And I *meant* to mention the book in my talk later that day, that focused on how the practice of poetry influenced my writing of LEAVING GEE'S BEND.
Later, when I was struggling to find the narrator for my story, I used poetry to learn more about Ludelphia -- and that exercise was the key to me finding my way. I used George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" and allowed Ludelphia to write her own version. Here it is:
by Ludelphia Bennett
I am from Mama’s wide hips
and a sliver of hickory
that went flying from Daddy’s ax,
then had to go and land
square in my eye.
I am from a cornshuck mattress,
afterbirth buried beside the cabin,
newspaper plastered walls,
rain running straight through the roof,
Aunt Doshie and broken eggs.
I am from a curve in the Alabama River
orange dirt that likes to settle
right between your toes,
cotton and sorghum and corn
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot on Sundays.
I am from quilts strung on a line
a triangle of denim over my right eye
scraps of cloth and feed sack,
the sash torn from Mama’s calico apron
and ripped into strips.
I am from Every quilt tells a story
Ruben’s fishing pole
and Etta Mae’s yellow dress,
Big Mama’s story
about them red flags on the slave ship.
I am from Delilah braying
like there’s no tomorrow
and in my pocket a needle
and thread and bits of clothgiving me a reason to keep on going.
Here are some examples:
Mrs. Cobb... looked just like a hog that's done ate too much.
Then the door swung wide creaking like a chorus of frogs.
A sharp breeze caught the tail of her apron and made it fly up like a kite.
"Delilah can wait just a minute," Mama said, her voice coming out jagged as a saw blade.
She was holding herself tall and stiff, her face blank as a cotton field that's ready for seed.
My mind was empty as a plate that has been licked clean.
Her voice turned to syrup.
Her hair... was caught up in the short braids she liked, the ones that always reminded me of blackberry brambles.
It was like the sky opened up and poured sunshine out of a honey jar.
And guess what book is the perfect companion? Yep. LEAVING GEE'S BEND. Happy reading!