What exactly is art; who defines it; who makes it, and where in Atlanta do poets, thespians, and artists congregate and create? We’ll use this space to catch up with a few for a few…some you may know; others we hope you’ll be pleased to meet their acquaintance.
When Julie E. Bloemeke was 10, she owned a three-ringed notebook with multiple revisions of just one poem. This young poet, serious about her craft, was already on a path toward an MA from the University of South Carolina and an MFA from Bennington. Her debut collection, Slide to Unlock, went on to be named a 2021 Book All Georgians Should Read. An artist who values gratitude and patience as part of her process, Julie also finds art around town in places like Decatur, Little Five Points, Charis Books, or The Beltline, to name a few.
How would you define being an artist or creative or the world you create?
For me, following the creative’s calling is deeply tied to inner work, unlearning conditioning, and committing to a life of perpetual wonder. Our words and actions—the way we move through life—can all be forms of prayer. Ultimately, the artist’s life force comes from discernment and reflection–in creating beauty and seeking the sacred in the everyday. And in this, having a sense of grace and mirth too. It’s all about discovery.
When did you first fall in love with poetry; how did you know it was meant for you? It was magic to me when my Toledo public school teachers would chalk words on the board and speak to the electric puzzle of them with such conviction. I don’t remember ever being rushed in a lesson on apprehending language—rather, I recall being invited into words. Add in sound and meaning, the energy of words entering and leaving the body—rhyme, cadence, juxtaposition—and I was hooked. Even when I was very young, I could feel words had a sentience—they bore different resonance depending on individual experience. I remember my early enchantment with “thorough”; how it looked like “through” but wasn’t; how it offered a sense of movement and space, contrast and trickery. Writing is what I am meant to do because I must; it is my core and my constellation.
I know that we are both big fans of Dolly Parton and that you have an amazing anthology dedicated to her that just debuted on birthday. Talk about this project and what it means to you.
Dustin Brookshire and I edited Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology, featuring 54 poets. It will launch in Atlanta at Georgia Center for the Book on Feb. 2 at 7 pm. Dolly’s favorite nickname is the “Book Lady;” we wanted to honor her commitment to literacy by donating our royalties to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Witnessing poems that testify to Dolly’s range of influence has been an awe-filled experience. Like Dolly, the poems turn and surprise, taking the reader on a jaunt via sonnet, villanelle, ghazal, pop culture, personal identity, geography, and Dolly lore. They upend, subvert, cause questions, and also encourage new fans. Dolly is all heart and takes no guff; she lives her faith by action, championing that sexuality, spirituality, and art are irrevocably intertwined. I am mesmerized by how she arcs language in all forms. And even in the spangle, she is also remarkably, vulnerably human.
How has Atlanta inspired your work?
Atlanta’s creative community is a delight. I owe so much to the vibrancy, tenacity, and vision that I’ve been so welcomed into here. Slide to Unlock – my first full-length collection with Sibling Rivalry Press – navigates our boundaries of intimacy outside physical space and explores how we divine community through online interaction; this was partly due to my experiences in Atlanta. The expansiveness and inclusivity of Atlanta have also fueled me to reach beyond geography in other ways. For example, thanks to the community spirit here, I have taken on distance projects with the Phoenix Art Museum and the Toledo Museum of Art. I will continue leading online poetry workshops for students across the country in 2023.
What else would you like to talk about?
I’d be thrilled to share some upcoming 2023 poetry events! On March 31, I’ll be kicking off National Poetry Month with the Hilton at Toledo Downtown to amplify the arts and creative collaboration in my hometown, Toledo, Ohio, and Dustin and I will be on book tour most of 2023 with Let Me Say This in Atlanta, other cities, and virtually. If you are a Dolly fan and are interested in hosting a reading of Let Me Say This, please don’t hesitate to contact us And be sure to listen to our special Spotify playlist featuring songs referenced in the anthology.