The integrity that never flags and the profound love for black people in all of our complexity that animates the work. In encountering and imagining black people as infinitely fascinating and worthy of her sustained artistic attention, Morrison gives us a sterling example of how, while great art is great art, sometimes great art also ennobles a people.” (“8 Women Writers…”)

If you haven’t yet read any of Morrison’s work, I hope you will go directly to the library or a bookstore and find one of her books and read it. The best experience of an author is her words, and thankfully you have many to read. You will not soon run out.

Sources:
“8 Women Writers on What Toni Morrison Meant To Them,” by Erica Schwiegershausen. Aug. 6, 2019, The Cut, https://www.thecut.com/2019/08/what-toni-morrison-meant-to-women-writers.html
“Five Poems by Toni Morrison,” The Believer, Aug. 6, 2019, https://believermag.com/five-poems-by-toni-morrison/
“Toni Morrison Was So Much More Than a Novelist,” by Ismail Muhammed, Aug. 6, 2019, Slate.com, https://slate.com/culture/2019/08/toni-morrison-criticism-editor-playing-in-the-dark.html
“Women & Literature: Toni Morrison,” by Daniel Donaghy, Sept. 5, 2006, OUP blog, https://blog.oup.com/2006/09/women_literatur/


Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Ernest & Hadley & Sara & Clara




