Patricia Neely Dorsey
A Mississippi Magnolia Reflects On Life Through Poetry
A Mississippi Magnolia Discusses Her Collection of Poems
At first glance, Patricia Neely-Dorsey is just like any other southern writer who wishes to hold on to a semblance of southern identity in an ever-changing culture and landscape, but there again it is not every day that an African American woman from Mississippi bills herself as a "Goodwill Ambassador" for the Magnolia State or the American South.
Dorsey maintains that there is so much more to Mississippi than its troubled past. She writes glowingly of the state and the region in Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems. Through her poetry and speaking engagements, she is reminding folks that the things we love about the South are not exclusive to any particular race, culture or socio-economic status. Dorsey beautifully conveys how most of us feel about the region and, though her interpretations of places and events are often born out of personal experiences, there is something very special about her writings . . . something with which all southern readers can connect.
Recently, Dorsey discussed with Southern Edition her entry into the world of writing, and the transcript of the interview is as follows:
Hardly a boring, cumbersome tome or another dust-catching photo album chock-full of the all too familiar pictures of slaves laboriously picking cotton (or disturbing images of lifeless black men hanging from trees as their white executioners, no doubt proud of their actions, casually gather below), Freedom explores the African American journey from the slave house to the White House. A virtual treasury of documented history, this book examines the plight of early blacks, honors those whose efforts changed a society and celebrates the lives of those who overcame social or economic adversities, rising to prominence in their respective fields.
If a single picture is worth a thousand words, the value of this book, which contains hundreds of photographs, is immeasurable. Daring to feature unfortunate aspects of America's past that some downplay even today and, still, others would rather forget, Freedom uncovers the shameful, wicked countenance of bigotry, evoking pity and helpless compassion for its past victims while inciting rage against those who foolishly perpetuate hatred and racial prejudice.
Unforgettable images captured include those of a freed slave whose bare, mutilated back discloses his former treatment by an oppressive, sadistic owner; the bullet-riddled, burning body of a black man accused of assaulting a white girl in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1919; a grief-stricken Mamie Till at the funeral of her 14-year-old son Emmett who had been abducted, brutally tortured and murdered for allegedly whistling or 'familiarly' speaking to a white woman in August 1955; and a young woman's face feeling the brunt of a fellow black's open hand as they prepare for the "physical abuse and vigilante violence that frequently occurred in civil rights organizing efforts in the Deep South" during the 1960s.
But not every photograph is poignant, unsettling or repulsive and, along the way, African Americans have seen their share of triumphs in spite of persecutions and violence. A picture taken in London in 1872 depicts Nashville's renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers who popularly performed spirituals before white audiences throughout the Midwest and Eastern U.S. as well as Europe. Captured in 1939 is an amazing view of around 75,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to hear a black woman sing-in this case the elegant and beautiful Marian Anderson. Then, there is a shot of a strong, stoic Coretta Scott King, taken on April 16, 1968 in the midst of intense heartbreak and sadness, marching in Memphis for better working conditions for the city's sanitation workers. Her husband, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was to lead the peaceful protest, but was gunned down just days earlier. (The demonstration, incidentally, was effective and Memphis reached a settlement with its workers.)
A Few Facts About Patricia Neely-Dorsey
- Born in Tupelo
- Was graduated from Tupelo High School in 1982
- Earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in psychology from Boston University, Boston
- Lived for nearly two decades in Memphis, working in the mental healthcare field
- Returned to Tupelo in August 2007
- Published Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems in February 2008
- Currently resides in the Tupelo area with husband, James, and son, Henry
Greg Freeman: Coming from a state that has produced such brilliant literary figures as William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty, have you been been influenced by the literature and poetry of the South, particularly that of Mississippi?
Patricia Neely-Dorsey: Mississippi has such a rich literary history! It is one that I am especially proud of! When I do speaking engagements, I often give quotes from William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. I have definitely been influenced by the distinct elements of southern literature. So many southern writings, including my own, have the common themes of remembrances of the past, ties to the land, a strong sense of place, and the importance of family and community. The style and content of my writings have, at various times, been compared to some absolutely phenomenal southern writers such as Margaret Walker, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright. I am truly humbled and beyond thrilled to even be mentioned in the same breath as any of these writing legends.
Greg: You have a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and have spent years working in the mental health field. Have you always had an interest in writing? Or did it come about only recently?
Patricia: I have had a love for poetry from a very young age, but the writing came much later in life. I wrote my very first poem on February14, 2007 at the age of 43! I guess you would say that I was a very late bloomer in that area! I woke up on Valentine's Day 2007 with this poem just swirling around in my head. I got up and scribbled it down. After that, the poems just started to flow and flow. The bible says, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." I think that my heart just started to overflow with my love for the South, for my family and the life that I have lived. The result was my first book of poetry, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems, published in February 2008.
And, lastly, there are those pictures of blacks who have achieved the once impossible. These include that of a jubilant and glamorous Oprah Winfrey whose entertainment enterprise has garnered her international acclaim and a billion dollar fortune. Also featured is a photo taken at a meeting of the National Security Council in the Cabinet Room of the White House in which two of the most politically powerful African Americans in history-Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice-are seated with the president. Pundits and political columnists have speculated for quite some time whether the nation's first black president or vice president might be Powell or Rice. Only time will tell.
