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Island Poet

Galveston icon Jim Boone looks back on his amazing career.

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Jim Boone (courtesy photo)

There are very few regions in America that can lay claim to a place as unique as Galveston.

That 27-mile-long, 3-mile-wide Gulf-coast island is exceptional, and Houstonians are fortunate that it is so close. After a short 55-minute drive, we can soak up sunshine on the island’s beaches, consume the freshest seafood, wander the Strand Historic District, Seawall Boulevard, the Pleasure Pier amusement park, or tour some of the most significant Victorian architecture in the country.

The island is also LGBTQ-welcoming, with festivities celebrating the community nearly year-round. Hell, there are even two much-loved gay penguins at Moody Gardens!

So it stands to reason that Galveston would attract equally unusual and interesting people to live there—people who have seen the world and then choose to make Galveston their home. There may be no better example of that than the eccentric and charming U.S. Poet Laureate nominee Jim Boone.

The Baby Poet

Boone was born in McKinney, Texas, outside of Dallas, in 1934. By the age of five, the youngster had outed himself to his parents as a gay boy who was only interested in other males. “My mother told me flatly that we do not say things like that in our house, and we will not discuss it. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut,” Boone remembers. “Then my parents sort of divorced me.”

By his pre-teen years, Boone was inviting adult male visitors to descend into his home’s storm cellar for private interludes. During these occasions, Boone’s mother would simply draw the curtains.

Did Boone feel overpowered or violated by these men? “Well,” he paused for a solid minute, searching for words. “A few were protective of me, and cared. The fact is, I was getting attention. That’s it—I was getting attention! I will add that by my last year in high school, I decided that I would do the choosing, instead.”

The Japanese Connection

In 1960, Boone received a draft notice from the Army. Although a relative taught the young man how to get out of serving, Boone decided the Army offered an intriguing future after he realized he would be elbow-to-elbow with hundreds of other young men. “I had my first four boyfriends in the service,” he laughs. “I didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell. I wasn’t looking for boyfriends, but they showed up nonetheless.”

Notably, Boone spent most of his time serving in Kyoto, Japan, which offered the poet an unusual opportunity. From a very young age, Boone had a strong sense that he had lived four previous lives. He was a geisha girl in one of those lives, which he says happened in the 1800s in Kyoto, Japan.

“My Army time in Japan was fabulous. I spent most of it in a lovely kimono and traditional Japanese wooden sandals, hosting and dining with the troops. It was wonderful. I had returned to my geisha roots!” he states proudly.

After leaving the military, Boone worked for Neiman Marcus prior to his employment with Houston architectural preservationist Bart Truxillo. The former soldier was soon managing a clothing boutique in River Oaks Shopping Center owned by Truxillo’s partner, Dick Merrill.

Quickly recognized for his talent and warm personality, Boone was then asked to manage apartment properties for the couple. Over the next 20 years, the poet lived in Houston, worked with Truxillo and Merrill, and traveled the world.

Return to McKinney

As the 1980s wore on, Boone was losing friend after friend to AIDS as Houston’s LGBTQ community was being shaken to its core, unable to fully mourn one loss before suffering the next.

“I had lived the same way my friends who were dying had lived.” Boone recalls of those dark years in Houston. “I did nothing differently. It occurred to me that I was next, so I decided to return to McKinney so my family could take care of me when I got ill. Yet I never did.

“Instead, I wound up taking care of my mother in her final years, and here I am today. I am alive and well, but suffer from the horrible weight of survivor’s remorse,” Boone states, his voice fading into sadness. “It’s dreadful.”

Surprise! You’re a Poet!

Throughout his unusual life, Boone had been writing poetry. Rarely did he share it with anyone or read it out loud.

After returning to McKinney, the great niece of Boone’s English teacher in elementary school read some of his writing and swooned. The clever woman set up an original poetry reading at the town’s historic Ritz Theater and invited Boone—without telling him that he was the poet who would be presenting. The event was a smashing success, and provided Boone with a new level of confidence. He started publishing his work on several websites and blogs, and amassed quite a following.

“In 2011, I got a call from a gay man I didn’t know in Castroville, Texas. The man said he was going to send my name in to the Library of Congress and nominate me for U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012.

“A few weeks later, I received a letter from the Library of Congress. They had accepted the nomination,” Boone stated quietly.

After the loss of his mother, Boone’s friend Bart Truxillo suggested the poet move into one of Truxillo’s properties on Galveston Island. Boone jumped at the opportunity, and never looked back. It was a glorious fit.

Today, Boone has hundreds of friends on the island, and many are almost as interesting as he is. He has become something of a local celebrity. Galveston’s newspaper even touted his Poet Laureate nomination on the front page of a Sunday edition, above the fold.

He is also the featured poet at the island’s historic Rosenberg Library each April to celebrate Poetry Month. During this extremely successful event, Boone reads his poetry while a multimedia presentation illustrates his words.

Still, at 82, the poet is slowing down. He feels that he has one more trip to New York City in his soul, “without walking any great lengths,” he adds. “I want to see one more Broadway show—To Kill a Mockingbird with Jeff Daniels. Then I would reserve a table at 54 Below (located in the basement of the old Studio 54) to see my dear friend Marilyn Maye’s show. She’s 91 years old and still performing!

“Then I would love to visit the Stonewall Inn and the Stonewall Memorial Park located across the street. That should do it. That would end my bucket list nicely,’ Boone concludes with a smile.

 

To read some of Jim Boone’s poetry, go to www.poemhunter.com/jim-boone.

This article appears in the July 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Kim Hogstrom

Kim Hogstrom is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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