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Barrow resident publishes fourth book of poetry

BETHLEHEM - Dana Wildsmith has burned her cardboard moving boxes.

The daughter of a minister and husband of a man who made his career in the Navy, Wildsmith has never lived anywhere for more than six years.

But Wildsmith, who teaches English as a Second Language at Lanier Tech and has just published her fourth book of poetry, is making a permanent home in Barrow County.

Her most recent book, "One Good Hand," has its roots in Barrow. In the book, she writes about her two dogs, the 1870s cotton barn she and her husband have converted into a home, the land they tend to, and even her Lanier Tech students.

Wildsmith's students come from all over the globe - from Cambodia, Liberia, Ukraine, Portugal and a plethora of Spanish-speaking countries. Most of her students cannot pronounce her first name - they have trouble with the two sounds the "A" makes - and instead call her teacher, or maestra.

Even though Wildsmith did not intend to teach ESL, she said it is not much different from the creative writing classes she asked Lanier Tech director Lisa Maloof if she could teach at the school several years ago.

"It's pretty much the same thing," she said. "You're dealing with words. We do a lot of essay writing. It's the best way to grasp a language."

Wildsmith still works as a writer in residence in schools across the country, teaching middle schoolers about poetry. She said she did not begin writing seriously until she was in her 30s.

Her poems are concerned with society, from water and wildflowers to the working poor. She said she wants people to think more deeply after they've read her work and described herself as an activist poet who does things quietly.

"I don't want to write rants and turn people off," she said. "The issue of change can easily alienate people."

Wildsmith moved to the barn across a dirt road from the farmhouse her mother lives in in 2000. She looks over the land, has turned an adjacent feed corn building into a study, wants to rebuild the property's smokehouse and spends some days removing privet from her property and reintroducing wildflowers native to the area.

One of her poems, "Making a Living," was featured on the National Public Radio show "The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor" last month. Wildsmith said reactions to her poetry have been positive, from the e-mails she got after the poem was on NPR to Barrow residents who have read her work.

Wildsmith has also started work on a nonfiction book about growth and the old farm, a subject she touched upon a good deal in "One Good Hand." After finishing the book of poetry, she realized she still had more to say about the matter.

Her three previous books are "Alchemy," "Annie" and "Our Bodies Remember."

Despite her nomadic life so far, Wildsmith said she appreciates the fact that she has a past in Barrow, the only place she's ever lived twice.

"It's a really neat thing to live somewhere where someone knew you before, where you have some history," she said. "It'll be strange when I've lived here for seven years, but I'm very happy to be settled here."

For more information about Wildsmith's poetry, see www.danawildsmith.com.