An interview with Alabama poet, writer and avid gardener Jennifer Horne.
The name of Jennifer Horne’s 2010 book of poems, Bottle Tree, gives away her roots as a Southern poet, but it was a 2003 anthology she edited, combining her passion for poetry with a love of the outdoors, that she’ll most likely be remembered for. Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern Poets is a collection of poems about farming and gardening, something Horne is quite familiar with. She grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, a “city girl,” she says, but her mother loved to garden and passed on a fascination with nature to her daughter. “She’s gone now and it pains me that I didn’t learn all the names of all the flowers from her, but to this day if I can’t go to sleep, I think about what I might do in the yard,” Horne says.
Her mother was also a poet and encouraged Horne to write as a child. She won a poetry prize when she was just 8 years old and remembers writing a long poem about a good vampire at age 10. Horne ended up in the master’s program in Journalism at the University of Missouri but found it too focused on hard news and instead “fled” into the MFA program at the University of Alabama. She worked as a managing editor at University of Alabama Press and got the idea for Working the Dirt as a creative way to counteract the drudgery of book publishing.
A serendipitous conversation with Randall Williams at New South Books led to the farming aspect of Working the Dirt, and through the local library Horne began to discover great farming poems and great poets like Miller Williams, Wendell Berry and Robert Morgan. She says her inaugural book experience couldn’t have been better — Working the Dirt is still in print and remains a popular gift for gardeners — and she’s continued to write poetry and also dabble in fiction since.
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.
From Bottle Tree, Poems by Jennifer Horne
A collaboration with fellow Alabama writer and TV producer Wendy Reed led to two books of essays on Southern women and spirituality titled All Out of Faith and Circling Faith, and last year Horne was asked to contribute to The Shoe Burnin’, a collection of stories that all include shoes but are about much more than that. Horne’s own story is about an old boot with writing all over it that her dogs dragged home one day. “I put the boot on my desk and and wrote a fictional story in which I try to imagine where the boot might have come from,” she says. This has led to more fiction, which doesn’t come as naturally as poetry, Horne says, but she is working on a biography of Sara Mayfield, childhood friend of Zelda Fitzgerald and a writer and journalist in her own right. After five years, she also has enough short stories for a collection all her own.
Tell the World You’re a Wildflower will be out from University of Alabama Press in September. Horne explains where the title came from: “There’s a story in which there’s a homeless woman who writes poems, and one is ‘Tell the World You’re a Wildflower and no one cares. Tell them you’re a god, and then they’ll listen.'”