Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Book of Poems for the Hill Country

Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems by Patricia Neely-Dorsey (GrantHouse Publishers, 2008).

A review by Terry Thornton

It was a pleasure to read Patricia Neely-Dorsey's collection of poems, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems. Neely-Dorsey presents perhaps the most positive view of growing up in Hill Country of any current author I've found --- she is Mississippi first, second, last, and forever! She is a true Hill Country resident and her life experiences are lovingly recorded in her most readable poems.

Not only do her poems read with a voice of true Southerness, her poems are also pleasing to hear --- I think that some of them are best heard as songs of the South. Many of her poems caused a smile to form and some even caused me to laugh out loud. But it was the ones which caused my heart to sing that I'll treasure most along with the ones which caused tears to form in my eyes.

Reading Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems was an emotional experience for me. Neely-Dorsey's accounts of her life experiences are so vivid and so true to the region that what she writes of Lee County, Mississippi, could be universal events throughout the Hill Country and elsewhere. She came of age some twenty-five years after I did and she was across the vast racial divide many erroneously think defines Mississippi. Her experiences and memories, however, recorded as poems paint an accurate picture of hill country living as I too remember it.

The solid foundation for life which Neely-Dorsey received parallels the foundations which most parents were building all across the Hill Country --- and no matter that her life experiences were from Saltillo and Tupelo, they are remarkably similar to those of Parham and Splunge. And we are all the better for having these shared experiences which Neely-Dorsey explains as "having Mississippi in us."

My greatest surprise (and the greatest comfort) found in Neely-Dorsey's book is that those of us blessed by having Mississippi in us are more alike than different. She writes with a clear voice for all Mississippians --- and the fact that she writes from the black perspective in a positive and loving way about her family, community, and region makes her book required reading.

The hardest task for me was to select three of Neely-Dorsey's poems as representative of her book -- so I selected four. Her recollections of country living paint compelling memories of country breakfasts and cures and of slopping hogs, cooking cracklings, hog killings, pea shelling and going to church for preachings. Her account of a "Baptismal Sunday" brought back many memories of Parham Pond and standing on Jordan's stormy banks watching friends and neighbors be submerged in the water. It was most difficult not to select a poem from that section of her work.

Further, it was difficult to not include her "Shades of Lovely" in which all of the hues of women of color are described in the most delicious terms: honey, spice, brown sugar, brown rice, nutmeg, cinnamon, gingerbread and toast, pecan, almond, walnut, coconut cream, white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel, toffee, coffee, coffee with cream, coffee black, espresso, mocha, cafe an lait, banana, licorice, hot fudge --- did I miss any? One cannot read "Shades of Lovely" by Neely-Dorsey without smiling!

But the following four poems were selected because of my interest in preserving and presenting the history of the Hill Country. The first two poems presented below, in my opinion, offer a little slice of history and viewpoint not widely available and the last two presented offer an explanation of how Mississippi gets in a person (Rules) and what it means to be a Mississippian.

Country Doctor
by Patricia Neely-Dorsey, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia, page 30-31.

My dad was a country doctor
And I have such memories galore;
I even remember the house calls,
As he literally traveled 'round door to door.
Sometimes, on Saturday mornings,
When I was just a young thing;
My daddy would let me go with him,
As he did all his doctoring.
He'd have his black bag in one hand,
And his stethoscope wrapped 'round his neck
He was most definitely the captain,
And I was his first man on deck.
We traveled way deep in the country,
And there were always such sites to see;
Believe you me, I noticed them all,
Down to the last bumblebee.
I'd always meet really kind people,
As I stayed close by my daddy's side;
He'd always give my introduction,
As he stood there beaming with pride.
Many of the people had no indoor plumbing,
And most of them were all very poor;
So my daddy would let patients pay him,
With whatever it was they'd procure.
Sometimes, he took brown eggs or slab bacon,
Fresh vegetables, hams and the like;
All of this was so amazing to see,
For me as such a young tike.
The old women, he'd always call "young lady",
But old and young all addressed him as sir,
We'd make so many stops on our journey,
I'm quite surprised that it's not all a blur.
I remembered learning about all of these people,
And all of the crops that they grew,
Each time, I'd learn something different,
Each time, I'd learn something quite new.
My eyes would grow wide with excitement,
As I saw all the animals and stock;
We'd see so much beautiful scenery,
As we'd drive to our next door to knock.
My dad had such a busy schedule,
I can't imagine how he got it all done;
All I remember is I loved tagging along,
And all I remember is fun.

