Sunday, December 16, 2012

Interview with Poet Judith Katz Levine: An eclectic poet and all that 'jazz'

with Doug Holder

Judith Katz Levine is a poet who brings in many elements into her work including the jazz flute. Influenced by Miles Davis, Coltrane and other she finds her lyricism mixes with her sense of musicality.
Judith Katz- Levine
Judy Katz-Levine is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, "When The Arms Of Our Dreams Embrace" (Saru 1991) and "Ocarina" (Saru/Tarsier 2006). Her most recent chapbook is "When Performers Swim, The Dice Are Cast" (Ahadada 2009).  She is the recipient in 1988 of a Massachusetts Cultural Councel Grant and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Her poems have been published extensively in the USA, Japan, England, Turkey and distributed in Mexico and Canada as well. Over the years her poems have appeared in "The Sun", "Fence", "Istanbul Literary Review", "Muddy River Poetry Review", "Blue Unicorn", "The Plaza" (Japan), "Voices Israel" (Israel), "The Delinquent" (UK), "Mother Jones", and many other magazines.  She has been anthologized in "The Dreamlife of Johnny Baseball" and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" -women writers on baseball.

I had the pleasure to talk to her on  my Somerville Community Access TV show  Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: You studied with  Denise Levertov. How did you become with her and her workshops?

Judith Katz Levine:  I originally got involved with her because my husband was at MIT and he got into her class. He invited me to meet her , and I had read her recent collection Soul Dance.  She invited me to audit the class. At this time she was more political. I loved the class. She was a very passionate poet. And she really had me realize that I could be a poet and focus primarily on my art form.

DH: What were the workshops like?

JKL:We found ourselves meeting at each others homes. It was very informal. At one point she was living in Maverick Square in East Boston. She was very kind but really outspoken about the Vietnam War. She helped us see connections between the military industrial complex and the people sent off to war. She wasn't a pacifist but she was very outspoken about the war.

DH: I know you have had a number of health issue. Pain can spur on poetry. How about in your case?

JKL: Actually I use a lot of alternative therapies to deal with my health issues. I actually use music as an emotional charge for my poetry and heightened awareness for the holistic things I do. Yes I have had some health problems. I don't talk about them too much. I mostly try to move forward. I will say though that writing is a great release for any kind of struggle.

DH : Have you taught much?

JKL: Most of my creative endeavors are between music and poetry. I have taught at Bunker Hill Community College one summer.  I haven't done that much work as a teacher because I don't have an master's degree.

DH: What was your life like when you started out as a poet?

JKL: I was married right after college. I worked a lot of odd jobs. I worked at a nursing home, legal services, an early childhood center, and in addition to helping my husband with his acupuncture clinic.

DH: How does your Jewish background figure in your work?

JKL: For the last 10 to 15 years it has become more important. I identify with the male aspect of the Hasidim , with the mens' dancing and singing. I am a Reform Jew. I have done a lot of music with synagogues, and played my flute to accompany rabbis who sing. I am most interested in the link between the link between the spiritual and music.

DH: You have been influenced by jazz, and your poetry is often accompanied by your jazz flute. Can you talk about this?

JKL: I come from a musical family. I had a jazz uncle. He loved jazz-he became an agent at one point. I played flute on my own in college. Then I married my husband who is a jazz sax player--so we just became involved with the music. I feel an affinity for the work of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ellington, etc...We get together with other jazz musicians and jam quite often.

DH:  In one of your poems Noticing-- you write about how the poet has to take everything in.

JKL: think it is an artist's job to function in the world with a heightened sense of awareness. My work as a poet has brought to that height.


I, who notice things, cicada shells, dusk. Eyes gathering into a glance. Who notice the scars on a woman's back. Your DNA spiraling into a stellar map. Child skipping stones in a merengue rhythm. The lake that became an eye and I noticed the dragonfly on your arm. You found a warm spot in the waters. Noticed that cantor picking Wild Susans before a party. I'm the one who notices a vaudeville aside about chopped liver. Noticed the friend named 121, after a psalm. Noticed she was alive, now she's gone. A partner in psychological thinking — a stroke made her fall like an oak. And I went to the funeral and noticed how almost no one was there. So this is the story of noticing her husband weeping, and no wheat. Because he can't eat that wheat.

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