Reading and traveling go together like wine and cheese, each enhancing the pleasures of the other. In preparation for a trip to Paris this summer to attend the Hemingway Society conference, I decided to reread A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s memoir of his years as a young writer in Paris, written near the end of his life and published after his death. In discovering the city, he discovered his life as a writer of fiction.
I had not read Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife when it came out in 2011, so I decided to read it alongside A Moveable Feast. I would read Hemingway’s mostly true words about Paris in the twenties, when he was married to Hadley Richardson, and then read the voice of Hadley as created by McClain, narrating those same events from the fictionalized wife’s perspective. He said, she said. She said, he said.
This time, I read the “restored” edition of Feast, which includes material omitted from the initial version. At the end, the editor, Hemingway’s grandson Seán, placed a number of manuscript fragments, beginnings of the beginnings of the book, what would become the Preface. All together, read against one another in what becomes a kind of impromptu word collage/prose poem, they sound like Gertrude Stein, with her inversions and repetitions. The first fragment begins: “This book is fiction. I have left out much and changed and eliminated and I hope Hadley understands. She will see why I hope.” Another version: “This book is all fiction and the fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact. Hadley is the heroine and I hope she will understand and forgive me for writing fiction, some others never will.” And another, farther down: “It was necessary to write as fiction rather than as fact and Hadley would understand I hope why it was necessary to use certain materials or fiction rightly or wrongly. All remembrance of things past is fiction and this fiction has been cut ruthlessly and people cut away just as most of the voyages are gone along with people that we cared for deeply.” In the end, what was published was this: “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”
So, we can say, mostly true. The Paris Wife, of course, is labeled “a novel,” a work of fiction with made-up dialogue and Hadley’s inner life imagined by the author. I turned to McClain’s “Note on Sources” at the back of the book first, and was happy to see that she had attempted “to render the particulars of their lives as accurately as possible, and to follow the very well documented historical record” as she further explored the emotional lives of these characters through her fiction.
When reading historically based novels, I now read the author’s note first, having discovered after reading Joseph O’ Connor’s Ghost Light, based on playwright J. M. Synge, that he had made up great parts of the story. O’Connor writes in his “Acknowledgments and Caveat” at the end of the book, “Ghost Light is a work of fiction, frequently taking immense liberties with fact. … Chronologies, geographies and portrayals appearing in this novel are not to be relied upon by the researcher. …Most events in this book never happened at all. Certain biographers will want to beat me with a turf shovel.” I had the awful feeling of not being able to go back and unlearn the story I’d absorbed. It wasn’t so much that I minded what he’d done, just that I didn’t know from the beginning to take it all with a grain of salt.
Reading the two voices, Ernest’s and Hadley’s, in a sense in dialogue with one another in my reading mind, was an enriching experience, the two perspectives intertwining to create the story of a marriage, of being young and hopeful and impetuous, of thinking you have only good in your future, of walking down cold streets at midnight, a little drunk, and being happy. It tied in with my current writing project, a biography of Sara Mayfield, herself a biographer of Hemingway’s contemporaries, the Fitzgeralds and the Menckens, Sara having been friends with Zelda Sayre and Sara Haardt in Montgomery as girls before they grew up and married their writer husbands.
Sara was a copious journal keeper and letter writer. When she first visited Paris as a teenager in 1922, she wrote, “My darling Mother & Father, So this is Paris!! It really is, I can’t believe it.” When she returned in 1926, at the age of twenty, she wrote her parents, rapturously: “A lifetime isn’t long enough to live in Paris. I have enjoyed this past week more than any other of my life.” Two years later, drawn again to Paris, she did freelance work for the Paris Herald and, after working, “frequently idled along the quais in the late sunshine, watching the boats lower their stacks as they passed under the Pont Neuf, the fishermen casting their lines from the abutments of the bridge, and the artists at their easels painting the narrow streets of the Ile de la Cité, which looked as if they might have been stage sets done by Utrillo.”
In her book on the Fitzgeralds, Sara wrote “As far as I know, philosophers have never decided what the summum bonum of life is; but Zelda and I once agreed that we would settle for being young and in love in Paris in the springtime.” And Sara did fall in love there, with a young newspaperman, writing to a friend “of swift, floating kisses, sweeter for their swiftness, of days that were a song and nights that were a dream—a Paris that shelters Beck and nurtures an old-fashioned romance!”
She might well have had with her on her trips to Paris in the 1920s a guidebook bound in blue cloth with gold lettering, published in 1924, with the sprightly title So You’re Going to Paris! I found my copy, serendipitously, in a used bookstore. The author, Clara E. Laughlin, was a Chicago writer and editor, in age of Sara’s mother’s generation, but more of Sara’s ilk, an independent woman who made her own way in the world. She loved travel all her life but came to the writing of travel books around age fifty, having founded Clara Laughlin Travel Services, specializing in foreign travel advice and planning for women. In her autobiography, Traveling Through Life, published in 1934, she describes the writing of that first travel book, the one on Paris. A good friend and the head of the book department at Marshall Field’s in Chicago, Marcella Burns Hahner, asked Clara “to write a book on Paris . . . the kind of book people seem to want when they’re going over. . . a book on Paris I can sell.” Clara protested that there were already too many books on the city, but on the way home reflected “if I ever did write a book about Paris, there were a lot of things I’d do quite differently from any travel book I’d ever seen. …I’d write it somewhat as I wrote long letters of direction to friends who were going there. I’d think of Paris from the viewpoint of one who is just beginning to adventure among its inexhaustible delights. I’d help readers find their way from one story-spot to another that was its sequence, just as I’d helped friends when I was in Paris with them….”
Nearly a hundred years later, while some of her material is dated, much is not. She writes of having occasionally been burdened by traveling companions who wished to stop at every statue, marker, or plaque and study it. “Now, I love to loiter in front of the statues of Paris—they recall so many stories, and they are so likely to be set up in places where the individual commemorated was a familiar object when he was clothed in flesh and going about his business. But Paris would not be so wonderful a Hall of Fame, to me, if it were not also so very full of people who are being moved by their traditions to make beautiful to-days and glorious to-morrows. Nothing is dead, here! Everything is going on and on, passed from hand to eager hand like a torch making plain the way of truth and beauty.” Apart from a bit of stylistic hyperbole, Laughlin’s sense of the life of the city, of the way Parisians value their past (which includes their writers and artists as well as their politicians and soldiers) while celebrating the pleasures of the present moment, rang true.
I had my own Paris moments—a walk with my own love along the Seine near the Eiffel Tower on a warm evening amongst all the city dwellers seeking a cool breeze off the river; the waiter who was willing to wink and joke with me despite my nearly nonexistent French; hearing a French military band play the American national anthem and then the French in a wooden lecture hall in the Sorbonne, followed by the two different brilliances of Adam Gopnik and Terry Eagleton, each celebrating the effect of Paris on writers who came there to find themselves; the ride in the bateau-mouche at night, passing a jazz band playing on a quay, amplified by the bridge they stood under, and watching the lights of the city slide by like a time lapse photo; the afternoon I sat in the shady hotel courtyard and ate an apple and cheese and read and wrote in my journal and was perfectly content as pigeons fluttered in the bushes and the Eiffel Tower peeked at me from over the garden wall.
Paris is a generator of moments and of stories, and nobody leaves the city without them. And while there were the few, like Ernest and Hadley, whom we still remember, who wove their way into our cultural fabric, there were many more Saras and Claras, lesser lights but lights nevertheless, whose stories I love learning about, and which deserve to be saved as well.




