Hazel Belk wrote her first poem, “Inner Peace,” when she was 30, then she secreted it away in a drawer.
“It was very personal,” Belk says, “so I just tucked it away, thinking I might share it later. I was kind of like Pearl Buck with her love poems she kept secret for a long time.”
For the next 60 years, Belk put pen to paper on several other occasions, but the poems always ended up in other drawers or pushed into the pages of old books and bibles.
She usually shared her inspirational messages with Warren, her husband, but for many years their son, Larry, had no clue his mother was a closet poet. Neither did the Belks’ friends.
“I kept it secret for a long time,” Hazel says.
Now 90 and making a strong recovery from a recent bout with pneumonia, Hazel Belk saw a personal dream come true last summer when she self-published her first book, “Poems of Hope, Inspiration & Power.”
The $8.99 soft-cover book includes 39 poems, including 16 related to hope, 12 to inspiration and 11 to power. Belk’s strong Christian faith comes through in her collection.
It took her nine months to gather all the poems she had written in longhand through the years, read them again, do some editing, type them onto manuscript pages and pen several new poems to fill our her 45-page book.
“That was my baby — it took me nine months,” Belk says.
It’s not meant, of course, to be a best-seller, but it’s an achievement Belk revels in and an important legacy she can now leave behind for the people close to her.
Warren, her chief encourager for 67 years, was able to celebrate the book with Hazel before his death Dec. 13.
Born in Danville, Va., Hazel moved to Kannapolis with her family when she was three months old, and she has lived here ever since. A business course in high school led to land a job with Cannon Mills for six years.
She and Warren met before World War II and decided to put off marriage until the war was over. Warren Belk served with the U.S. Navy until his discharge in December 1945. The couple were married Dec. 15 of that year.
Warren would work 45 years for Cannon Mills, rising to packing director. When their son, Larry, was 13, Hazel decided to return to the workforce.
She honed her secretarial skills by taking courses at North State Business College in office machines, typing and shorthand. For 20 years, Hazel worked in the women’s department at the Cannon YMCA, followed by five additional years for a local finance company.
Hazel also taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church in Kannapolis for 54 years. Outside of her quiet hobby of writing poetry, Belk did plenty of good cooking, reading, sewing and entertaining, she says.
She recalls winning a four-day trip to the beach one year for her Japanese fruitcake recipe, chosen as the winner in a contest held by the local newspaper.
“I had to cook them a cake and take it up there,” Belk says, laughing.
Balboa Press of Indiana is publisher for her book, which can be ordered from Balboa or through online book sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Some of Belk’s poems were first published in her late 80s when they were part of yearly anthologies compiled by Eber & Wein Publishing, also of Indiana.
Belk was invited to submit poems for those books after she entered an online poetry contest. She has poems in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 anthologies and in a coffee table book.
Warren strongly encouraged her to self-publish a book of poems and said he would pay for it.
In late 2012, Hazel was hospitalized with her pneumonia. She had just been discharged and moved to the Brian Center to start her recovery when Warren died.
At the Brian Center, Hazel says, she was able to regain her strength and some much needed weight.
Hazel Belk’s poems often touch on the hope, inspiration and power one can find through nature, but they also find their way home to God, blessings and prayer.
When she wrote her first poem 60 years ago, she says, “I had come to the realization of what Jesus had been doing in my life.”
That feeling — and the need to express it — never left her.
Hazel continues to write her poems. Her latest have focused on a nurse and her recent stay at the Brian Center.
Hazel’s favorite poem, “Answered Prayer,” did not make it into “Poems of Hope, Inspiration and Power,” which has caused her to do some thinking.
“I may still be doing another book,” she says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.