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  • NYS Writers Institute

Judith Johnson: A video interview and a new poem for our "plague year"

Enjoy The Conversation with Judith Johnson and Writers Institute director Paul Grondahl.

Acclaimed poet and emerita UAlbany English professor Judith Johnson speaks about poetry’s redemptive power and reads a new poem, “spring in a plague year”

We caught up with Judith, an award-winning author, performance artist, literary publisher and dear friend of the NYS Writers Institute. Judith is beloved poet-professor who spent nearly 40 years at UAlbany and chaired both the English and Women’s Studies departments, served as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Honors and Presidential Scholars Program. Judith is in self-isolation with her daughter and grandchildren in New Jersey, writing poetry, playing video games with her grandkids and waxing nostalgic about her Albany years. (Read her bio on the Poets & Writers website.)

We spoke about her first poetry volume, “Uranian Poems,” published in 1969, winning the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize and publishing a dozen books and her eight decades as a creative artist in several genres. She told wonderful stories about spending time with the late Toni Morrison in Albany and her friendship with the late U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz – who once described Johnson’s poetry as “quite mad and wonderful…with daring and magnitude.”

In addition to her rich creative life and academic duties, Johnson made time to serve as president of the Board of Associated Writing Programs (AWP), President of the Poetry Society of America, and editor-publisher of the feminist literary periodical 13th Moon and The Little Magazine: A Journal of Literature in New Media.

She said that now, more than ever, in this age of the coronavirus pandemic we need to be kind to each and practice what she calls “the poetics of generosity.”

Here is a new poem by Judith Johnson:

spring in a plague year

spring in a plague year
               the space our deaths leave
is an apparent emptiness, not a real one
outside my window the forsythia spins
gold from the powder of last year’s chrysanthemums
               and daffodils wake up their brief lives
the earth will not cry over our spent tulips
but find a use for them, and the cardinals still weave
               their nest on a low, floating branch
and splash their bright bleeds into my jeweled fountain
not one of them cares what presidents fail to say
or what the suits in their corporate drabness
               buy, sell, or ignore
we are all going about our business
               making our lives
                              generous and green

Click the arrow to view the Paul Grondahl - Judith Johnson discussion


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