Today I welcome the wonderful writer and poet, Angela Bell Julien, who has just released her beautiful book of poetry – BLOOMS AND THE BARD: PAINTED SONNETS. Reading this book is like losing yourself in an explosion of the senses.
Angela Bell Julien is an avid writer and poet who has dedicated her life to teaching others about the power of words. Angela received her master’s degree in English at Northern Arizona University and spent 35 years teaching English and serving as a principal in Arizona high schools. She currently works as an educational consultant for schools in the western United States. Decades of guiding thousands of teenagers as they move from adolescence to adulthood has given her a special insight into the personality traits that blossom within people and drive them forward. Angela’s greatest inspirations come from her family. She is married and has two daughters, two sons-in-law, and six grandchildren.
Because I love finding out about what leads people to write and the significant influences in their lives, here are some questions to help me delve:
You have spent years teaching others about the power of words. Can you give us an outline of your background and what led you to first become a writer/poet?
Although I grew up mostly in Phoenix, my father built roads, bridges and pipelines around the world. My mother insisted that she, my sister, and I stay rooted in Phoenix during the school year, and join my Dad wherever the end of the road was for the summer. Those summer experiences focused my lens on life. While we were in places where few people visited, I had the time to read, daydream, write and ride horses. In those early years, I learned the power of words. Unfortunately, my first grade teacher tried desperately to squelch my creative use of words; however, my devoted mother found a second grade teacher who embraced my love of reading and words and set me on my life’s path at 7 years old. At 10, I wrote a play about George Washington that was subsequently performed in my classroom. I was frightfully shy, but words, read and written, allowed me to be brave – even brazen! People noticed me when I wrote. Writing made a monotone life in school a melody of the lives I watched around me. I spent more class time than I should admit writing poems about what was happening. And then I found Drama and Advanced English classes! I had discovered my world. I overcame my shyness, began to love public speaking and reading my writing aloud. In college, I completed a double major in English and Speech/Theater. I chose to become an English teacher to share the power of language with all students, not only those who landed in advanced classes. –And that—that made all the difference! My husband once told me that he loved dating me because he didn’t have to worry about keeping a conversation going. I took care of that! He has been my constant listener and support for the past 42 years. I am a mother of two amazing daughters; both of whom spend their lives advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves – a passion they learned from their father. My whole life, I have been surrounded by people who inspire me.
Did the young people you have mentored all these years influence your writing?
— Yes, more than I can find words to express. One year I had the amazing experience of teaching a class of 15 students who were moved to the high school because they had “aged-out” of middle school but failed to pass 8th grade. They had not finished their middle school requirements for a myriad of reasons—none of which had anything to do with their intelligence. They all had one thing in common—they lacked power in their world—so they tried to take control in all kinds of inappropriate ways. They hated reading; so we read Poe. They hated writing; so we wrote about the psychology of colors and what “colors” their personalities were. They painted silhouettes of themselves on my classroom walls and used the colors they wrote about. Influence my writing? They live in my writing. They aren’t the only ones. One first day of school, a young man came into a different class I taught—honors Sophomore English. He explained that the previous year’s teacher would not give him the recommendation he needed to join my class because he did not do well enough in her class. I listened to his words, listened to him tell me about how hard he would work, and to the persuasive prose he had practiced before knocking on my door. I knew I had the opportunity to do what my 2nd grade teacher had done. He entered; he earned straight A’s. After attending a prestigious college on a scholarship and majoring in English, he went on to work for a United States Congressman—writing for him! Additionally, my daughters often brought their friends who were in difficult situations to our house to spend time. All of those kids, my daughters foremost, have inspired me.
My life bulges at the seams, so writing happens in the spaces I can steal. Sometimes I write during meetings (I probably shouldn’t admit that). I travel to schools in Arizona, California and Hawaii every month. Although I try to write on the plane, I find planes stifle my thought processes—I think it is the recycled air! I wrote some of my sonnets sitting on a bench overlooking Lake Powell in Page, Arizona during two precious days off. Others I wrote in my hotel room in Honolulu, inspired by the flowers that surrounded me, and still others while sidelined during a hiking trip in Maine due to a sprained ankle. Rather than a place, I write when I find those creative moments between the stitches of life —wherever that happens to be.
Now let’s get to your beautiful new book of poetry-BLOOMS AND THE BARD: PAINTED SONNETS. Please tell us all about it and maybe share an excerpt to whet our appetites. I’d love to know where the inspiration for the theme and colors came from too.
People ask me all the time how I came up with the idea for Blooms and The Bard: Painted Sonnets. As I say in my Foreword, I have prepared to write Blooms and the Bard all my life. My parents took me for rides through miles of flower fields south of Phoenix. I could never get enough of looking at them. When I became a high school principal, my husband sent a fresh bouquet of flowers to my office every Monday. They spoke to me. They calmed me. I have also read almost everything Shakespeare ever wrote – some pieces more than twenty times. I love the way he used language to make multiple meanings. He wrote making use of rhyme and rhythm to give the readers a melodic symphony of words. I strive for that.
More, I wanted to write a book that sends a message of respect for the diversity of the human condition. It seems to me that people often spend too much time thinking about what bothers them about others. I wanted to write a book that would help people see the positive in the people they know. I hoped that if they thought of them as the flowers it takes to make a beautiful bouquet, they would appreciate that the more different we are, the more beautiful we are together. I have often been teased about being a “Pollyanna” –trying to help people see the good in others. I am proud of that. Several of my readers have told me that they have used the book to reconnect with loved ones. That is success for me!
Hmm, an excerpt—I have a few favorite sets of lines. Yellow is a poem about the optimists in our lives—those people who don’t have easy lives, but find joy everywhere—one young lady in the class I wrote about earlier. I visited her home one day and realized I did not know anything about seeing light in darkness. The last two lines are:
“Ah, Yellow blooms with faithful spirit light
To feel the mud of life—and find delight!”
Golds, like my Mom, are strong personalities who influence others just by being themselves:
“A spicy scent bespeaks an inner air
Of poise and confidence. A champagne taste,
A classic core of strength with fancy flair.
A complicated mix of wild and chaste.”
And Red, Reds challenge others, maybe even frightens, but attracts us:
Beware of Red; but do not turn away
Lean close, breathe in, and all fears will allay
So what’s next in your writing journey?
I am working on another book of poetry and on a novel about my father’s life. I think the book of poetry will happen first. I have written some of the poems and begun the paintings. I am not sure of the title, perhaps your readers can help. Recently, I wrote a poem for an old friend and titled it “Moments With Diane”—we lived much of our lives together having conversations and eating Twinkies and Ding Dongs. I am writing other poems about “moments” we all have in life—moments we need to cherish. I am thinking about calling it Moments In the Sun, but some of my friends want me to title it, Days of Ding Dongs and Twinkies. What do you think? (JL: don’t know about others but I think I’d be more drawn to the title, Moments in the Sun but I understand the connection your friends might have to the second suggestion. Maybe commenters can give us their opinions.)
The novel about my father will be historical fiction, based on the life of a man I loved with all my heart, a man bigger than life, but a man I have found I knew very little about. He was a gregarious, outgoing, secretive, mysterious, loving man. Sounds like a great plot in the making doesn’t it?