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The gift of well-chosen words

Jun 19, 2016 11:12AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Jill Kimmelman has been a reader and writer since she was 4 years old.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

When Jill Kimmelman was just 4 years old, there was really no doubt that she would become a writer.

“I was a voracious reader as a young kid. I was reading at the age of 4,” Kimmelman said recently at the longtime home of her mother and stepfather in Greenville.

Growing up on a sprawling farm in New Jersey with her parents, cousins and grandparents in close proximity, Kimmelman would sometimes stay at her grandparents' house. “I would sleep over at their house and I would have a pencil in my hand, and my little notebook. My grandmother would say, 'I cannot let you sleep with the pencil.' And I'd say, 'No! What if I wake up and have something to write down?'” Kimmelman said, laughing. “I did the 'Harriet the Spy' thing, hide behind the sofa and listen to conversations, and I wrote them down and printed a little newspaper and sold it to my family.”

Kimmelman performed plays and directed her cousins in performances for her family. She excelled in school as part of a program for independent learners. “We got to read and learn about things that weren't going to come along in regular school for years to come,” she recalled. “We were reading 'Julius Caesar' and 'The Odyssey,' and learning about caribou in Alaska, that kind of stuff.”

Later, at Moorestown High School, Kimmelman was the editor of the school newspaper, and wrote for the school's literary magazine. All along, she kept a journal and wrote poems when she could.

She went to Douglas, the women's college of Rutgers University, and majored in women's studies. “It was American studies and literature. I had dreams of being a writer. I had always thought that I would probably go to law school,” she said. “My dad thought that I'd be a great lawyer.”

She transferred to hotel school at Widener University because she loved pulling together all the details of a catered event. “It was the first year that they were doing this program,” she said. “It was based on the program that Cornell had.”

She married a man who worked as an executive chef, and eventually founded her own business, Catering By Jill, based in Richmond, Va. “We'd make desserts in my apartment,” she said. “I had an extra refrigerator in my guest room. We started out selling desserts to restaurants, and grew into a very trendy, upscale company. I got to do a lot of really fun theme parties. I loved it.”

Her writing took a back seat to her catering career, and Kimmelman had a son when she was 28. After a divorce, she found a job as the assistant to the owner of a Chicago caterer who handled events attended by Princess Diana, among many others; and she also worked as a food stylist and upscale craft services provider for movie shoots, including “My Best Friend's Wedding” with Julia Roberts.

Sidelined by illness, Kimmelman found that writing kept calling her back. Since the 1990s, she has been honing her craft, turning out carefully constructed poems on subjects as diverse as rape, the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and simple slice-of-life works that have a deep resonance.

“They pretty much run the gamut. I try to be diverse,” she said. “I have an illness that results in chronic pain, but I don't define myself as a patient. I think I've written one poem, at someone's request, about what it's like to live with pain. But I really don't focus on that.

“People think it's cool to be a writer, but they don't know how hard it is,” she said. “It's like when I was a caterer and running things smoothly. People didn't realize what went into planning a 'Great Gatsby' party, complete with a yellow Rolls-Royce. I had a blast when I was doing food. I miss it. Maybe that's why, every once in a while, you'll see food appear in one of my poems.”

In one of her favorite works, “Dancing in the Kitchen,” Kimmelman gets to the heart of a longtime relationship with a few well-chosen details. “It's based on a real couple, although when I wrote it, I didn't know that,” she said. “When I finished it, after 28 hours, I realized it was about longtime friends of my parents.”

Kimmelman is often on Fanstory.com, a site where writers offer their works and trade advice on writing and revising. “It gets you to build your confidence, because it's for critique. It's not about 'Oh, what a lovely poem,' it's about honest feedback. It's extremely helpful,” she said.

The life of a poet is not a lucrative one, Kimmelman admitted. “I've got a rejection letter from The Atlantic. But then, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Emily Dickinson got rejected by The Atlantic, so I'm in good company,” she said with a grin.

“I got a phone call once from somebody at The New Yorker who said they were an associate editor. She said, 'I just want to tell you that your poem, 'I Am Your Daughter,' isn't like anything I've ever read, and I'm going to encourage the magazine to accept it. But I'm leaving, and I don't think I'm going to be able to help you.'”

Kimmelman and her fiance, Tim, have just built a website (www.jillspoetry.com) as an online home for her works. “I still write almost daily,” she said. “It is a commitment. I have an old, original iPad from 2010, and it's dying, but it still lets me write.”

Her working process is precise, because “each word is like a jewel,” she said. “You have to place each word, and not have an extra word. In many ways, it's about the economy of the language. I'm not an artist, but I draw images for people with words.”

