FW: Former Alabama Poet Laureate remembered
- fyi..aj wright // ajwright@...
From: smedina@... [mailto:smedina@...]
Sent: Wednesday, November 12, 2003 3:23 PM
Subject: Former Alabama Poet Laureate remembered
Sue O. Medina
----- Forwarded by Sue O Medina/ACHE on 11/12/2003 03:25 PM -----
Mildred Wakefield <mildred@...>
11/12/2003 03:24 PM
Please respond to Mildred Wakefield
Yesterday the state lost a wonderful Southern woman and writer, Helen
Friedman Blackshear. The beloved 92-year-old author died peacefully in her
sleep at her Tuscaloosa home. NewSouth Books is proud to have been
associated with her and offers these reflections and background on her long
and distinguished life.
Born in Tuscaloosa, Mrs. Blackshear graduated from Agnes Scott College and
obtained an M.A. from the University of Alabama. She moved to Montgomery
after marrying William Mitchell Blackshear, who died in 1986. They had
three daughters, Anne, Sue, and Len; eight grandchildren; and fourteen
She taught English in Montgomery for 35 years and was inducted into the
Robert E. Lee High School Hall of Fame. It is a testimony to the influence
she had on her former students that many of them also became English
Mrs. Blackshear was vivaciously engaged in life, writing, and the literary
community to the end. Her poem "Search and Destroy" was published earlier
this year in the anthology Poets Against the War (Nation Books). In
addition, she had recently completed a new book, Vanished in the Unknown
Shade, on the poet Sidney Lanier; had just overseen the publication of a
new edition of an earlier memoir, Mother Was a Rebel: Tuscaloosa Sketches
in Praise of Gentle People (NewSouth Books); and was at work on at least
two more books.
The oldest living member of the Alabama State Association of the National
League of American Pen Women, she attended their biennial conference this
past Saturday. She was a previous first place winner of the National
League's annual writing contest.
She had served as treasurer and vice-president of the Alabama Poetry
Society and as president of the Alabama Writers' Conclave. She was Poet of
the Year in 1986 and received the Distinguished Service Award from the
Conclave in 1987. From 1995 to 1995, she was commissioned by then-Governor
Fob James as the eighth Poet Laureate of Alabama.
Other books to her name include Southern Smorgasbord, a collection of
essays; Creek Captives (Junebug Books), a book of children's stories based
on Alabama history; From Peddler to Philanthropist: The Friedman Story,
about her father's family; Silver Songs (Court Street Press), a new poetry
collection; and Alabama Album (NewSouth Books), her collected poems. She
also edited These I Would Keep: Selected Poems by the Poet Laureates of
Alabama, NewSouth Books's inaugural title, published in 2000.
A generous-minded person, Mrs. Blackshear took the time to help many
writers with their books, and often wrote reviews and blurbs for emerging
authors. She was her own person, unconstrained by what others might think,
a down-to-earth presence who embraced new things. She had attended the
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Montgomery.
In a review published in First Draft, the journal of the Alabama Writers'
Forum, Auburn University professor Jeremy Downs said of Mrs. Blackshear's
work: "It is a distinct pleasure to read contemporary poetry that knows its
way around a ballade, a sonnet, or a villanelle. Though Blackshear's voice
is strongest, I think, in her more discursive unrhymed lyrics, she has a
clear delight in the music of language, the way sound can echo sense . . .
Yeats and Frost are her teachers and they are good ones."
Etudes for Autumn
The August heat has put a spell on me.
I walk my garden that is parched for rain.
And dream of youth that will not come again.
My shriveled flowers droop in lethargy.
And only brown and seeded stalks remain
To tell of summer's lavish bloom.
To yearn for springtime's vanished ecstasy
For every life must have its time of rest
To succor courage from the hidden root.
My spring was fully blessed
Like this dry garden with its ripened fruit.
How can I doubt my heart's resurgent call
To greet the blazing beauty of the fall!
?Helen F. Blackshear
Mildred Inge Wakefield