As we sat together in her living room, Poet Laureate of Northwest Florida Juliet “Julie” DeMarko warmly read aloud to me an excerpt from her poem titled, “Quarantine,” nestled within her maiden book of poetry, “Blue Ridge Childhood.”
“In Cashiers Valley, North Carolina, I was sitting in Miss Elaine Norton’s fourth grade class, listening while she read to us the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”
Having grown up in the Appalachian Mountains, amid a region where the art of storytelling was as natural and magnificent as her surroundings, DeMarko considers herself a narrative poet.
“My poems almost always tell stories,” she said.
Although her poems have been published in several journals, “Blue Ridge Childhood” is the first book of poetry that DeMarko calls entirely her own. Sprinkled within this book of thoughtful reflections are black and white photographs of her childhood, offering visual snippets of life in the Carolinas in the 1950s.
“The first half is all nostalgia about my childhood as it was then,” she said. “The second half is more retrospective, looking back on my feelings toward it as an adult.”
Saturday, August 10 at Open Books, DeMarko will be reading excerpts from “Blue Ridge Childhood” along with passages from a second untitled book of poetry that remains currently in progress. This one she describes as a collection of all kinds of poetry, heavily influenced by her Florida habitat.
“This event is the first time I have ever read for the sole purpose of sharing my poetry and writing,” she explained.
DeMarko comes from a line of poets, including both her mother and grandmother. Although she can recount beginning her own relationship with introspective poetic journaling as early as the fifth grade, she notes that it wasn’t until 2000 that “everything came together.”
“I don’t consider myself a great poet. I consider myself someone who has loved poetry always,” she said.
In 2009, DeMarko was appointed as Poet Laureate of Northwest Florida.
According to DeMarko, “Poet Laureate doesn’t mean that you are a brilliant poet. What it does mean is that all of your life you’ve been dedicated to not necessarily the writing of poetry, but to the loving of it.”
As part of her service, she speaks to book clubs, library crews, and local school children.
“I consider the mission of a Poet Laureate to be one of both passing on the love of poetry and encouraging others to explore the understanding of life through writing their own poetry,” she said.
DeMarko works tirelessly alongside fellow board members of the West Florida Literary Federation (WFLF), utilizing her passion for and knowledge of the literary world to encourage others to become a greater part of it. The WFLF seeks to engage the local writing community through a series of programs, workshops and events.
One recurring event DeMarko is especially enthusiastic about is the WFLF’s open mic night, held every third Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Pensacola Cultural Center. This monthly event brings together a diverse mix of ages and nationalities. Individuals are invited to attend to read their poetry, or to simply socialize and listen.
DeMarko also teaches a workshop of her own, titled “Wild Writing.” This workshop serves as a weekly time designated to the free flow of ideas, not restricted to poetry, followed by a time of sharing. Rather than a typical critique, the atmosphere is one that highlights the positives of one another’s writing, in turn, allowing participants to grow confident in writing freely and honestly.
Not only does DeMarko inspire her fellow community members to write, she has inspired her own immediate family, all of who have been published in some form. When asked what she would say to aspiring poets, or writers in general, DeMarko responded with simple yet pointed tips, including the following.
“Write every day. Roll over and write before you even get out of bed.”
“Start noticing. I don’t think there’s anything more important than to notice every little thing.”
“If you have a routine, you can get something done.”
Aside from her active presence as a community-centered, poetic writer, DeMarko is even better known for her expertise as a seasoned area restaurateur and caterer, and generously shares her passion for both storytelling and food through two applauded cookbooks.
In the early 2000s, DeMarko and her daughter, Mari Josephs of Carmen’s Lunch Bar operated “Juliet’s World Café” located within Apple Market’s Olive Road site. After closing operations in 2006, at the encouragement of dedicated patrons who were eager for their recipes to live on, DeMarko and Josephs wrote a collaborative cookbook titled, “Juliet’s World Café Cookbook.”
Although the South, and the mountains of North Carolina influence many of the recipes, the heart of the influence comes from the country of Spain, where DeMarko previously lived.
Since this first cookbook, again at the encouragement of supporters, DeMarko has written a follow up titled, “Practically Perfect: 46 Years of Hijinks in the Kitchen with Juliet.” The book is what she describes as an “odyssey of catering and cooking” including humorous mishaps that tend to go untold, serving as more of a food memoir.
“Every recipe has a complete story,” she said.
In addition to her poetry, DeMarko will be sharing readings from her cookbooks at Saturday’s event. To accompany the readings, DeMarko has offered to bring along Sangria as well as authentic hors d’oeuvres for the evening, so that individuals are able to get a true taste of both her poetic reflections, as well as her inspired cuisine.
This event is free and open to the public. Donations are accepted for both the Open Books Bookstore Prison Book Project and WFLF. For more information on WFLF, visit wflf.org.
DeMarko’s books can be purchased online at gulfcoastauthor.com. Her cookbooks are also sold locally at Artesana, Celebrations, Seville Quarter Gift Shop, Pensacola Hardware and Apple Market.
AN EVENING WITH POET LAUREATE JULIET DEMARKO
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, August 10; reading begins at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Open Books Bookstore, 1040 N. Guillemard St.
COST: Free; donations accepted
DETAILS: openbookspcola.org or 453-6774