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Lee-Ann shares poetic thoughts of 'Home' 30 years on

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Lee-Ann Liles (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

About thirty years after she wrote it Lee-Ann Liles has published her first collection of poetry, This is What We Call Home.

Although publishers had expressed interest at the outset her father thought that, at 18, she was too young.

Ms Liles got to work on other projects but the collection stayed on her mind. The hard copy she produced on her Brother typewriter while in high school was moved onto a floppy disc, and then zip and flash drives.

"I've written several books since then but that one was the first accepted for publication," said Ms Liles, a librarian at the Bermuda College. "It was a subsidy publisher and [we would have] had to pay a couple of thousand to get that done. I was just out of high school and [my father] was like, we'll do this later. So I guess I just sat on it because poetry is not really my thing. I've moved on to writing actual prose."

Aside from a few poems about her son, the content has not been changed since she wrote it in high school.

"I have been steadily writing and publishing since then; publishing poetry and creative nonfiction with small presses in the US, UK, Canada and Bermuda," she said. "This is my life’s passion, requiring hundreds of rejection letters in order to hone my craft."

The book takes its title from a poem Ms Liles entered in the Georgia State Poetry Competition in 1991 and published in Henderson High School's poetry journal that same year.

"Somewhere in high school I just started writing. I had been more into art and was doing a lot of painting and stuff like that – anything creative – and I kind of moved into it. I can't even say how it happened."

What she does recall are the pieces of paper she and her friends passed around during chemistry lessons, each person adding a line to create a poem.

"That’s how we wrote poetry as a class – while the teacher was teaching chemistry of course. But that’s the first instance I remember really getting into writing. I was going through a lot of things at the time so I started writing it all down.

"I was writing poetry but I was realising it was getting longer and deeper. And then one day I looked at it and it wasn’t poetry any more it was actual prose."

My Domain, a poem by Lee-Ann Liles

This is What We Call Home is her third book. Ms Liles has also blogged, written academic essays and published on Ebsco, "the leading provider of research databases, e-journals, magazine subscriptions, e-books and discovery service for academic libraries".

"So I've done a little bit of everything. I don’t know why I'm just coming back to my little baby from high school. It's just been something I've always had in my hand. For some reason I just kept [it] as it is because I wanted to publish it later on."

She decided to do it now as a way of celebrating the MFA in creative nonfiction writing she earned from Bay Path University in May.

"For some reason I've been doing everything backwards in life. I'm a librarian, so I was dealing with cataloguing and classification before I was an actual librarian with papers – and the same thing with my writing. I had two books written before I did my MFA."

Home is a collection of 64 poems. The title piece is based on the home of a childhood friend.

"All of us kids when we used to play in the neighbourhood back in the day. His house was very humble and for some reason I wrote about it."

Everyone she shared the poem with thought it was incredibly "deep for a 15-year-old".

"That’s how the title of the book and the title poem came to be. It was stuff that people didn’t write about at the time it seemed. I didn’t think anything about it but people got mad at me when I published books [with covers that didn’t have pretty pictures of] Bermuda. I don’t write like that. I write from a very realistic point of view and if you see my book covers they're about, not dark subject matter, but it's not all a bed of roses.

"I think I write about myself and my history, [sometimes making] my family mad at me."

There is a poem about her grandmothers and, although she didn’t remember it being a focus, "a lot of faith-based stuff".

"There's poems about being grounded, staying grounded; poems about fears – I have this thing about spiders. They're very deep in subject matter for a high school person.

"There is a lot of similar subject matter, just a stream of consciousness, narrative, stuff that I was going through; a lot of questions about life and a lot of stuff that was going on around me with peers and things."

She continued: "I don’t believe in writing about love. I don’t like subject matter that’s been overdone. So I didn’t write about relationships and things and I really stood back from writing about my son. Certain things were off-limits so I really only moved into some of that recently."

Be There, a poem by Lee-Ann Liles

Out next is The Hunger, a book that lays out Ms Lile's writing process; essays of how I write, where I write, inspiration, that sort of thing.

She has also made progress on My Body the Battlefield, which formed her thesis for her MFA degree.

"It's about the stuff that people are dealing with now – autoimmune disease, mental illness, anxiety, depression, all that stuff," she said. "And so for my thesis I decided to do it on essays on the body because I have an autoimmune disease and so that is a big part of my life now.

"That’s what my thesis ended up being about and amazingly, a lot of people in my [master's] programme have some condition of sorts or many, a variety of conditions together. So I know people are going through this and this is why it was important to do my thesis on this topic."

Navigating through the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge.

"I've been getting my boosters and all my shots and trying to stay away from people – it's just exhausting. I can get a chest infection very quickly so that’s very scary for me. It's always on my mind that I have to protect myself."

This is What We Call Home is available at the Bermuda College and other bookstores

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Published December 21, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated December 22, 2021 at 7:55 am)

Lee-Ann shares poetic thoughts of 'Home' 30 years on

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