By Donna Campbell Smith
Jackie Dove-Miller wrote her first story when she was in the third grade. She says they were given a picture of a girl with an ice-cream cone behind her back, and without her knowledge, a dog was licking it.
“In my story I included dialogue dressed in quotation marks — which no one had taught me to use. I was a reader and just learned how to use them from seeing them in stories. My teacher was so pleased that she had me go next door to read my story to the fourth graders.”
Jackie wrote her first play when she was in the eighth grade. It was about Thanksgiving and her class performed in front of the whole school. She says, “At the time, I thought nothing of it. Looking back, I know that was a very big deal.”
Jackie says she got serious about writing in ninth grade. That was the year she picked up the book, American Negro Poetry and fell in love. “I was moved by the words of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, and James Weldon Johnson. Richard Wright made the hair on my neck stand at attention. I started to write poetry related to the Civil Rights Movement.”
“In college I wrote love poems to my college sweetheart. It was mostly mushy romantic stuff that I only shared with him. I didn’t start sharing my poetry with others until the eighties, when the things I wrote felt more universal, not so personal… though it was just that.”
When asked about her writing process Jackie says her writing process is very unstructured. It is usually muse-driven.
“Sometimes I hear a phrase that hooks me and I immediately know I want to frame a poem around. I may only get two sentences of the poem written at that time, but it marinates inside me, sometimes calling me out of sleep to write another few lines. My first spoken-word piece was written during a forty-minute drive from west Raleigh to Youngsville. Each time I stopped at a red light another few lines would come.” By the time Jackie got home the first draft was done.
Sometimes when Jackie is booked for a speaking engagement she is given a subject. She says that usually when someone asks her to write on a certain subject, her poetry comes out in rhyme. When it comes from the Muse, it usually comes out free verse and a full rough draft. Jackie reads each poem aloud to get the rhythm consistent. Then she revises and revises and revises until the poem lets her know to stop.
Jackie says, “I view my writing as a living thing that calls to me. When I’m open, poem after poem will come, but when I’m distracted, my writing is start and stop… a poem here and another there.”
Jackie started writing and performing spoken-word in the mid 2000s.The local gospel radio station (The Light) held monthly get-togethers called Soul Food Fridays. Someone recited a piece at the first one she attended. “Again I was in love. I decided that eventually I would try my hand on stage. My first attempt was great because the audience was 100% supportive. They encouraged me the two times I stumbled, and I breezed to the end hooked on the adrenalin of performance poetry.”
Jackie volunteers during the summer at a women’s non-profit, The Encouraging Place. That’s where she has honed her craft. Whatever subject is discussed, Jackie tries to have a poem ready that fits. She says she listens to the discussions and incorporates the women’s experiences into her poetry. When that happens, the words just flow. Their encouragement keeps Jackie motivated to do more, to tell their stories and her own stories to bigger audiences.
The feeling runs both ways. Reggie Edwards, executive director of The Encouraging Place, said this about Jackie, “I did not know writing/poetry was Jackie’s thing until she shared a poem she wrote as a result of a talk I gave. I was blown away! She has a beautiful way with words that really speaks to the heart of women. Every time I have an event, I invite her to “prepare” something to share. It is such a joy to see what went from one little impactful poem to a whole book. She is a real blessing to us … I call her my Poet in Residence!”
While Jackie considers herself a poet first, but she is also a playwright, photographer and workshop facilitator. She writes, performs and has produced one spoken-word CD (A Spoken-Word for a Woman Who Can) and one inspirational poetry CD (Speaking to the Woman Within). She has published two books of inspirational poetry (Some Things I Just Know and Change and Possibilities), and one poetry book that focuses on the ups and downs of love (Love Moves Like a Wave). She co-wrote and produced the play Beauty for Ashes and has had works appear in several anthologies and area magazines. Jackie lives in Youngsville, North Carolina, with her husband Allen. She loves reading, writing, and volunteering. Jackie Dove-Miller was named an Artist of the Year in 2013 by the Franklin County Arts Council.
Jackie’s poetry focuses on women’s issues, so most of her speaking requests, either for poetry or workshops, are from churches, women’s conferences or community events. Her poems often have a strong impact on the women who hear her work.
Donna Mark, who taught with Jackie before they both retired and is also a writers group member with Jackie has this to say about her friend and colleague, “I so admire Jackie for extending her passion for the written and spoken word into her retirement. It is so rewarding to see Facebook comments from so many of her students who respected her famous line,’Miss Dove don’t take no junk!’ and are forever challenged as a result. Even today she is challenging women with her deeply moving poetry, motivating them to believe in themselves and to strive to live life to the fullest.”
Poet, author, and teaching-artist Phillip Shabazz was a visiting writer in Jackie’s Language Arts class at Wake Forest-Rolesville High School in the 90s. He says about Jackie as teacher and poet, “She was truly a talented teacher, and very present for her students. It was like she could see potential in each of their eyes. Likewise, her poetry gives you something you can feel and reflect on. The music and meaning in her poems open the mind and touch the heart.”
Jackie’s popularity as a writer and speaker continues to grow through radio, television and personal appearances. To find out about her books or arrange for her to give a spoken-word performance contact her through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Information about her books can be found at www.amazon.com/author/jackiedove-miller and samples of her spoken-word can be found at www.jackiedove-miller.bandcamp.com.
Donna Campbell Smith has been writing for over thirty years and is author of ten books. She is also published in many magazines including Carolina Country, Grit Gazette, Back Home, Our State, The Horse, Mules and More, Boys Life, and Young Rider. She is a member of Franklin County Arts Council. Visit her website at www.donnacampbellsmith.com.