Monday, April 9, 2012

The Gift of Noticing: A Profile of Jody Bolz

The Gift of Noticing: A Profile of Jody Bolz
by Caitlin Cushman

Jody Bolz was three years old when she dictated a poem to her grandmother, a Russian Jew with limited English. The result was incomprehensible, but one thing became clear: Jody was a poet.

High school soured poetry with its overanalysis and she flirted instead with fiction—anything to tell a story—until Cornell’s A.R. Ammons brought her back to poetry for life. He told her, “Poetry is really just paying attention, isn’t it?”

It took her nearly two decades to fully unpack that sentiment, but she came away with an important assessment of the craft that consumed her: Poetry is a way of paying back the world for the gift of noticing. Having worked with Jody and experienced both the mentor and the editor, I’ve seen her talent for noticing, for paying attention, and the ways she’s chosen to thank the world for her gifts, leaving the rest of us richer for knowing her.

My favorite part of working with Jody on Poet Lore was sharing in the detailed conversations between her and our poets. Yes, in a move seldom made by today’s beleaguered editors, Jody remains one of the few who take the time to write to her poets. The journal’s history (it is the nation’s oldest continuously published poetry journal) and reputation (beloved by those who know it) are draws to poets and readers—but Jody’s sensibility reveals the reason poets love Poet Lore.

Jody came aboard with 24 years of teaching under her belt and a strong editing background. But beyond her talent for spotting printer errors and grammatical inconsistencies, Jody is a poet, and she and E. Ethelbert Miller (poet and literary activist) have kept Poet Lore a poet’s journal.

Jody explains, “One of the things that I feel best about is engaging poets in a serious conversation about their work. It can salvage a poem.” And the attention does not go unremarked. Grateful poets speak of the time Jody took to deeply evaluate and consider their work. Someone was paying attention.

And she loves the work. “The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve felt that poetry is essential,” Jody says. “Poets leave behind a record of humanness—what it’s like to be alive here and now—an intense connection with a stranger in another time and space.” That’s what she looks for when reading a poem, and when she writes her own: work that lasts and that changes your way of thinking.

Her work as editor, poet, teacher, and lover of literature has always been about those new ways of thinking, especially the kind generated in collaboration. Whether between an artist and appreciator, an editor and writer, a teacher and student, or a poet and her subject, Jody Bolz embraces the opportunity that conversation provides—taking the time to pay attention in a preoccupied world. We’ve noticed. We’ll pay you back. ¶

Poet Lore's 123rd birthday—and National Poetry Month—will be celebrated with a reading at The Writer's Center on Saturday, April 21 at 2:00 P.M. Join Jody, John Bargowski and Mary-Sherman Willis (both featured in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue) for an afternoon of readings, champagne, and cake!

This profile was originally posted in the summer 2012 issue of The Workshop & Event Guide.


Caitlin Cushman is a writer/editor at Boston University. She holds a fiction B.F.A. from Emerson College and M.F.A. from American University. She spent seven years at TWC, at one time simultaneously teaching at AU, finishing her thesis, and working both as managing editor of Poet Lore and business and operations coordinator; she’s thrilled to have just one job right now. Her fiction has appeared in So to Speak and Amazing Graces, and she has written for First Person Plural. She loves Shirley Temples and Twain.

photos by: Samantha Guerry (Bolz); Kathryn Murphy (Cushman)

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