Guest blogger, Gina Sangster, makes a connection with poet Jody Bolz.
I had heard Jody Bolz read in a small gathering at George Washington University where she taught creative writing for many years before becoming the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest literary magazine in the United States. I heard her read again in May at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. I found a seat up front and introduced myself to Ms. Bolz, reminding her of the GWU reading which featured poems related to her father’s Alzheimer’s Disease. We talked about the interesting mix of participants at that reading, both writers and health professionals. I explained that I’m both a clinical social worker and a writer. Shameless self-promotion? Strategic networking? Call it what you like; our conversation flowed nicely and she sounded almost a little apologetic that not all worthy submissions to Poet Lore could be accepted, explaining that she and her co-editor, E. Ethelbert Miller, sitting nearby, actually read every single poem. I was sympathetic: how could they possibly publish every good poem? Poet Lore only comes out twice a year! When she asked me to remind her of my last name, I gave her my card.
At the start of her reading, Ms. Bolz admitted she hadn’t known that May is designated Jewish American Heritage month, but she was pleased to discover that a good number of her poems fit nicely into a Jewish culture motif. She had also done some research and shared with us that a significant number of Poets Laureate have been Jewish, along with an illustrious line of famous comedians. She speculated that this phenomenon could be attributed to the Jewish history of displacement as well as the primacy of the written word in the rituals that form the backbone of Jewish home life. The stereotypical chaos of a Jewish home with everyone speaking simultaneously at top volume might also have something to do with the emergence of so many writers, the studious children in the family trying to make sense of the cacophony.
The poems Ms. Bolz chose to read followed the arc of a lifespan, beginning with “The Naming” which has been used by others in child-naming ceremonies; continuing with “First Born,” followed by a longer poem entitled ”Lines of Work” based on the poet’s discovery of a portion of her own mother’s adolescent life and imagination. A number of Ms. Bolz’s poems related to what she called “the ideal of the home,” a cherished principle in Jewish culture; several of these poems have been published in the Anthology of Jewish Women Writers.
Jody Bolz’s poetry is intensely personal and accessible, drawing the listener or reader into her life and her world in a way that invites inclusion and empathy. There were times during the reading when Ms. Bolz appeared touched by the emotion of her own words and the memories they evoked – of her children when they were small, of her mother’s death, of her firstborn grandchild. At the same time, the careful craft of her writing and the strength of her delivery upheld these intimate vignettes on a sturdy foundation of deliberate language both written and spoken. At the end, she invited the audience to sign up for a subscription to Poet Lore and to peruse the back table with works by authors such as Maxine Kumin, Allen Ginsburg and Stanley Kunitz. There were a few copies for sale of Jody Bolz’s latest collection, A Lesson in Narrative Time. I was glad I had gotten a few moments with Ms. Bolz early in the evening as I watched a steady line of fans gather around her. I’m still deciding which poems of mine I’ll be putting in the mail to Poet Lore, one more time.
Gina Sangster, a writer and clinical social worker, is a native Washingtonian and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University as well as an MSW from Catholic University. Her work has been published in The Potomac Review (Summer 1995), The Hill Rag, The Networker, The New Directions Journal and The Washington Post, among others. Gina has participated in Open Mic events at Bus Boys and Poets and the Potters House.