We grew up together, running through pastures and filling hot summer days with adventures only young, fearless minds could imagine. We lived all of 15 minutes from downtown Tupelo. But as far as we were concerned, our little piece of earth afforded us quiet respite from the city kids.
We had open fields and muddy creeks. We had wild imaginations that fueled creative ventures, tempered by the stern guidance of older siblings who took seriously their job of ensuring we stayed within boundaries. Our world was simple and we liked it that way, protected it with everything in us from outside sources threatening any measure of complexity. We’d pick fresh vegetables out of the garden and keep a dash of salt on hand to accompany fresh tomatoes plucked off the vine.
I learned the beauty of writing on that patch of land. Our explorations took us to the lake one day and to the makeshift baseball field the next. We would chase stubborn horses through open pasture land in futile attempts to catch them in their domain. The place of my youth taught me the power of observation, of taking it all in, of descriptively assembling thoughts that have lasted a lifetime. Sometimes they escape from my memories in a rush; sometimes in a trickle.
I’m far from alone in the “taking it all in” department. My dear friend Patricia Neely-Dorsey has done that and then some. It was emotional for me as the governor’s office, at the urging of State Rep. Randy Boyd, recently honored her with the Goodwill Ambassador Award for accentuating the positive in Mississippi through her poems. Her work is a biography of my life. We have a shared experience that serves as a tether that binds us together with each word she eloquently pens. No matter how far we stray away from each other, our days of running barefoot through country fields, barren and undeveloped, inevitably pushes our memory back to where we started.
After my friend Pat was recognized with the honor, I asked her to offer comments on why she has chosen this path of telling Mississippi’s story and where it has taken her. While she often writes of the past, the towns, communities, cities and neighborhoods continue to provide an infusion of new stories that Pat is poised to tell. Endless are the stories in Mississippi, and relentless is Pat in her desire to tell them. It is a fire-hot passion that has given my friend a platform where new doors swing open. In her own words, she shares her story.
Me: What does it feel like to be honored as a Goodwill Ambassador winner?
Pat: It feels wonderful to be recognized by the governor and the state for something that I am so passionate about. I have always considered myself as a Goodwill Ambassador for Mississippi. When I was in college at Boston University, my nicknames were "Tupelo" and "Mississippi." When my friends saw me coming, they already knew what we would be talking about. I was constantly having conversations trying to clear up the many misunderstandings and misconceptions about Mississippi and the South.
Me: You were born and reared in "suburban" Tupelo. How and when did you decide to devote your life to writing and speaking about the South?
Pat: I really did not decide on the writing at all. It was more like the writing decided on me. I wrote my very first poem Feb. 14, 2007. I woke up out of my sleep with a poem swirling around in my head. I got up and quickly scribbled it down. After that day, the poems just started to flow and flow. The Bible says, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."
I found that all of my poems were essentially an overflow of my love for the people and places of Mississippi and the southern way of life. Within a few months, I had hundreds of poems. A friend kept encouraging me to do something with them. My first book “Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia -- A Life In Poems,” was published February 2008.
My second book, “My Magnolia Memories and Musings -- In Poems” was published February 2012. The speaking engagements came as a natural progression from promoting the book(s) and people wanting to hear about the books and my poems/stories. Now, I speak all over the state and region at schools, libraries, civic organizations, book clubs, etc. with my platform of "Always, Always Celebrating the South and Promoting a Positive Mississippi.”
Me: You attended Boston University and have traveled extensively. What makes Mississippi so special to you?
Pat: It's a very different place ... and very special to me. At the beginning of almost all of my speaking engagements, I read from a quote by Charles Kuralt in “Southerners: Portrait of a People.”
Kuralt wrote, “In the South, the breeze blows softer, neighbors are friendlier, and more talkative. This is a different place. Our way of thinking is different, as are our ways of seeing, laughing, singing, eating, meeting and parting. Our walk is different, as the old song goes, our talk and our names.”
In the South and more specifically, in Mississippi, I find my sense of place. It is where I feel most at home. Mississippi is more than a place to me; it is a very big part of who I am and how I identify myself. Two of my poems describe those sentiments more vividly:
In the heart of Dixie,
the sweet, fragrant smell of magnolias
and serenaded with
the melodious songs of the mockingbird,
lies a true Queen of the South.
her name is Mississippi.
I don’t know how to explain this place,
except to say that she “speaks” to me.
The rocks, the flowers, the birds and trees
speak to me. They sometimes whisper,
and sometimes they shout;
but always they say,
“this is where you belong.”
2012 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Mississippi Through and Through
I could not be more a part
of the Mississippi landscape,
if I had sprouted right
out of the soil of some farmer's garden
or bloomed from a magnolia tree
in the yard of some plantation home,
or emerged like Venus,
from the murky waters
of some catfish pond
I feel Mississippi
I think Mississippi
I move Mississippi
I breathe Mississippi
I am simply Mississippi
through and through
2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Me: Give me your best description of Mississippi.
Pat: My best description of Mississippi is contained concisely in my poem "Meet My Mississippi,” which will soon be up for consideration for our state poem. The poem can be used to teach the children of our state (and people of all ages) some important things about Mississippi in a way that can be easily remembered/recalled. The state song, the state motto, the state tree, the state bird, and the state Capitol are all included in the poem along with some famous landmarks and famous Mississippians.
MEET MY MISSISSIPPI
Eudora's home state
the bulk of the Trace;
along the Gulf Coast shore
one blues man's crossroads
and inspiration for more;
an abundance of history
tradition and folklore
warm front porch welcomes
with a wide open door;
a ride down the mighty river
on the American Queen
and some of the most
that you've ever seen
she's music and melodies
and the mockingbird's songs,
by valor and arms
and faith ever strong;
She's magnolias blooming
around Jackson's Capitol dome
and the sweet scent of honeysuckle
that forever says "home."
She's my Mississippi
She's "The Hospitality State"
You're a true state of grace
2013 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Me: Of all the poems you have written, which is your favorite and why?
Pat: I always call "Southern Life” my signature poem, because it basically sums up the content and feel of all of my poems. But, my personal favorite, on an emotional level, is "Let's" because it basically sums up my philosophy of life. It is a very short, sweet poem.
The last lines read:
Let's always enjoy life's simple things
and to their full extent
let's always spend these kinds of times
and make it our intent.
Me: What can we expect next from Patricia Neely-Dorsey?
Pat: You can expect more Celebrating the South and Promoting a Positive Mississippi ... in life and in poems.
I plan to publish a third collection of poems in early 2016, which will be entitled "Mississippi In Me.”