Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

A young writer & musician draws strength from history: Jeffrey L. Buford Jr.

Jeffrey L. Buford Jr. is my guest today on Riehlife. He grew up on the banks of the muddy Mississippi River on my father’s property. He’s a growing writer and musician. Here is our conversation. --Janet
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Riehlife: Tell us about your writing path so far.

Jeffrey: Through writing about history and politics I found an effective and satisfying way to create my poetry.

I plucked the stems of politics and history from my own awareness to build a bridge between myself and my lost generation.

I’ve submitted countless short-stories and novellas over the years. The rejection slips piled up. I did not despair. I continued to write as much as I could about the world and I knew I could never write about it all. But, I felt married to the idea of exciting people about the ability to challenge the social scene in America.

Riehlife: Tell us about your music and how it developed.

Jeffrey: I followed many paths that had been cut before me, but I also found enough courage to walk down my own. In 2005, after struggling to find a piano, a local church donated a piano to me and I learned to play.

The piano allowed me to express my concerns through music as well as poetry. It was a rewarding discovery. Now I don’t have enough room for my piano. My fingers ache everyday to touch a key.

Riehlife: My father and older sister Julia encouraged with your writing.

Jeffrey: I do not believe I would have continued to find tranquility and free expression within my poetry without the guidance and belief of both Erwin and Julia Thompson. Julia wanted to read my work, and knew I was tremendously timid.

However, I allowed her to read my first book of poetry. I worried that she wouldn’t like it, but she did. Her compassion and knowledge of poetics surprised me, and became an inspiration over the years.

After her tragic death, I did not allow anyone to read my poetry for many years. I decided to act locally, writing columns and feature articles for The Alton Telegraph.

Riehlife: Tell us what you’re working on now.

Jeffrey: After publishing in The Alton Telegraph, I decided to work on, “Man in the Middle,”my own collection of verses and prose. I published three fictional tales with independently owned publishing companies. I decided to alter my tone, diction, and meaning.

I want my writing to inspire folks to believe in the unity of family, history, music, and celebration. However, the poetry I write also has a deep melancholic aroma to it. Living in poverty most of my life, I saw many things that weighed heavily on my heart over the years as well as economic prejudice.

Riehlife: What accounts for your love of old things—your house in Alton, the songs of Woodie Guthrie?

Jeffrey: Since I was a young child, I found myself captivated by those who lived before me as well as the historical elements that surfaced during those times. The ghost of nostalgia has always been with me and I imagine it always will.

In a rather profound way, I believe we have an obligation to examine history and utilize it as a torch to light the path of the future. I know such a fire is flickering and I cannot imagine what would occur it it were to burn out. There is an eloquent complexity in old things that cannot be seen today. Living in my house, built in 1850, I feel as if I am connected to the times. I need that.

My adoration for Woody Guthrie, as well as the folk music scene of the early 1930s and early 1940s came from the struggle of freedom of speech and the utilization of civil rights.

Guthrie, among others, were both courageous and heroic. After listening to A Hard Rain's A- Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan, I knew a torch had been passed down to a new generation. I am interested in these beautiful gifts of empowerment and strength.

Dylan went out to compose the most inventive and mysterious songs in music history. We owe a considerable amount of respect to these men and women who have fought the idea of "perfectionism" and "conformity" in America when it was unpopular and dangerous.

If Guthrie had not worked tirelessly to spread an idea of unity and peace, Dylan would not have stepped up and sang, Blowin' in the Wind during Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.

The interconnectedness of history is where my heart sleeps.

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