The story of Kentucky’s much-loved poet laureate Joy Bale Boone is now available in a new book written by WKU Associate Professor of English Loretta Martin Murrey and published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation. A Guest on Earth: The Life and Poetry of Joy Bale Boone, Kentucky Poet Laureate 1997-1999, is told in Boone’s own words and includes comments by family and friends, photographs and more than 50 of her poems, some never before published.
A Guest on Earth is arranged chronologically, beginning with Boone’s early years in Chicago, Evanston and briefly Miami; continuing through her married years briefly in New York, Louisville, Lynch and finally settling down in Elizabethtown; and including her interludes to the family island, Balewick; her excursions to her ancestral England; her years at Halcyon in Robert Penn Warren Country; her travels around the world; and her relocation to Glasgow, which encompassed the poet laureate years.
“Though Joy accomplished much in her almost 90 years, little has been written about her poetry or her life. This book is an attempt to fill that gap,” Dr. Murrey said. “The more I got to know Joy, the more remarkable I found her to be, and that never changed in the 15 or so years that I knew her.”
Boone’s son, Shelby Bale Jr., said, “This past year-and-a-half at Loretta’s request, my sister, Daryl, and I have thoroughly read the text you hold. We both were engrossed and wondered aloud to one another if that were so because Loretta allowed the life and spirit of a remarkable woman to be revealed so clearly in print or merely because we were so close to the subject. We feel that Loretta has presented in these pages with accuracy, skill and loving care a fascinating, many faceted, multitalented woman who just happened to be the matriarch of our lives.”
The book gives Boone’s candid insight into more than 75 years of writing poetry, from the early poem, which her mother had printed in the church bulletin, to the UK library dedication poem, which at one point she feared she couldn’t write. She tells of being busy living life when “here came a poem,” forcing her to stop everything and tend to it. The book documents Boone’s contribution to Kentucky literature and, as Dr. Murrey said, “gives readers an education in living.”
Boone was born in Chicago on Oct. 29, 1912, to an immigrant couple from Great Britain. As a young girl she rode her bike to the local library and checked out armloads of poetry books, which she read instead of doing her homework or under the covers at night. As a young wife and mother of six, she continued writing poetry, usually at night after the children were in bed. She felt Kentucky poets needed to share their work with each other, so she went to libraries, got addresses of people who checked out poetry books, contacted these people, and eventually compiled two Kentucky poetry anthologies.
After her move to Elkton, Boone actively promoted the work of National Poet Laureate and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Penn Warren and was instrumental in setting up the Robert Penn Warren Center on the WKU campus.
In 1997 in a ceremony in Frankfort, she became Kentucky’s last poet laureate of the 20th century. In spite of her advanced age, she was a most active poet laureate, traveling the state reading and promoting poetry to both educational and civic groups. She made poetry accessible to the average Kentuckian, whether in the state capitol, in the classroom, or on the street.
Boone died Oct.1, 2002, and even in death, Kentucky’s beloved poet laureate was generous—like her husband before her, she bequeathed her body to the University of Louisville School of Medicine.
In 1997 Dr. Murrey researched and co-produced the documentary A Woman Named Joy with Jerry Barnaby of WKYU-TV Productions, which aired on KET and WKYU-PBS.
Dr. Murrey earned a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in Southern American literature from the University of Kentucky in 1991 and has held faculty positions at Somerset Community College, Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University.
She has edited 23 issues of the student-written oral history publication Broomsedge Chronicles and with her father, Eugene Martin, currently writes a weekly oral history column for The Glasgow Daily Times.
Contact: John Roberts, (270) 659-6984.