MANATEE COUNTY — East County resident Carroll Barnhill eases onto a wooden swing on his back porch, his black dog, Cracker, near his feet, and turns over in his hands a copy of his newest venture — a self published book of poems called “The Cracker Poemer Collection.”
“I never really thought anything about how good (the poems) were,” says Barnhill, who started writing poems at 71 years old. “I just do them for fun. People seem to like them. They’re silly little poems.”
The anthology includes more than 150 poems about Barnhill’s friends and family and stories of life and pictures of them to go with it.
After more than a year of working with the publisher Xulon Press, Barnhill’s 152-page book is available on Amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble Booksellers in paperback for about $13 and hardback for about $24.
Barnhill also is selling copies himself.
“I like to say the books are actually free, but it costs $25 for me to sign it,” he quips. “If I don’t, when you open the book, all the pages will go blank.”
Now 77 years old, Barnhill didn’t start writing poems until 2004 after a 2-year-old colt bucked him off the day before Thanksgiving. The spill left the then 71-year-old with a fractured pelvis, but he jokes it may have served a better purpose.
“I like to tell a little story,” he says, chuckling. “When I hit the (ground) it rattled my brain, and finally once in my life, lined up my brain cells straight.”
One night not too long after, as Barnhill drifted to sleep with the television glowing in the background, a rhyme began to form in his mind: They wore Levis and smile and ride pickup trucks. To get one, you’ll really have wonderful luck.
“As soon as I lay down, my head started to spin,” Barnhill says, noting the phrase played in his mind over and over again and became his first poem, titled “Horse Girls.” “It kinda woke me up. I thought, I’ll make a note of that.”
The next morning, as Barnhill poured his coffee and pulled on his work boots, he saw his note, and the rest of the poem soon was born. Barnhill couldn’t wait to share his new poem with the “horse girls” about whom it was written.
In addition to the poems that just come to mind, Barnhill also has written and/or read poems at the request of friends for special occasions and even funerals, such as the one held March 7 for Melbourne’s Dr. Samuel Ridout, whom Barnhill knew from his days with the Central Florida Horseman Association.
“One thing after another has inspired me to write poems,” Barnhill says, pointing out a few poems — such as one about his parents, his son, John, and others.
Those same friends, however, continually told Barnhill he should publish his poems one day. His friend Joyce Scinta, who has been instrumental in the development of the book, was one of them.
“Being the old cracker that I am, I’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it one day’ — knowing full well I wouldn’t do it,” Barnhill says. “I can do e-mails, but that’s about it.”
However, after about a year of prodding, Scinta offered to help Barnhill begin the publishing process.
“It wasn’t to get him out there for any type of fame,” Scinta says. “It’s just he had so much to say in his poems. They were so thoughtful and personal. It would have been a shame not to have them in some sort of book, an official record.
“He takes such pleasure out of reading them and writing them for people,” she says.
Barnhill says the book wouldn’t have happened with out Scinta, or his friend Shirley Dietz, who has, during the last seven years, graciously typed up each of Barnhill’s poems.
“She’s probably the only person in the world who can decipher my handwriting,” Barnhill says.
He also thanks Shannon Lewis, who created the sketches, and many others who encouraged him along the way.
Barnhill said he hopes to raise $1 million for the Disabled American Veterans organizations through book sales, of which he is donating a $1 per book to the organization. He also plans to send his information to Bill O’Reilly and hopes to appear on his television show as a way to help raise funds for the charity.
“I know it’s far-fetched, but sometimes it happens,” Barnhill says, grinning. “If you don’t try, you don’t know. It’s like racing horses. You can’t win if you don’t put him in the race.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
‘The Cracker Poemer Collections’
AVAILABILITY: Barnes and Noble Booksellers and Amazon.com
DONATION: Barnhill will donate $1 of every book sale goes to the Disabled American Veterans organization.