Freedom is by no means a coffee table book designed to be aesthetically appealing or entertaining, but rather it is a compelling visual tool that will enable readers to explore the past and better understand how far we've come and how much further we need to go before racial equality-and harmony-is truly attained.
Greg: From the perspective of an African American, how do you view the South today? How has Mississippi changed for the better, and do you strive to convey these transformations in your writing?
Patricia: I call Reflections, a "celebration of the South and things southern." It has been dubbed by others as a "love letter to the South." There are so many negative connotations associated with Mississippi and the South, in general. Through my poems, I attempt to give a positive glimpse into the southern way of life. Mississippi has made great strides in the area of race relations. I think that is what most people want to know about. Of course, Mississippi, as with America as a whole, has room for greater improvements. I am confident that we will move steadily in a positive, progessive, productive direction.
Greg: So many editors and publications view poetry in a different light compared to short stories, essays and critical reviews. Are you finding that your poetry is being well-received among readers . . . and peers? Could publishers be overlooking an important segment of consumers or do you think that poetry from the American South will always be limited to a very small minority of readers?
Patricia: Although spoken word poetry has become wildly popular in recent years, written poetry is often like the "stepchild" in the literary world. Many literary journals and reviewers dismiss poetry altogether. Some newspapers even have "no poetry" reviewing policies. It is a rare occurrence for a consumer to walk into a book store and decide, "I think I need a book of poetry today." (laughing) So, publishers, advertisers and bookstores don't put a lot of emphasis on promoting poetry. I must say, though, that my experiences with Reflections have been very positive. I have received wonderful reviews and the book has been overwhelmingly well-received by readers. I have had almost no negative feedback about the book at all. I have found that Reflections does have a very special niche with Southerners. But, "southern poems" don't just appeal to Southerners. I have found Reflections to have had widespread appeal. I have received e-mails complimenting the book from readers from all parts of the country. I have even had many readers outside of the U.S who have expressed how much they have enjoyed it, related to it and learned from it.
Greg: Has your entry into the world of writing opened doors for you to mentor or encourage younger writers?
Patricia: It absolutely has opened up my ability to encourage those people that I call "closet poets." Whenever I go to speak somewhere there are always several people who mention to me that they also write poetry but mostly keep it to themselves or only share with close friends or family. They tell me that they have journals of poems under their beds or stored away that are just sitting there. So many people are afraid to share their work, poetry and otherwise, with the world, where it could really be appreciated and enjoyed by so many others. I have had two young women tell me that I was their inspiration to finally do something wth their ideas and writings. Now they are published authors. I love going to schools and having the opportunity to encourage students to express their creativity and give their unique stories and gifts to the world. The feedback that I get from them is so heartwarming. I have received many letters from students thanking me for giving them confidence to further pursue their writing.
Greg: When someone reads your book, what do you hope they glean from it? What impact, if any, do you wish to make with your work?
Patricia: Overall, as I have said before, I want to help give a positive glimpse into the southern way of life. I want people to see that there is a flipside to all of the negatives that are so usually portrayed in the media and in most genres. I want to help people to become open to the possibility that there is actually much to love about Mississippi and the South. I think that Reflections has been very successful in changing for the better some preceptions about this place that I hold dear. I am very proud of that fact.
Greg: Do you have other projects in the works? Another book in the near future?
If you want a glimpse of Southern life,
Come close and walk with me.
I'll tell you all the simple things,
That you are sure to see.
You'll see mockingbirds and bumblebees,
Magnolia blossoms and dogwood trees,
Caterpillars on the step,
Wooden porches cleanly swept,
Watermelons on the vine,
Strong majestic Georgia pines,
Rocking chairs and front yard swings,
Junebugs flying on a string,
Turnip greens and hot cornbread,
Coleslaw and barbecue,
Fried okra, fried corn, fried green tomatoes,
Fried pies and pickles, too.
There's ice cold tea that's syrupy sweet,
And cool, green grass beneath your feet,
Catfish nipping in the lake,
And fresh young boys on the make.
You'll see all these things
And much, much more,
In a way of life that I adore.
Copyright 2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Excerpt from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life In Poems
Patricia: My readers have really been relentlessly pressing me for more poems. I am constantly being told that they want more. Hopefully, I will be publishing my next volume in the very near future. It will basically be a continuation of Reflections with the same themes of promoting a positive Mississippi and the South. The title will be Magnolia Memories. Readers might be able to look for this one toward the end of the year.
Greg: That's great! Well, it has certainly been a pleasure getting to know you and your work.
Patricia: Thanks so much for allowing me to share about my "little book of southern poems" with your readers.
Patricia Neely-Dorsey, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems (Jonesboro, Arkansas: GrantHouse Publishers, 2007.)
Electronic mail communication with Patricia Neely-Dorsey on March 5, 2011 and May 8 & 10, 2011
Telephone conversation with Patricia Neely-Dorsey on May 12, 2011
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