Right to Vote
by Patricia Neely-Dorsey, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia, page 53

I love to hear the stories,
That my mama and daddy tell;
Sometimes, we'll just sit a while,
And they'll talk for a spell.
They've told me of how hard it was,
For them to get to vote;
They'd go down to the courthouse door,
And there would be a note;
"Out To Lunch" or "No One's In,"
"Come Back Another Day,"
In all kinds of ways you wouldn't believe,
They were turned away,
Even when they did get in,
There were more hurdles they had to cross;
They'd be asked to answer questions
That would put anyone at a loss,
"How many bubbles in a bar of soap?"
"How many pennies in that jar?"
"How many miles to a star?"
It seems almost incredulous
That this was how it was;
But, believe you me, no matter what,
I vote, now, just because.

The Rules
by Patricia Neely-Dorsey, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia, page 6 - 7.

Most Southern folk have rules we're taught,
From when we're very young;
And most of us throughout our lives,
To these rules have clung.
Life can be much easier,
When you know what to do or not;
And you're sure to learn a lot of them,
If Southern parents you have got.
One of the first rules you come to know is
Children are to be seen and not heard;
It's best if you just sit down somewhere
Quietly as a bird.
You always say "Please" when you're asking,
And "Thank you", when you receive;
You address all your elders
As "Ma'am" or "Sir",
And if you don't do it, you'll grieve.
Don't touch anything in the store,
Keep your hands to yourself;
If it's not something you plan to buy,
Leave it soundly on the shelf.
Always say good morning,
Soon after you awake;
And always greet people pleasantly,
If friends you are to make.
Don't slam a door as you walk out,
"You don't live in a barn;"
You'd better close it gently,
Is what they'd always warn.
If you open a cabinet or anything,
Always close it back;
Once you do it repeatedly
You'll always have the knack.
Don't call someone before 8 a.m.,
Or after ten at night;
If it's something you feel you must do,
It's an urge that you must fight.
Never ask for food when you visit,
Although the host may ask;
Sometimes it's best if you decline,
And let the moment pass.
These are just a very few of the things,
We Southerners are taught;
Without some rule for every occasion,
We are never caught.

If Mississippi's In You
by Patricia Neely-Dorsey, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia, page 86.

If Mississippi's in you,
It'll always be that way;
It matters not how far you go,
Or how long you stay.
If Mississippi's in you,
It always plays a part;
In how you live and move and breathe,
And in every notion of the heart.
If Mississippi's in you,
It's in you through and through;
It's who you are and how you be,
And it's in everything you do.
If Mississippi's in you,
There is some special glow;
A different something down inside,
That all the home folks know.
If Mississippi's in you,
It'll always be that way,
From the time you enter in the world,
Till in the grave you lay.
Every true Mississippian,
Can surely have it said:
"I'm Mississippi born,
I'm Mississippi bred,
And when I die,
I'll be Mississippi dead."

Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems is mighty fine reading for all who love the South and Mississippi and the Hill Country in particular. Neely-Dorsey offers those of us who already have Mississippi in us a reason to celebrate our good fortune and offers those from "off" a unique opportunity to start learning about the riches to be found in the Southern experience.

Patricia Neely-Dorsey, a native of Lee County, is a 1982 graduate of Tupelo High School. A graduate of Boston University, she currently lives in Tupelo where she is working on a new volume of poetry.

The book Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems, is available at Reed's Gumtree Book Store (Tupelo) and online at The author may be contacted at her website

She will be in Fulton February 26 for a poetry reading and book signing at Itawamba County Library, Lunching With Books. Noon.

Patricia Neely-Dorsey will be the guest speaker at the Itawamba Historical Society monthly meeting, March 16, 6 PM, at the Society's auditorium in Mantachie (at the Corner of Church Street and Museum Drive). The public is invited to all meetings of the Itawamba Historical Society.


Patricia Neely-Dorsey said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful review, introducing Reflections to your readers. I'm sure that it will go a long way towards achieving my goal of having Reflections "on every coffee table in Mississippi". (smile)
I absolutely love the presentation and selection of poems. You did my "little book of southern poems" very proud! (smile)
Again, Thanks so much!!!

Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia
"A celebration of the south and things southern"

"Meet Mississippi Throufh Poetry , Prose and The Written Word"

Patrick Brian Miller said...

Indeed, reading this book was an emotional and pleasurable experience quite unique from usual readings. These themes resonated with me all the way from central Alabama.
--Montgomery, Alabama

Tina Sansone (Gtownma) said...

I came across Reflections when writing for a blog challenge. I fell in love with the poems and requested a copy of her book. Being born in Prentiss County, MS and growing up in Desoto County, MS, I consider myself a Mississippi girl. Her poetry brought memories also to me. Being a genealogist, I particularly liked her love of family. She has also inspired me to try my hand at attempting to write some poetry on my family history. I look forward to more of her works.
Tina Sansone