Kimmelman points to her poem “Martini” as “my yardstick for the longest time. I knew when I wrote it that it was so different from anything I'd ever written. It stays as one of my favorites.”

She also singled out “Rapscallion's Gifts” as a favorite. “It's about someone who never had a childhood. I wanted to show somebody how to give that childhood back, by digging into mine,” she said. “So there are references such as Easy Bake Ovens and toys that kids don't play with anymore. I've written some sensual poems, too, and I'll read to my mom, and she says, 'That's enough. I get the idea,'” Kimmelman said, laughing.

In the case of “December 14, 2012,” about the Connecticut school shootings, “it wasn't about how I felt about it,” she said. “It was about how we can help. I had to write it. What was important was saying, as a nation, that we need to help these people for as long as they need that help. And someday they're going to get to a point where they're strong enough to have these memories and survive.”

The pull of the creative urge is a familiar feeling, she said. “When I need to write something, it's almost like and ESP kind of thing where you're shaking inside, you may not sleep for a night or so,” she said. “You know that something needs to come out, but you can't make it happen any faster. Then you sit down and it happens, and there you are. It's done, in its own time. And then you're fine.”

For more information, visit www.jillspoetry.com.

Dancing In The Kitchen

(Sixty years together)

They dance in the kitchen

like movie stars from 1939

With her eyes closed,
she imagines herself to be this man's siren
all heady scents,
fiery hair
and
throaty whispers

She could be a star of the silver screen
Alabaster wrists and swan neck
flashing emeralds and rubies
The whisper of her caresses
delivered by hands in long satin gloves

With his eyes shut
he could be the UPS man
Twenty five years old
in summer shorts
flashing a devil of a smile
His lips deliver a commanding brush
of sea-deep kisses
that rock her
from
her toes to her cerebellum
and back again...

There is music
A solo saxophone
drifting in through the open windows
soul-stirring
on
a cool and scented breeze

Icy cocktails are produced
As smooth as slipping skin
he removes her gloves
allowing her fingers
to
graze the rim of her frosted glass,
pluck a briny glistening olive,
and
place it between his teeth...

It's a shabby room
scuffed up floors,
a patched screen door
and
counter-tops in avocado green

He washes... she dries
that's the way it's always been
Sweet tea and ice cold beer
to toast
another perfect sunset

As if he arranged it all
just for her pleasure,
his face crinkles with
that funny lopsided smile
she knows so well

He fiddles with an old black radio
Slow sweet jazz fills the kitchen
spilling into every corner
Crossing the room
he takes her hand

Sixty years of Saturday nights
still dancing in the kitchen


December 14, 2012

(Today We Grieve As One Family)

A Prayer For Mothers and Fathers

Where will they turn

our nation of heartbroken souls?
Who will come to heal the parents
of these children?
What prayers and even individual words
can we offer
to help heal hearts
that are already etched
with forever pain?

Tears fall today
and
for a thousand tomorrows

One day
one hour at a time
a thing impossible
to imagine
here and now...

There will be a memory
of an impish grin on the face
of a red-haired charmer
in a pink dress
or
the image of a devilish smile
in the green eyes of
a seven year old
squirming on Santa's lap

Ten thousand more memory pictures will
some day
in a distant future
overflow our hearts and minds
and
then we will find
that we can pause
in our grief
to celebrate
the gift of every single one of
our children


Martini

(Is she real or a dream?)

Morning

his desk was overflowing
displaced files
heaving stacks of mail
the product of
an overworked fax machine
and
everywhere pink pages
of unanswered messages
what to do with
all these papers
now that her heady scent
was everywhere?

There was barely room
for one martini glass
deep blue with three olives
on a crystal stick

He had never known
such a powerful thirst
words like
slake and slay
danced in his head
confusing him
mocking his efforts
to offer himself
to her

It was quite clear
she did not need his help
she had climbed
atop his desk
and
here she sat
last night's
laughing
tender
darling
little
whore
shredding the satin ribbons
of her dancing shoes
and
twirling the beads of
amber and topaz
that decorated her chest


Perhaps

if he squinted
he might see her better

was she fair or dark?
a sleek cap of auburn hair
and green green eyes

He thought her lovely
a pose of something distant
like a wish...

She had not existed before
the first martini
he drank the third martini
from her shoe
draining every precious drop of gin
while chanting her name
over and over
whispering reverently the song of
his new mantra

What must he look like so early
on this
the morning of
his longest night?

He said her name
again and again
it was a sing-song tonic
that made him cry out

He must
find a way to keep her
all to himself
he could write his name
across her thigh
scribble a bit of a heart
behind her knee
cover her in an avalanche of
pink papers
or
keep her hidden
beneath his desk

Now he wonders
what shall he do?
how should he begin
one more time?


To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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