IT’S SAFE to say that Danelle Lejeune’s passions all came together on Georgia’s coast because of bacon.
A poet, photographer, farmer, teacher, historic preservationist and mother, she has many passions to weave together. So this is a porcine puzzle.
Lejeune came to my attention through social media. She connected with me on Facebook. And I started noticing her work, specifically her photography.
“Photographs often have to have a whole narrative and an explanation with the artist explaining it to you,” she says of her camera style. “And that story is nice. But I also want my artwork to hold on its own and be timeless and not be attached to that story.”
Lejeune’s images, shared on Facebook and Instagram and published in various journals, are beautiful, haunting, intimate, momentary, often lonely and always well-composed. When I found out that she’s also a poet, well, sit me down on the front porch of her life!
The way she tells it, her career with pork began in rural Iowa, when her daughter was 18 months old and she started thinking about “going organic” for her new family’s health. She raised two pigs, then four, then 16, then 60, which turned into a genuine business.
“We made bacon out of the cheeks of the pig,” she says of the operation, which allowed her to secure about 85% of her food from local sources about an hour south of Des Moines. “We would advertise that we eat everything from the smile to the tail of the pig.”
She started taking photographs for Iowa’s Historic Preservation Office, traveling isolated roads to document old buildings when her first career interest was architectural history.
Her organically-eating kids became a “mommy blog,” the seeds of her writing career.
And then, somewhere in the dust, she heard about Georgia’s Ossabaw Island. Why? Pigs, of course.
Ossabaw Island pigs are a unique and delicious legacy of 16th Century Spanish explorers. She hatched a plan to visit Ossabaw Island, applying to a writer’s retreat.
“We came up with this idea that I would go and I would write a cookbook,” she says, supposing “mommy blog” wouldn’t get her in.
“But they didn’t have cookbook category. So I submitted a poetry portfolio from my undergrad year. And then I got accepted.”
The poetry was a fluke, a ruse, you might say. But then something interesting happened there between pig walks overlooking the Ogeechee.
Folks at the writer’s retreat liked her poems and extracted from her a promise that she would submit them to journals.
And she was published! And published again! She started submitting photographs and they were published, too.
Generally speaking, both strains of her creativity, wordy and visual, draw on her life’s interests: farming, history, architecture and, of course, her kids.
She got the kids, two girls and a boy, in a divorce that separated her from Iowa. There wasn’t any doubt about where she’d move.
“There’s an artist community here that has welcomed me and encouraged me to thrive and push me to publish, invited me to literary readings, gathered on my front porch,” she says of our area. “A sense of belonging, like I should’ve been living here my whole life.”
She’s now teaching at Armstrong, restoring a beautiful 1876 home in Liberty County and awaiting the publication of her first book, “Etymology of Whale-Fish and Grace,” due out next year.
And yes, she’s planning to farm again, bees and pears, in the backyard.
But no, no pigs anymore. She doesn’t have the time! She’s a literary mama now, salt marsh in her lungs. Find her work online at PotboilerPoetry.com.