Jennifer Horne on Becoming Alabama Poet Laureate

Aug 15, 2017

Alabama has a new poet laureate. Jennifer Horne was recently elected to the position by the Alabama Writers’ Conclave and is just awaiting Governor Kay Ivey’s signature. We sat on her back porch just outside of Tuscaloosa, and with the buzzing of cicadas, an occasional dog barking, and even a train…I asked her what a poet laureate does?”

“Every state just about has a poet laureate and we have a national poet laureate. So there is a grand old tradition of having a poet laureate for your country or your state. In Alabama, the poet laureate was established in 1931 by an act of the state legislature, and it was promoted and organized by the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, which is the oldest writers’ organization in the state.”

Alabama's new poet laureate, Jennifer Horne

 Alabama is known for producing some well-known authors. What’s it like knowing that you’re going to be the literary ambassador for the state?

“I definitely feel like I am taking on a role, taking on a responsibility to speak for the literary arts. We do have a wonderful history of literature in this state and a really rich and vibrant culture of literature in the state. So I feel honored, I feel this is something of a duty that I want to live up to; but mostly I feel like because of this rich literary culture I’m going to be a resource and a connector and a voice for all the wonderful stuff that is already going on in the state.”  

So how does one become the poet laureate, what’s the process?

“The process is that the Alabama writer’s conclave puts out a call for nominations, the nominating committee of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, which is a separate, independent committee then looks at all the nominations. It’s a pretty extensive process, there is a big packet that has to be put in for the nominating committee. I was fortunate enough to have Alina Stefanescu, a poet right here in Tuscaloosa who decided to nominate me. Then the nominating committee decides on their candidate to present to the membership of the Writers’ Conclave at their annual meeting and then the membership votes to approve that or not, they approved me and that was a really great day in my life.”

Let’s talk about your poetry, how would you describe it?

“In general, I would say about my poetry that it tends to be accessible. I want people to be able to sort of get something from it, understand it on first read and then I hope it will have more levels to it as they go to read through it a second or third time; in that I would take Robert Frost as sort of my shining light there. You can read a Robert Frost poem and get something from it, if you keep reading it you get more. I work to have that accessibility and then the layers. I do write a lot about nature. I’ve always loved the outdoors and I find a lot of meaning and symbolism in nature. I think if you’re to characterize my poetry in general, experiences and moments spark me to try to figure things out in words and images with music and a rhythm that’s different from ordinary speech so that I and others reading my poems can better appreciate and understand a certain moment, a certain emotion, a certain experience.”

Could you read us one of your poems?

“I would love to. Maybe I’ll read one from my second book that just came out last year. The book is called ‘Little Wanderer” it is a book of travel poems it is called ‘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.”

Jennifer Horne at her home

Well Jennifer congratulations of being elected to the position of Poet Laureate for Alabama, is there anything you would like to add?

“ I really hope to be able to be a resource for people and a connector for people so that they can learn about the poet in their town, the poetry activity that is going on just down the road because there is already so much going on and people don’t necessarily know about it, so I hope be that kind of poet laureate that I can connect people to writers and to what is going on in their area.”

That was Alabama’s new poet laureate Jennifer Horne. Jennifer has written three books and has publish a total of seven books of poetry and short stories.