Thursday, April 5, 2018


Poetry and Potato Snacks, Shuttles and Sharing

Living and teaching in Hickory, North Carolina for the Spring 2018 semester, I have commuted home to Alabama every two or three weeks, mostly by car but a couple of times by plane as well, flying out of Charlotte. Both times I’ve used the airport shuttle, and on the last trip I chatted with my driver about how I came to be in Hickory. I told her about teaching a poetry workshop, which led to our talking about a reading at the college the night before with Seamus Heaney’s widow, Marie, and daughter Catherine, which a friend of hers had attended. She told me that her mother had written poetry, and we talked about her poems.
Also in the shuttle was a middle-aged Japanese businessman, friendly but quiet, polite, on his way home. He and I spoke briefly about the cherry blossoms blooming both in Hickory and in Japan, and I told him that a friend had recently shared a poem with me about how much he loved Kyoto. Mostly he just listened to our conversation.
After about an hour, we arrived in Charlotte, and he was dropped off first. He got out, the van’s sliding door closed with a thunk, and he and the driver went around to the back to retrieve his luggage. And then the door opened again, and he was standing there with a box of potato snacks with Japanese characters on it, handing the tan-and-red box into the van to me. I thanked him, and he smiled. “I am very happy,” he said. I could only conclude that it was poetry that had made him so. Something about the conversation amongst the three of us had refreshed a jet-lagged businessman, reminding him of the way poetry connects people from all over the world.
The box had smiling potato stick-figures, and was, he said, “last one!”—he had apparently brought several to give away as small gifts.

The driver and I finished the trip, and she promised to send me her mother’s favorite poem, one she always shared with friends. She told me of her mother and this poem that “Her only wish was to get it publicized as widely as possible in order to raise awareness of forgotten people.  Up until her death at age 93, she continued to recite it from memory whenever/wherever she got the chance.” 
She gave me permission to reproduce it, as long as her mother was credited as the author, so in the spirit of sharing poetry, not knowing what it may bring, I’m doing that here:

SHE LIVES ALONE   
an original poem by DORA PRINCE ROGERS

Do you know someone who lives alone?
Do you take the time to call her on the phone?
Or do you say “If I call, she may be sleeping.”
When at the time, she may be weeping.
Since her health and her eyesight have failed
She can’t drive her car—can’t even read her mail.
You think, “She’s OK; her groceries are delivered to her door, 
And I told her to call if she needed anything more.”
She COULD call 911 if she was injured or dizzy. 
But she COULDN’T call a friend—they might be busy.
Maybe you could take her for a ride in your car.
She wouldn’t want to go very far.
“Just up the street to see that brand-new store.” 
(The one that’s been there a year or more.)
Perhaps you’d be surprised at the happiness you shared
By just letting someone know you cared.  


Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Far Cry from Cottondale




One of my favorite reading habits is finding books related to a travel destination. Reading in advance creates anticipation, and reading while I’m there gives me the satisfying frisson of recognizing landmarks “in real life” that I’ve just seen in a book.

On a recent trip to London, I took Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington with me. The neighborhood of Kensington is near that of Bayswater, where we were staying, so I could imagine the main character of the book walking the same streets I was walking, along the Broad Walk in Hyde Park, past the Victoria and Albert Museum, or along Oxford Street or Notting Hill Gate. Even better, the narrator of the book, Mrs. Hawkins, a war-widowed but still-young woman living in 1950s London, works as an editor at several publishing houses and describes her neighbors, co-workers, and various authors with both affection and humor. There’s only one would-be author, an untalented poseur and generally mean guy (he intentionally puts mustard on a sausage roll and feeds it to a dog in a pub!) that she really dislikes, and she repeatedly calls him, to his face, a “pisseur de copie,” that is, “a urinator of journalist copy.” The book is full of wry observations and practical advice, which you can read more about at The Awl, here

With an e-reader, it’s become easy to download out-of-copyright books to read on your journey without carrying a suitcase full of old books. They’re generally free or nearly so.  I found the following to take with me electronically: Bohemia in London (1912), by Arthur Ransome, well before he became famous for his Swallows and Amazons series; The Fascination of London: Kensington (1903) by G. E. (Geraldine Edith) Mitton; The History of London (1894) by Walter Besant; Dickens’ London (1903) by Francis Miltoun (also author of Dumas’ Paris); and two collections of fiction, by E.M. Delafield, who wrote The Provincial Lady collection, and E. F. Benson, who wrote the Queen Lucia books.

Of course I didn’t have time to read all of these—I’d never have left the hotel!—but it was a treat to dip into them, sampling sections as they caught my attention. For contemporary “travel reading” of a sort, it was also informative and at times instructive to read the London papers provided daily by the hotel, for news on matters domestic and international.

Of the older books, the one I most enjoyed was Ransome’s Bohemia in London, and I found myself bookmarking page after page. Here are a few of my favorite quotations:

  • “I do not know quite what it is that leads artists and writers and others whose lives are not cut to the regular pattern, to leave their homes, or the existences arranged for them by their relations, for a life that is seldom as comfortable, scarcely ever as healthy, and nearly always more precarious.”
  • “It is odd to think of the days when a shilling dinner was beyond achievement, when a sandwich and a couple of bananas seemed a supper for a Shakespeare. Yet those were happy days, and had their luxuries.”
  • From the chapter “The Book-Shops of Bohemia”: “. . . the people who buy in the ordinary shops are disheartening. There is no spirit about them, no enthusiasm. You cannot sympathize with them over a disappointment nor smile your congratulations over a prize—they need neither. They are buying books for other people, not to read themselves. The books they buy are doomed, Christmas or birthday presents, to lie about on drawing-room tables. I am sorry for those people, but I am sorrier for the books. For a book is of its essence a talkative, companionable thing, or a meditative and wise; and think of the shackling monotony of life on a drawing-room table, unable to be garrulous, being uncut, and unable to be contemplative in the din of all that cackle.”


