Written by Faith Oneya
Judy (@jayyildiz ) is an educator, author, speaker,workshop leader all rolled up into a delightfully charming person. Literary Chronicles posed a few questions to the accomplished author. We hope the answers will delight and inspire as much as they did us.
LC: What did they call you as a child?
JLA: My family always called me Judy. When I began school, I was called Helen, my first name, but I soon put a stop to that when the boys began singing, “Helen had a steamboat, steamboat had a bell. Steamboat went to heaven, Helen went to Hell………en had….”
LC: Tell us more about yourself…
JLA: I grew up in Huntington, West Virginia along the Ohio River Piedmont area and went to Marshall University where I received my teaching degree in Music Ed. with a major in voice. I married a Turkish immigrant physician and began having my three children. I taught off and on for several years but found I needed to stay home and raise my children. During those years I became involved with arts organizations and enjoyed being a part of those groups and a leader in many of them. In 1979, I enrolled at Hollins University and got masters degrees in Liberal Arts and another in English/Creative Writing. Basically, in those years, I modulated from being a musician to being a published writer. Since I was already a teacher, I began to teach writing in many states to every age from youth to old age, in college programs, Elderhostel, the Virginia Writers in the Schools and various workshops and conferences. As I matured as a woman, I gained interest in women’s issues and taught writing as a tool in international women’s seminars. I’ve been writing since the second grade but only professionally since the early eighties. I enjoy anything related to the arts—across the board. I enjoy travel and people from differing regions of the globe.
LC: If you could have a room full of any one thing, what would it be?
JLA: Bookcases with lots of books, large movie screen with tons of movies from all over the world, a fireplace, comfortable chairs for friends and family, and artwork.
On reading and writing…
LC: What book(s) are you currently reading?
LC: Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character from a book? Tell us about it.
JLA:Not since grade school and that character was a horse. I certainly have loved a lot of characters in books. Some are Toni Morrison’s Sula, Clyde Edgerton’s Raney, Amy Tan’s Kitchen God’s Wife, Winnie Louie, Alice Sebold in Lucky, the whale in Moby Dick, Joe Christmas in Light in August and David in Joseph Heller’s God Knows. These characters teach me something of the soul and of courage and suffering through pain and the ultimate traps of fate—and they come alive within when I am reading because the author has made them three-dimensional characters, honest and full of heart, and in a desperate struggle with being alive.
LC: What is one book you haven’t read but want to read before you die?
LC: What kind of poet are you?
JLA: As a former musician, you can imagine that my poetry is lyrical. I craft a lot of sound and rhythm into the subject and imagery. Most of my poems are free verse or blank verse with internal rhyming. I write a lot of narrative and about people and points in my life that have startled me.
LC: Do you sit and think through every word of every stanza or do you just write freely and allowing the words to flow?
JLA: I always let the first draft flow and be filled with overwriting. Then I read to see where the feeling is coming from. You have to know that before you begin to craft with editing, additions and cuts. Once in a blue moon I become flooded with inspiration and when that happens, there’s less editing to do. I’ve also spent several years trying to comprehend the muse and my response when I’m inside the development of a poem. Sometimes, I just need to have another poet read it and ask questions. Often a poem is hard to finish because something within me just doesn’t want to go to that deep place where the answers are waiting. Good poetry takes a heap of honesty within the poet, even if he/she is writing an image poem about a field and sky. The poem will always be about more than the field and sky if it’s a meaningful effort. To me, everything ends up as metaphor. But, I think that the layered meanings should be embedded there for the reader to find and experience. A Brahms symphonic movement is many things: form, notes, line, instruments, rhythm—and the combined body can take a listener into the realm of many layers of feeling and understanding. Poetry exists also in form, language, music and imagery and other elements. Readers will experience as much or as little as they are capable of at any given time. In a poem, there are at least three players: the poem, the author and the reader. When they dance together, there’s epiphany.
