Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Judith Brice

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Judith Brice

is a retired psychiatrist who has written poetry for over thirty years. She graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1971. Much of her inspiration in her writing derives from her work with her patients, her own experiences with illness, her love for nature, and her strong feelings about the political world. Her work has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the City Paper (of Pittsburgh), the Paterson Literary Review, Poesia, and The Lyric, among others. One of her poems is housed in the permanent archives of the Farmington Hills, MI Holocaust Memorial Center. Brice’s poems have also been anthologized in several successive years of Voices from the Attic, of Bear River Review, and in Before There Was Nowhere To Stand, a poetry collection focusing on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Her two most recent publications are Renditions In A Palette, and Overhead From Longing.

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

Of Bones, Boredom, and Butterflies
206 in all! I couldn’t learn them,
those bones in the body—
my nerves wrought, tangled
eyes awry, mind in summersaults:
mnemonics to memorize, to remember.
the cranium, its size, shape,
its foramina, the arteries.
the sacrum, its nerves, their actions.
On Old Olympus Towering Top, A Finn
And German Viewed A Hop…
This, the mnemonic for the Cranial Nerves,
in full triumphant order from I to XII:  beginning with
Olfactory nerve, proceeding then to Optic— its escorts, the
Oculomotor, Trochlear, Abducens, and Facial nerves,
followed finally by Glossopharyngeal,
then Vagus nerves, (each with their vagaries)
until lastly the Accessory and Hypoglossal
to complete the dozen!
For a second I’d made it!
S-two, three, four keeps your rectum off the floor…
My rectum, your rectum, whose rectum?
Without ‘em, do you wreck ‘em,
these sacred, sacral nerves of the back?
Memory for facts failed
during those indecorous, infinite, hours.
Anatomy and workings of mind, my interest—
but to be a doctor, I had to bear
such tedium of body, limbs, and organs—
the shattering solipsism of study, its boredom.
Bone names blurred to Latin then back,
as my dense library head stooped low,
felt its eyes wandering, cross over scraggly notes.
Desperate, I was, for the tiniest pause
from books askew in stuffy stalls.
So much reading, so much studying, so little learned
that one day my stubborn
feet began to shuffle,
saunter the fall leaves— the path to home,
a promised reprieve of tidied room,
my quiet desk, its smooth surface.
Out of my bag, I fetched Gray’s Anatomy, a pen,
red pencil and clean note pad. The book
opened fast to “The Bones of the Hand.”
Truth had finally faced down my fate:
being a doctor— that mastery— only came
with meticulous torsions of mind.
My fingers grabbed the pen, wrote a word, two,
then my very first poetic line:
The venerable grief requests your company…
And so it was, that one sonnet later, two poems
in quick pursuit, followed by a full career taking care
of patients, slowly betrayed that beneath
a rough chrysalis of medical training
and a lonely fall day
were butterflies of poems waiting to fly.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My Sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Sheldon, read poems to us in the ten-minute break before lunch to “quiet us” in the transition from our previous activity. I loved it! Poetry mystified me, captivated me, the words, their blending jumble, their meaning. It was only when years later in school I read Sound and Sense, that I knew how truly enticed I was by how words bumped into each other, blended together, clashed, then rhymed together, sang stories together. I write of this in my poem, On the Grace of Poetry’s Arrival.

On the Grace of Poetry’s Arrival
That solstice night,
new words floated down,
like scintillant crystals,
delicate and magic petals of snow—
their cold to sizzle the ground
with sylvan sounds of enthralling warmth—
as each word-flake blended, fused to one
a single blanket to embrace us all
with a tenderness of heart—
winter’s shawl of song.
And in a second, from our moonlit sky,
crisp and curious letters
diamonds of stars
pierced the dark—a frisson
of frozen sparks to jolt the air,
to announce one quick skirring
of ideas—their skein of thoughts—
as clouds opened, transformed
my mind, sang loud of Neruda,
his loves, their chirrs, his beckoning.
Before that winter evening
I never knew the purity of poems
or stark whiteness of snow—
could never guess their deep,
their gentle kindness.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I am always, with each word I write, aware of previous writers—their use of rhyme, meter, metaphor. Their skill in slipping from one subject to another yet holding fast to an image, a metaphor, a meaning. Such skill I love!

4-6 What is your daily writing routine? What motivates you to write? What is your work ethic?

I have no daily routine. Living with a chronic illness has denuded my life of “daily”, so I write when I can. I have no work ethic. I cheat time around its edges and sneak in my writing when I feel good. Writing is a gem I treasure.

I collect words, prompts, and lines from other poets and writers, from newspaper articles, from random thoughts and situations. And then when I am moved by something, I start writing. In fact, as I see how long it took me to write these answers, I realize that unconsciously I took these questions as prompts, and then just had to write the three enclosed poems in response, had to, there was no other way!

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I think back to many of the writers I read when I was younger, and sometimes will enclose a line of theirs, an odd word, the use of that word, into a poem. I have included lines or words from Emily Dickinson, E.E.Cummings, Robert Frost, for example and more modern writers as well such as W.S. Merwin, and Barbara Crooker

8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

My favorite poet is Barbara Crooker. I love her wonderful use of nature, her images, her ability to use words creatively and understandably and to slide easily from one metaphor to another, all the while creating one incredible packet of meaning and sound at the end of a poem. Amazing to me! I also love W.S. Merwin for his sparse use of words within a line, his ever-so meaningful use of lines within a poem often completely without punctuation. Maria Maziotti Gillan is another poet I admire tremendously for her down-home writing, which takes you right into a scene and evokes feeling within a poem in a deep and unique way.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I write because I have to write. I write because I love to write. I write because I love to express my feelings with these gems that people call words.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say, “read my first poem about Bones and Boredom”. I would say, read my third poem, “Ars Poetica: An Invitation”.

Ars Poetica: An Invitation
Grab your pen.
Check the hemlock branch
beyond the window ledge,
the squirrels chasing shades—
chasing seconds
after weeks of rain—
as they scamper through
the birch, its leaves,
laced close beside the fence.
Watch— you’ll catch the gentle
weave of light,
rays bending smooth,
to refract through
bark and branch, the needles,
their harlequin neighbor fronds.
Then, after scud of storm
has blown, has blustered by—
its rainbow, its dew drops
will be yours
to rescue in your hands,
savor safe in your grasp,
as you sit beside me,
settle your mind, and lift
your delicate wrist,
your fragile pen,
to write.

Read my second poem about Poetry Arriving—all written to the prompts of these questions, and then sit down, pen in hand, and write about what you are thinking about, really thinking about. You will be on your way.

One thought on “Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Judith Brice

  1. Pingback: Celebrate Wombwell Rainbow Interviews with me over 26 Days. Today is Letter B. One letter a day displaying all the links to those interviews. We dig into those surnames. Discover their inspirations, how they write, how did they begin. Would you love to ha

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