About the poem
Nancy Marguerite Perrin Bailey
was born in Detroit, MI in 1934 to a family of Irish and French Canadian new Americans. She was the first generation of college graduates in her family. She was editor of her high school newspaper (Cooley High School) and interviewed Louis Armstrong during a Detroit tour date. She studied English literature at the University of Michigan where she met her future husband, Walter Bailey. Her brother Larry was an early gay activist and educator. Nancy became an educator and librarian in the late 1960's and retired from The Altamont School in 1992.
The Setting: Birmingham, Alabama Mid 1960's
While I was absorbing the music of Chopin during my mother's playing, a civil rights revolution was taking place nearby. My parents engaged a black housekeeper, Mrs. Elizabeth Chatman who was the first person to bring social justice issues into focus for me, without ever directly addressing the issues overtly. My family was not Southern and we endured discrimination by the white Southern hierarchy. As a result, my best friends were for the most part Jews whose parents were northern transplants, like mine.
Poet In A Land of Football
When I was little, I dreamed of being a nun or a soldier. By the time I was an adolescent, I announced that I was a poet. This was not a surprise to my mother with whom I shared a deep love of poetry. Many nights mother and I read poems to one another in her study. She sat in her reading chair surrounded by stacks of books and Library Journals, the smoke of her Pall Mall cigarettes curling into the lamplight. Although I carried this knowledge and passion for writing poems, it was decades before I could process and embody the craft and art. One of the ironies of being a poet is that there is so little social relevance because such a small segment of the population reads and enjoys poetry. In Alabama, the predominant cultural reference is football and while being a poet is not necessarily at odds with an appreciation of football, the overwhelming focus on football over the arts is devastating to the culture's well being.