Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on Judith Robbins, poet and minister, who will be reading from her Worcester-based collection, The North End on Sunday, April 2, from 2:00 – 4:00 PM. She’ll also be signing copies for sale and talking about her experiences.
Thank you very much for joining us, Judith! What can you tell us about you and your work?
Born and raised in the North End of Worcester for the first 12 years of my life, I attended Edgeworth St. School before transferring to Sacred Heart Academy for sixth grade through high school. I spent two years at UMASS, Amherst, then left school to work at the Worcester Telegram in the women’s department, back when there was such a thing, along with hot type. There I met Jon Robbins. We married and moved to Maine in 1967.
All that time, I was writing. From the get-go, reading and writing were my favorite things to do, and after a brief flirtation with writing fiction, I returned to poetry, which was my natural home.
With four kids nearly grown, I returned to school and earned a degree at Bates College in women’s studies. (I needed the language of theory to better talk about what my life experience had taught me.) I went on to earn a master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School, and through a course on preaching, which I had taken to improve my oratorical skills for poetry, I was “accidentally” preparing to be a minister. I have been ministering for the last 21 years.
What is your favorite part of being a writer?
As the writer of The North End, I was able to lift up a group of people who would not otherwise have been lifted up because they were not the darlings of a world which most values appearance, wealth, and status. The underlying stories of struggle, suffering and survival, and the evidence of community support and strength deserved to be told and celebrated. Although that wasn’t my motivation in writing the book, it became clear after the fact that it was central to my experience and understanding of growing up in the North End.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
The New England setting is an essential element in my poems. Our property in Maine includes fields and woods along the Sheepscot River, where we occasionally wake to the sight of a herd of deer feeding under the apple trees. How could I not be affected by and write out of such a New England setting? However, I was likewise formed and informed by growing up in Worcester, a great and gritty classroom. I have an inordinate fondness for the city, which may have something to do with absence making the heart grow fonder. No matter: It is why I wanted to read The North End here in the city, which is the setting for the first half of the book.
What does your writing space look like?
My husband Jon built a writing house for me 35 years ago. It’s about the size of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond and very similar in construction. It’s covered with cedar shingles and has a corrugated tin roof––formerly a chicken-house roof––overhead. A Jotul stove heats the space from October through May with wood from our own land, but unlike Thoreau, I have no couch or bed for napping. No napping allowed in the precious time I have at the writing house.
What is some advice you’d share with other writers?
Trust yourself as the writer. If you have a reader who gets your work, will react, and can make invited suggestions––a good critic––you’re fortunate. But I say again, trust yourself as the writer in what comes to you and how it comes to you.
My writer-daughter shared an important part of the writing process, which is the final step of that process: Connecting. Share the written word with someone else. With poetry, it is important to speak it aloud, to get it into the air. Something happens when poetry is spoken aloud. It was an oral art before it was a written art.
Where can people find your work?
Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ABE Books, North Country Press, Kobo, Indigo, Alibris, Better World Books, IndieBound, and any independent bookstore through Ingram distributors.
How can we follow your work?
In addition to the Facebook page for The North End, I maintain a blog of poetry, essays, a full-length book of interviews entitled How It Was When My Mother Died, commentaries, and general reflection. The address is www.aelwiecave.wordpress.com
Thank you so much for the interview, Judith! We look forward to having you at Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester to kick off National Poetry Month on Sunday, April 2, 2017, from 2:00 – 4:00 PM!