Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nevada's Miss Breadlove

I was reading John Berryman’s Dream Song, 208 and came across these lines in the second stanza. Berryman is reading the TLS

Vozhnezsenky was good on watermelons
and Nevada’s Miss Breadlove outstripped the felons
to be crowned Narrative Poet Laureate of North America.
Groovy, pal.

That’s quite a title for Miss Breadlove! I googled her name to see what I could find, out of sheer curiosity, and turned up Mildred Breedlove, Berryman mischievously switching a letter in her name. Quite a story she has. It seems she was commissioned by the State Governor to write a poem about Nevada and she spent the next three years travelling about to research information for the poem. Must have been a generous grant!

When the book was published, she was indeed almost given the title Berryman relates in his poem – except it was ‘Narrative Poet Laureate of Nevada’, rather than North America – a minor difference, of course...

She was also nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature (surely that can’t have been a serious candidacy?) and won a special award presented by the President of the Philippines (you couldn’t make it up). Finally, she got embroiled in some dispute over the book with Nevada’s officials and threatened to leave the state, as you can read in the colourful letter at the link:

“But the suppressing forces underestimated both the work and me. I do not crush easily. My backbone is made of forged steel, and I spit at tigers.”

I tried to find some of her poems online, but found nothing. The bio at the link tells us that her birth year and year of death are unknown (I suppose it is possible she is still alive). Has anyone read her poems? Was her Nevada any good? I certainly wonder why those who had commissioned it were so keen to suppress it.

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