Jody Bolz remembers when her father’s calls to his dead relatives pierced the slumbering silence of the night.
Alzheimer’s disease had erased his identity and much of his memory.
“Which one are you?” he would ask his daughter, a poet and GW creative writing professor who was recently honored by her peers for her work.
“The trauma of that translated into a poem,” Bolz said.
She published “Names at Night” in 1991 as a cathartic release for herself and her family. It was another of the powerful personal experiences she addressed in her poetry.
The mystery of her father’s questions evoked the need to comprehend the anguish she and her family endured.
“My mother said to me `This is a gift to all of us that you’ve published this poem,’ ” she said.
Bolz alone could formulate words to emote the feelings brimming in the hearts of her family members.
“Literature embodies the experience of being a person,” she said softly.
And throughout her almost 30-year career as a writer – she says she prefers that title to “poet” – she has preserved and relayed her experiences.
“I really want you as a stranger to know what I have learned and experienced through my poems,” she said.
“A writer must be a teacher, storyteller, enchanter and moral adviser,” she said, repeating writer Vladimir Nobotov’s signature maxims. “The reader should be going through a process of discovery while reading, as the writer went through one while writing.”
Bolz said she has seen elitism in literature, particularly poetry. The genre often is presented in an impenetrable manner.
She said early in her writing career she wrote myth-making poetry in which she tried to transport readers from reality. But her past writing lacks the effectiveness and directness of her current work, she said.
And Bolz began infusing that directness by observing and documenting life minute by minute.
She documented her experiences traveling through Asia in “False Summit,” revealing the story of a failed 14-year marriage. The work brought her the recognition of her peers, who awarded her the 1998 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. The award program aims to assist women writers in their work.
As a result of winning the award, Bolz will take a leave of absence next semester. With an intelligible approach to her art, Bolz is endeavoring to take “A Day Apart.”
“In everyday life you are playing the drama of your life,” she says. “I want to show that the ordinary should not be undervalued.”
She said she sees herself a “good fit” for this award because she often lacks the time to dedicate to her writing because of her roles as mother, wife and professor.
“It is very rare for a writer to have uninterrupted time to write,” she said. “I am middle-aged and I have not broken through on a national level. I desperately want to get my poems to be published.”
She says her current work exemplifies her full body of work best because she often faced distraction in her life, which prevented her from reaching the level of work she wanted to attain.
She says her family has provided her the “security and safety” to be a productive writer.
“These are the poems I want to publish,” she says.
I want my fathernot this outsider who slaps his head,davenning HELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOso no one here can sleep.But when I rush in, angry and exhausted,and beg him please to stop,he squints in the half-lit room:
Which one are you?
from “Names at Night” by Jody Bolz