Former Joliet resident Cele Bona’s published her first book of poetry last year at the age of 83.
But her love of words began before Bona could see over the top of an ironing board.
Bona’s mother once studied elocution. And as she ironed, Bona’s mother would recite the pieces she’d learned in high school, introducing Bona to the enchantment of story, metaphor, meter and rhyme, Bona said.
“These were later echoed in years of dancing lessons where my body sang to rhythm and sound – to the poetry of tap,” Bona wrote in the author’s note in her chapbook, “Tilt-A-Whirl on the Farm.”
A year later, most of the hullaballoo surrounding the release of Bona’s book has dimmed. But she did amass some impressive reviews, including one from Marilyn L. Taylor, Wisconsin poet laureate emerita and one from Bruce Guernsey, editor emeritus of The Spoon River Poetry Review.
Bona credits the Joliet area with providing her earliest writing inspirations. In fact, her grandfather had started Briick’s Meat Market, she said.
In her author’s note, Bona said she grew up on a farm just outside Joliet. During a phone conversation, Bona said the street’s name was Greengold and it’s now located in Crest Hill.
Bona said her childhood home was small, but it was surrounded by “open land, fields of corn and soy, a hill to sled down, ice to skate on, Grandpa’s garden to dig in, a ‘Tree of Heaven’ to climb and read in, a rooster to wake me, my senses anchored and alert to the natural world.”
In addition, Bona’s mother inspired a love for stories by reading to Bona from a big book full of fairy tales.
“I tried to write short stories in grade school,” Bona said. “They were pretty bad.”
Later, as a student at the former St. Francis Academy in Joliet, the first words Bona read in her classroom each day were pinned on a bulletin board: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” from “Endymion” by John Keats.
But not until Bona was in her 40s and enrolled in The Program for Writers at the University of Illinois Chicago did she switch from writing fiction, where she continued to struggle, to poetry. Bona had just happened to glance down at her notebook and saw several of the poems she’d jotted there.
“Oh! I think I’m in the wrong place,” Bona recalled of that moment. “So then I changed my registration to the poetry section, and it was wonderful. I just followed my intuition.”
What made Bona even enroll in a writing program? Well, she has a cottage at Lake Geneva. The idea came one day while Bona was sitting at a pier reading “The World According to Garp” by John Irving.
“I closed the book, stood and said, ‘I’m going to enroll,’” Bona said.
Since that time, Bona has taught creative writing as an adjunct professor at the College of DuPage, at the Hinsdale Center for the Arts and the Women’s Exchange in Winnetka. She has also held her own writing worships through the years, including at various senior centers.
In some of her workshops, Bona has focused using writing for “releasing things” and for self-therapy.
“A lot of good writing came out of it,” Bona said.
Bona is still writing poetry and hopes to publish another book one day. Another creative outlet is gardening, although, at 85, Bona is gardening more out of pots than in her yard these days.
“I’m not the greatest gardener but I always try,” Bona said. “Every year I’d bring in my geraniums and begonias – we have a three seasons room – and they’d bloom all winter.”
Two of Bona’s favorite poems are “Holding the Moon Between My Legs” (“I was in rapture and the words just flowed,” she said) and the title piece, “Tilt-A-Whirl on the Farm,” which was inspired by an actual event while having lunch at a friend’s house.
“The whole poem is exactly what I experienced at the time,” Bona said. “And then it goes off in a magical way.”
Bona’s chapbook is available at the Finishing Line Press website and will be reviewed in the LocalLit newsletter next week. To subscribe to the free newsletter, visit shawlocal.com/the-herald-news/newsletter/#//.