I’m still dipping into those books, even though I’m back home in Alabama, enjoying the memories of the streets I walked and the places I visited. London is indeed a far cry from Cottondale, but I can travel there any time in these pages.
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Susan Cushman talks about my own book of travel poems at http://susancushman.com/traveling-the-world-with-poet-jennifer-horne/

Photo credit: The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, "In Kensington Gardens, London, England," 1901.  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007675568/

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


YEATS INTERNATIONAL SUMMER SCHOOL READING, July 27, 2016

Thank you for being here.  

Thanks especially to the Yeats Society, Ian Kennedy, and the Summer School, and to director Geraldine Higgins for the invitation to read. Thanks to Liber bookstore for stocking my book and to Margaret Raftery for handling sales. I’m delighted that my husband, Don, is here, and it’s wonderful to see our friends the poet Joan McBreen and her husband, Joe, as well as Mark Dawson, a poet and a friend of thirty years, all the way back to graduate school in Alabama. I’m very happy to see friends from previous years as well.

I first discovered the Yeats International Summer School when my husband brought a group of students from the University of Alabama on a summer program to Ireland, and we spent a weekend in Sligo. I was intrigued to learn about the school, and came back a couple of years later for a whole week. I guess I got hooked, and in a good way—this is my seventh time at the School!

So it’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to read from this brand-new book, Little Wanderer, from Salmon Poetry.

My first book of poems, Bottle Tree, focused heavily on the American South, while this one ranges across a number of different countries. This second book, I believe, bears the influence of my studies in the Yeats School, which has expanded my knowledge of poetry as well as my vision of what poetry can do and be, as a result of the many fine lectures I’ve heard and seminars I’ve attended, with Patrick Crotty, Jonathan Allison, Bernard O’Donahue, Lauren Arrington, Helen Vendler, Lucy McDiarmid, and, this year, Rand Brandes.

Eudora Welty said that to comprehend one place is to understand all places better, and I think you could also say that to comprehend one poet, especially such a poet as Yeats, is to understand all poetry—including one’s own—better. That’s certainly been true for me.

So, on to my own.
Little Wanderer is made up of four sections, starting in southern Europe, going east to Romania and the Czech Republic, working north to England and then Ireland, and finally returning west, to home, which for me is the southern states of Arkansas and Alabama. I thought I’d read a sampler of poems, some from each section. These are, certainly, poems of travel, of adventures and encounters and surprises. I also hope that they are poems that raise questions of how to be in the world, of our responses and responsibilities. As an American writer I’m acutely aware of the influence of the U.S. government on world events, and of how I move around the world as an American citizen.

But I’ll begin with a more interior poem, the first poem in the book, “Principles of Flight.”



Principles of Flight


You ask what I know about it.
I gain momentum, am off
and afloat on currents.
Birds flip past on jaunty wings.

I have been practicing
the etiquette of the traveler,
the grace of the grateful guest
as she takes her leave.

Our backyard garden grows richly,
I know. Have you seen
the runway lights,
how they bud at dusk?

In the middle of goodbyes,
I still can see the blue hydrangeas,
full against the white brick porch
where flight began.

Here is the resolution
to my headstrong departure:
Leaving, I savor the thought
of return to our soft bed.

*

I closed with a poem written for my friend Gretchen McCullough when she was leaving Tuscaloosa to go to the American University in Cairo, where she still teaches:

A Poem for Leaving

                             —for Gretchen


The bright blue sky we woke to
proclaims: good weather for travelers.
Knowing you leave soon,
I search for a charm,
the stone/shell/bone/sign/word
to keep you safe under that other blue sky,
the one you travel to as if
on some magic flying carpet,
strong and wide enough to hold
your two hefty suitcases,
travel bag, light reading,
xeroxed grammar worksheets.

Do you, can you, know
what else you take with you?
We're under your fingernails,
lodged in your throat,
you've got this red dirt
running through your blood.
We know you won't forget us—
it's too late for that, even though
we're not on that massive yellow-pad list.
Take us, take this moment,
find a niche in the suitcase,
pull us out for luck, or comfort,
when you need it.
Travel’s coordinates are distance and time,
little things, really, small matters,
next to love’s bright lines.



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