‘Poet Queen’ releases new work
Although a few friends know her as “The Berwick Girl,” Joanne Kenzy Peterson usually goes by the online nickname “Poet Queen.”
The Rugby native has called California home for more than 60 years but her North Dakota childhood memories still emerge in some of her poems.
“When you reach the age I am, your life is really filled with memories of places you grew up and places that you’ve walked in and people that you’ve met,” the prolific writer told the Tribune in a recent phone interview.
“I was born in Rugby and when I was three, we moved to Berwick,” Kenzy said. “When I was 16, I was taken out to California. I had a serious boyfriend at the time and I asked him to marry me so I wouldn’t have to move, and he turned me down,” she added with a laugh.
After settling in Bellflower, Calif., “I finished three months of high school and graduated and had to find a job because my family was quite impoverished, really. So, it was just out the door and work,” she recalled.
“I worked for 54 years, full time,” Kenzy said. “I worked in a lot of different places. My first job was wrapping bacon.” Kenzy said she later found a job in bookkeeping, where she spent the majority of her career.
“There was lots of bookkeeping and cost accounting. I learned a lot,” she said.
As she began her working life, Kenzy married her husband, Donald. They have been married 59 years.
Kenzy said after eight years of marriage, “we adopted a baby girl with cerebral palsy.”
“She’s about to turn 53,” Kenzy said of her daughter, Jovonni. “We still live happily, all three together. I’ve been in a different kind of a world from what most people experience.”
A bout with cancer in 2014 made her world even more different, but Kenzy is proud to say she’s now cancer-free.
She described how she branched out from her interest in numbers to develop an interest in words.
“When I wasn’t working full time and started to stay at home, I didn’t know what to do with me,” Kenzy laughed. “One day I was ‘climbing the walls’ and I thought, ‘I’ll go into our little private collection of books from over the years and find something to read.'”
“I go open a book, and you know what the book is? It’s ‘What to Do with Yourself When You Don’t Know What to Do with Yourself,'” Kenzy added.
“In the book, it said to kind of look at yourself and find something you like to do and make a commitment to 10 minutes a day (doing that activity),” Kenzy noted. “I made a commitment that I was going to start something the next day. I decided I would write a three-act musical on the birth of the waltz.”
“Then, I ran into a lady that I went to church with and she had a writers’ group. That’s where I got introduced to short story poetry,” Kenzy said.
Kenzy adapted the style to create stories reflecting her wide range of interests.
“My topics cover you name it,” Kenzy said. “It’s all over.”
“I would wake up in the morning with an idea and go to the computer and kind of research it and read, and look at people’s comments,” Kenzy said of her writing process. “I’d have about three pages of notes and then, I’d go through the notes and compile that.”
“My brain is like a Longfellow (poem),” she said with a chuckle. “It rhymes.”
Kenzy published her Longfellow-style work in a volume titled “Excursions of the Mind” in 2018. She released a second volume titled “Excursions of the Mind 2” in March of this year.
“I have stories in there about the birth of banking, I have stories about volcanoes going off in the middle of Italy,” Kenzy noted, describing her wide variety of topics. “I have stories of heartaches and loss of love, I have stories of blizzards in North Dakota, you name it.”
“There are a lot of things about reminiscence in there, lots of memories, which are somebody else’s old memories, too,” Kenzy said.
Kenzy reflected on her Berwick memories from long ago.
“I think about the lonesome train, I think about parking on Main Street and community dances in the hall, and the winters when the sleighs would come in by horse because you couldn’t drive in, because the plows hadn’t been through yet,” she said.
“Of course, there were the school years, the activities in the school and school yard, and sometimes the pranks that you did and the boyfriends that you had,” she added.
“It’s been interesting,” Kenzy said of her life in California. “Sometimes it’s been trying. The state of California as a whole, I don’t have a lot of regard for currently. It used to be pretty good but it has gone down the hill in my opinion.”
Kenzy said her daughter’s ties to the state keep her family in California. Jovanni has developed a writing talent of her own. She’s working on a book about cats.
North Dakota will always have a prominent place in Kenzy’s heart, however.
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