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New book of poetry draws on area imagery

The cover of “Beyond Bulrush,” a collection of poetry by Jeannie E. Roberts, a 1974 graduate of Ellsworth High School. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Jeannie E. Roberts draws on experiences from her life spent in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including Pierce County, for her newest book of poetry, “Beyond Bulrush.” (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Pierce County and its surrounding area figures in the youth of Jeannie E. Roberts, so it stands to reason this vicinity would play a role in her new book.

“Beyond Bulrush” is a collection of 49 of Roberts’ poems and was released this month by Lit Fest Press of Gilson, Ill. She counts nature, which is among its themes, as a big part of her years growing up in the Stonehammer neighborhood along the Rush River.

“Dad loved nature,” she said Thursday, referring to her late father, Donald, an attorney who moved the family here from the Twin Cities when she was a ninth grader.

The poet, artist and author, now living in Chippewa Falls, remembered him as a fisherman, fond of hikes and able to identify various types of flowers. Moreover, her grandparents had a little cottage on Lake Pepin, where she spent her childhood making fond memories.

“We’d walk by the railroad tracks, then go down by the lake to look for agates,” she recalled, describing herself as a tomboy dedicated to exploring, climbing trees and the like.

Not only did her dad instill an interest in nature in his daughter, but in writing too, especially poetry, she said. He liked to write and kept many poetry books in the house. A great aunt, Jeanne, also wrote poetry and, as her niece would later learn, self-published some of it, was a former book critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a “speed reader,” giving talks to groups.

Roberts, whose mother was the late Alice, said she has a sister, Mary (Matzek), a now-retired Ellsworth High School secretary from Hager City, and a late brother, Steve. She went to the old Windom Elementary School and Ramsey Junior High School in Minnesota. She enjoyed English and art, particularly drawing and painting, plus photography, recording nature, scenic views and close-ups with her camera.

The 1974 EHS graduate attended UW-River Falls with education and the arts in mind, ultimately graduating in 1979 with an undergrad degree in secondary education and K-12 art, she said. She was licensed for art instruction, and vocational art and design. She wrote a lot- - some prose, though mostly poetry.

“I gravitated toward that,” she said, explaining it’s shorter, so she could get a point across in as few words as possible.

Later, in 1999, she got a masters degree in arts and cultural studies from St. Mary’s College in Minneapolis, she said.

Her third book

“Beyond Bulrush” is Roberts’ third book, she said. Her first was “Let’s Make Faces!”, a children’s book, while her second was “Nature of It All.”

As for her poetry, it attracts a different audience than the children’s book, for example, she said. It’s eclectic, in that it’s read by many ages, yet smaller than the typical readers’ group for mainstream material.

“I want people to think and look deeper within themselves,” she said of the goal for her poetry, understanding not everyone has the desire nor time to do it.

“Bulrush” in the title refers to a cattail, the word the Brits use for them, she explained. “Beyond” suggests moving forward or taking this further than her first book on nature. The title comes from a line in one of the 49 poems named “Tomboy.”

Roberts said she wrote these poems at different times. At least one-half of them have been published in other journals. One is from 2008, while others range in age from 4-to-5-years-old.

“Bulrush” is available from and at Volume One, a local store in the Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls area. Information from a question-and-answer form provided by the related Volume One Magazine she shared with the Herald follows:

“...Intuitively, I knew my writing would progress into something more than just a hobby. In my professional career, I’d worked on grant, script/copy and documentation writing projects. During the ‘90s, I’d occasionally submit my poetry to anthologies, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I began to actively submit my poetry to literary journals and anthologies, having more time to write as well as gaining more confidence in my work.”

“...’Beyond Bulrush’ is divided into three sections -- holding moments, dimmer switch and natural orbits. In this collection, I continue to explore my natural world with lyric eye and ear, illuminating imagery and metaphor. I take the reader on a narrative journey of birth, death and rebirth, drawing on both human and non-human stories as my framework. My poems are lyrical, perceptive and sometimes dark as I impart painful glimpses into my personal world…”

“...’Beyond Bulrush’ contains poems about the area, including the Old Abe State Biking Trail near Jim Falls, and observations around my own backyard in Hallie near Chippewa Falls. There’s also reference to Pierce and Pepin counties, including the Rush River, Lake Pepin and Stockholm. I also include a poem about growing up in Minnesota...”

Sarah Sadie (Busse) wrote the following about Roberts’ book:

“With carefully tuned eye and ear, Jeannie E. Roberts places us, threading the names of the very real streets, parks, trails and towns of her childhood and adult life among poems that pop and snap with rhythm, rhyme and humor. This book is rife with ‘hubbub/hoopla, hobnob/...ballyhoo in hoots and hollers’ and chock full of the flora and fauna of her Wisconsin home. Yet, there is a more personal story to be found in these pages as well. ‘And what,’ she asks a tree frog (and the reader), ‘have you learned from your crouch/and camouflage?’ ‘Beyond Bulrush’ makes clear that, whether she faces the stories of the past or the unknowns of tomorrow, Roberts has learned to celebrate and armor herself with song, the ‘drills/trills/spilling notes/ of musical flourish’...”

Theatre house manager

Roberts freelances as an artist, a poet/writer and photographer, with the occasional voice-over, through her business, JRCreative, she told the magazine. She’s also employed at the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center and State Theatre as a part-time house manager.

She’s married to Bruce Pecor, an electrical engineer with SGI in Chippewa Falls, she said. She has a son, Andrew, who recently moved to Minneapolis, and he has two sons, Heath and Brandon.

The member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets has conducted public readings at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, Wisconsin Public Radio and other venues. She dedicated “Beyond Bulrush” to her parents and brother.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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