By: Ahmad Graves-El
MILLVILLE, N.J. — Quiet as it’s kept, Cumberland County has long been fertile ground for artists and entrepreneurs of all kinds to ply their trades in a welcoming environment. As one local hip hop lyricist stated in a song dedicated to South Jersey, this is an area where, “… undiscovered jewels are unearthed.”
One of those local jewels, who shines brightly in the field of poetry as well as other entrepreneurial endeavors, is Rebecca Bonham.
Bonham, a lifelong resident of the county, is a dedicated disciple of the literary arts and has worked diligently to help people find strength and comfort in the power of words. She runs a successful, highly regarded monthly poetry event called Resurgence at Bogart’s Books & Cafe, in Millville, and is also co-owner of Blue Jade Press, LLC.
“What I’m looking for and what I enjoy reading and also publishing and sharing with people are personal stories about themselves,” Bonham said, regarding the essence of her literary ventures.
Resurgence made its debut in July of 2017, filling the void left when the popular poetry showcase, Poetry on High, hosted by former Millville resident, Rita Lyman, came to an end in 2015, after a nine-year run.
According to its Facebook page, Resurgence, “… include[s] a writing workshop, feature author speaker, and open mic.” The event takes place every third Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.
One of Bonham’s goals as host of the event is to open the minds of people who’ve only viewed poetry through a narrow scope.
“A lot of people think that poetry is written by old white men, and it’s not,” she explained. “They think about Eurocentric, pre-20th century poets. When you say what does a poet look like, people say Shakespeare, or Thoreau, or Hemingway or Jane Austen. […] “There’s so much more than that.”
When the names Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni were mentioned as distinguished 20th century poets, Bonham noted, wistfully, “Most people don’t think about those [poets].”
“I want to try to get as many different, diverse authors that I can,” she added.
When Bonham speaks of diversity, she’s not only referring to the hue of one’s skin, but also in style and subject matter.
“I like to mix up the genres,” she said. “I have people that have Masters in writing and do this as a career. I also have people who have been truck drivers their whole lives and [are also] amazing poets on the side.”
Resurgence has also become a safe haven for people with disabilities to feel empowered while sharing their experiences through the written word.
“Some have mental illness,” Bonham revealed. “I have someone with autism that comes and when they’re behind the mic, when they’re behind their words, it’s a different experience for them. […] They feel included. They feel accepted. They feel like they’re a part of this group.”
While she volunteers her time to put on Resurgence events, as co-owner of Blue Jade Press with lifelong friend, Jacqueline Griner, Bonham shared the lofty dreams they hope to achieve through their independent publishing company.
“We want to do book fairs. There’s the Collingswood Book Fair we’d like to be involved in,” she said.
Bonham stated that Blue Jade Press is in the process of cooking up something marvelous for those who have an appetite for reading.
“We’re in the works of trying to set up a book fair in Millville to have independent publishers and authors come down and read.”
The company has been in talks with several Glasstown Arts District luminaries such as Maryann Kuntz, Diane Rogers, Marianne Lods, and more in attempts to bring the literary event to Cumberland County.
“I look for something to come to fruition either for spring of this year or fall of 2021.”
In the meantime, Blue Jade Press recently published its first two books as a fledgling independent publishing company in September of 2019.
One is the novel Words of Our Enemies, by Bruce Colbert, of New York, and the second is Renting Superman, a poetry book by local author, Robert A. Geise.
“Blue Jade Press came out of my love of doing Resurgence,” Bonham recalled. “And, I wanted to really be able to give that chance for people that [can’t] get published by Simon & Schuster or Scholastic.”
An accomplished writer in her own right, Bonham is also in the process of coming out with her own book, heavily influenced by the area in which she was born and raised.
“It’s called Model Poet. It’s a poetry anthology,” Bonham, a Bridgeton native, revealed. “The theme is life and art and experience in South Jersey.”
Bonham, who has actively shied away from the spotlight, discovered something revelatory about herself while putting the poems she’s penned — spanning two decades — together for her anthology.
“Writing my own book […] kind of made me fall in love with Cumberland County again,” she declared. “Model Poet allowed me to revisit places from my past both physically and metaphorically [to] see how far I’ve come, with the support of the community. When I stopped hiding, I found support.”
Rogers, executive director of the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts, is one of many community members who support Bonham for the positive vibes she brings to the area.
“We invited her to do the Cumberland County Teen Arts Festival,” said Rogers. “She hosted an open mic to do poetry, music, [etc.], to allow students [the opportunity] to express themselves. It was a nice addition for the Teen Arts Festival and [we] hope to have her back.”
According to crystalvaults.com, “Blue Jade is a talisman of peace and serenity. It calms and restores, like a veil of slow moving clouds covering the moon.”
For Bonham, the healing stone “[…] symbolizes tranquility, acceptance, pursuing your dreams.”
With Blue Jade Press, LLC., and a Resurgence of poetry occurring in Millville, Bonham is quietly lifting the veil uncovering the shining light of literary arts to be experienced by all.
“I want to be diverse. I want to be accepting and I want to be inclusive,” Bonham said. “That’s what Blue Jade Press is all about.”
For more information about Blue Jade Press and Resurgence, visit bluejadepress.com.