A Lifetime of Poetry

Judith Hoyer ’65 shares her love of poetry with a new generation.

When Judith Hoyer was a student at Worcester State in the 1960s, poets like Robert Frost, Randall Jarrell, and Archibald Macleish were household names. Hoyer, who had loved poetry her entire life, attended every reading she could and saw all three poets when they read in Worcester. “Poets were rock stars,” she said. “They were my heroes.”

Upon completing her degree, Hoyer put aside her dream of becoming a poet herself to focus her energy on her family and her career as a school psychologist in the Medway, Mass., public school system. It was only after she retired in 2005 that she was able to pursue that dream.

She describes the years since retiring as “a little like being an adolescent.” Poetry has helped her access great depths of emotion. Her involvement in the poetry world has also afforded her a chance to be in a community of other like-minded people. She has published a chapbook—Bits and Pieces Set Aside (Finishing Line Press)—and has a full-length collection, Imagine That, coming out next spring from FutureCycle Press.

Judith Hoyer at Burncoat Park. (Photos by Matt Wright ’10)

“I’m always thinking about poetry,” she said, “always. Walking, reading—all of that counts.” She does sometimes face writer’s block, but she has a way to deal with that. “If I can’t come up with something, I go for another walk, read, maybe bake some cookies.”

Most of her poems tend to be about herself and her experiences in some way. Her best poems, she thinks, are “about something that I know really well.” Nevertheless, one of her favorite things about writing poetry is surprising herself. “The fun thing is when you get to the end of a poem and think, ‘Oh, voila!’ You realize something you didn’t think of before. That’s very satisfying.”

In 2013, Hoyer attended a poetry reading at Worcester State, organized by English professor and poet Heather Treseler. The reading was the first of a poetry reading series that Treseler was trying to run on a shoestring budget. Hoyer knew right away she wanted to help fund the series. “I wanted the students at my state college to have an experience that’s available to students in other colleges in the Worcester community.” Through this series, students would be able to hear poets read and also meet them, ask questions, and get answers.

With this idea, Hoyer approached Treseler, whom she describes as a “writer, teacher, poet extraordinaire. She’s just the best.” Now named the Judith O’Connell Hoyer Poetry Reading Series, the program brings two new poets to campus each year for readings and craft discussions with students. Hoyer doesn’t give Treseler suggestions on poets to invite to the series. “I’m firm about letting Heather do that. She has a vast network of poets she knows.”

Over the eight years the two poets have known each other, their mutual respect has grown. “Judy is someone I admire so much,” Treseler said, “because she pulled off the trifecta of having a successful professional career, having a writing career with two books to her name and many publications in journals, and being a wonderful person. She never lost sight of her literary sense and ambition and pursued it with a lot of diligence, patience, and openness.”

Hoyer, who lives in Wayland, Mass., attends all of the readings at Worcester State—but says she can’t choose a favorite from among the readings. “They were all terrific,” she said. “I see the students flock to these readings, and they feel so comfortable being in an atmosphere where it’s okay to ask questions and be enthusiastic about being creative.”

“These readings have provided for me a sense of being in a community that believes in art and the value of poetry to enrich lives in a time when people are looking for beauty, for solace, in a time when the world is so fraught with trouble,” she said. She hopes that the students who attend these readings also see poetry as providing community, giving comfort, inspiring people to be creative, and facilitating an appreciation for the arts.

Though Hoyer has favorite poets that she always returns to, like Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Bishop, Eavan Boland, Rita Dove, and Diane Seuss, she says, “It’s always wonderful to hear new poets.” She is excited about the state of poetry today. “It’s very inclusive in a way that it was not before. Everybody comes with their own background, and that’s what’s so special.” The Judith O’Connell Hoyer Poetry Reading Series has brought poets with a variety of backgrounds and often underrepresented identities.

All told, the university has brought fourteen nationally known or emerging poets to the Worcester State campus in fewer than ten years. Poets who have read at Worcester State are Alan Michael Parker, Joy Katz, Forrest Gander, who would soon win the Pulitzer Prize, Christina Davis, Sandra Lim, Anna V. Q. Ross, Marge Piercy, B. K. Fischer, Kevin Prufer, K. B. Kinkel, Jennifer Militello, Virginia Konchan, Stephen Kuusisto, and Nathan McClain. Hoyer hasn’t missed a single reading.

Judith Hoyer stands near a pond framed by tall grasses at Burncoat Park

End of Childhood

I was a believer in those honest acres inside
invisible gates where I ran sunny and solitary
from my mother’s unforeseeable moods.

Where my feet pumped high over the caretaker’s
cottage, summer house and swimming rink.
Beyond everything, Green Hill, and the buffalo.

Where a grand fountain cooled down geraniums,
the earth around, the wire surround and boys
on bikes who rode too close.

Where carp with mouths as wide as galvanized pails
rose empty from the fishpond underworld
to fill on bread pilfered from the pantry.

Where I learned to fringe a linen placemat with
the feel and color of parakeet feathers that cushioned
my breakfast cereal, banana, and spoon.

Where the facts of life were blabbed to me
on a stone bridge that led from before to after.
There weren’t many words, and the girl was gone.

Where I can still hear a horseshoe striking
luck around a metal stake or landing
with a thunk in a cloud of red dirt.

—Judith Hoyer

About the poem

The poem, “End of Childhood,” is from Hoyer’s forthcoming book Imagine That from FutureCycle Press and first appeared in The Worcester Review. Of the poem, Hoyer says, “The idea for the poem came from a workshop prompt given by my longtime poetry mentor, Tom Daley, who suggested that we write about a memory we had from a public place. It could have been the circus, a ball game, a busy city street, but the park hit a chord for me. Burncoat Park was just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I lived on Barnard Road. It was a place where I could escape. There was a feeling of freedom, of being in another world. I could ride my bike on the paths, meet my friends, bring a picnic lunch, play tennis, skate in the winter, and be a part of nature all year long. Of course, there was an aspect of danger, too, that went along with that freedom of being alone in a public place. There was a caretaker who lived on the grounds. His name was Bart McKeon, and he loved fussing over the huge, beautiful circle of geraniums in the middle of the park. Although it is much smaller now than when I was young, the park is a lovely, rather private, green space surrounded by an urban environment.”