LC: When did you first start writing and were there any incidents in your life that made you want to write?
JLA: I mentioned the second grade. That Christmas, Teacher told everyone to go home and write a little poem about that time of year. I came back with two pages of rhymed poetry about Christmas. It’s a loaded theme, after all. I then realized my ability to pen words. The rest of the kids had only written a few lines. Teacher took me around to all of the eight grades to read it and then she kept the poem. Wouldn’t I love to have it now? (Never give your only copy away.) After that, I kept writing poems, stories, plays and songs. And I’d perform them with stage props whenever possible. Years later, after I started back to school at Hollins University, I went to Poland and kept a journal that became a manuscript of serious poems. Imagine my thrill when a chronicle in Los Gatos, California wanted to do a whole page of them with a photo and bio. It later won a prize and became Smuggled Seeds. A small press in New York City published it and I earned over three hundred dollars in royalties. Wow. That encouraged me to continue to evolve as a poet and writer in other areas by learning, writing and reading.
LC: Who is your favorite writer/poet and for what reason are they your favorite writer?
JLA: I usually say William Faulkner with As I Lay Dying and Light in August although I could add many others such as William Goyen in House of Breath, or almost anything by Isabelle Allende. And there’s Lee Smith with Fair and Tender Ladies. I love a rich and surprising language and a whole character presentation and a great human drama of working with the devils that plague. It’s not so much how you were born or how you died as the journey in between. I want to be led by an author into an intense and illuminating journey. I love the poets Walt Whitman and Nazim Hikmet because Leaves of Grass and Human Landscapes are so particular and well crafted and yet very broad in their scopes where whole nations of individuals move through their lives in a particular era. Both books are epic and yet fascinating line by line.
LC: Do you have a favorite poem among those you have written? If so, which one. Please write down a few lines from it.
JLA: Like a mother with a bunch of kids, I love ‘em all; but here’s one about writing:
I’ll get it any way I can:
beat it out of a ribbon,
squeeze it from a machine,
lie with it late at night
dried-out, hoping for resurrection.
I drink at any well,
mix it with almost anything,
can do without it for short periods
as long as I’ve got some
under my nails
to look at
while I screw up in all the traditional positions,
rupture in the sheets
where unblemished is
flaw, and I care less
as long as there’s a hangover
from this week’s dive
LC: Have you been published before?
JLA: My first three books were poetry; and then, I co-authored four supplementary writing and critical thinking skills workbooks for teachers and students. Next, I wrote a memoir and a children’s picture book. Last November, Remzi Book House, Istanbul, published my first novel FORTY THORNS with a translated edition in Turkish called, KIRK DIKEN. I have shown widely in literary magazines and in various countries. I’m working on another memoir about my American woman’s coming to wholeness, experiencing the Civil Rights Movements and in the present finding myself circling back to confronting a lot of the old woes of society. I have half a book of poems that have been published separately. I hope to compile them into a book with newer poems. I also plan to assimilate the best of the tons of lessons in writing for seminars that I have written over the years—a book that adults could use privately as a workbook for their drafts.
LC: If you could choose one of your personality traits to pass on to your children, what would it be?
JLA: Trust in the creative spirit that is within—as close to a Higher Power as we get.
LC: What question have you always wanted to be asked as a poet and how would you answer it?
JLA: That might be: Why do you persist in writing poetry when you can make more as a sales clerk?
While it is true that I am always writing poetry in my mind and working it into every page of my memoirs and novels and oral stories, I remain compelled to do so because the soup of poetry helps me to understand my own feelings and responses to what is going on or has gone on in the only life that I know. The more I perfect a line, the better I understand what it means to be a part of the great human society chain links that we now know stretch back to 9000 B. C. I am a trace element in that chain, but I trace my element.
LC: Where can our readers get your books?
JLA: All of these books are available on
. These books are also available on
My web site is
. Find me at about.me/JudyLightAyyildiz