Jill Jennings of Woodstock first knew she wanted to write poetry when she was 9 years old.
Following a successful career in journalism and education, she published her first book of poetry in 2008 and a second in 2012, and her poetry is rapidly gaining a worldwide audience.
This year, her poem “Strangler Fig” was selected from thousands of entries from around the world and published in the March 2013 edition of “The Atlanta Review,” a noted international poetry journal.
“Strangler Fig” will be featured in her upcoming book, “Pineapple Wine,” and she is also working on a fourth book of her poems, “Mercy Heart.”
Jennings, who now splits her time between her home in Towne Lake and one in Maui, Hawaii, was also awarded an International Merit Award by “The Atlanta Review” for her work. Her time in Hawaii is an inspiration for much of her latest poetry, including “Strangler Fig,” which is about the banyan tree.
“Your poetry was judged exceptional in a remarkable international field. Your award means that your work was judged to be on a world-class level. Your name will appear on a page of honor in our Fall Contest Issue,” said Dan Veach, the editor and publisher of the review magazine, in notifying her of the prestigious award.
For Jennings, the comments she gets from readers are just as exciting as the awards and professional accolades.
“What has surprised me is how well-received I have been for my poetry. That is my job: to share what I feel and how I am feeling about it,” Jennings said. “So that when someone comes up to me and tells me they understand what I am saying, it is meaningful.”
The poet says that she is sharing her philosophy through her writing, that composing poetry is like putting philosophy on paper.
“I always wanted to write poetry, from age 9, but didn’t really have the time until I retired. I think the genre picked me,” she said. “I have written prose, and still do, but poetry is what comes out of me. Most of the time I don’t really have much control over it. I get a line, usually the last line of a poem, often in the middle of the night, and go from there. The real work is in the re-writing.”
Jennings’ 2008 debut book was “The Poetry Alarm Clock.”
Her second book was written during a dark period when several of her family members died.
“In a 16-month period in 2009-10, I lost my mother, father, great-aunt and first husband. In the middle of all this, I underwent major surgery and had a month of medical complications” she said. “After the memorial services and funerals were over, in 2011 we bought a vacation home in Hawaii, where I spent six months alone, thinking and writing. The result of the grief, pain, and loss, coupled with the spectacular beauty and intrigue of Hawaii is “Dead Man’s Flower.”
The title of the book refers to the plumeria blossom, a popular and sweetly scented flower in Hawaii that is planted on people’s graves, she said.
“When you step on it, you get this beautiful perfume, and they plant it on graves and they call it dead man’s flower,” she said.
Jennings is known locally as a former language teacher at Cherokee, Etowah and Woodstock high schools. She taught in the county from 1989 until retirement in 2004.
For many years she divided her day between two different high schools. She was twice awarded Who’s Who in American Teachers, nominated by her students.
Fellow teacher at Cherokee High Joan McFather is not surprised by Jennings’ most recent success.
“I have two of her books, and her poetry is lovely, thought-provoking, quirky sometimes, always interesting,” McFather said.
In addition to the most recent awards, Jennings is the winner of top awards from Atlanta Writers Club, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and the Georgia Poetry Society, where she now is publicity chair.
Her work appears regularly in “Encore,” and “Reach of Song”, anthologies of the NFSPS, The Georgia Poetry Society and other publications.
She also appears regularly at the Decatur Book Festival. Her poems have been picked up and read on Radio Kinver, a poetry podcast in the United Kingdom with a huge following. She is a popular reader of poetry on the Atlanta poetry circuit.
A graduate of North Springs High School in Atlanta, Jennings earned bachelor and master’s degrees in Latin and Greek from the University of Georgia as well as two teaching certificates.
She writes in French, Latin and English. She speaks several foreign languages and along with her husband, Paul Cheng, is an avid world traveler.
Before becoming a teacher, she wrote as Jill McCurley as a book reviewer and regular columnist for The Athens Observer from 1974 to 1979. She also worked as public information officer for WGTV, now Georgia Public Broadcasting, in the 1970s.
Jenning’s books are available locally from Yawn’s Books in Canton, which published her second book, and FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock.
Follow her at www.jilljennings.org.