Poetry that Keeps the Door Open

Jerry Judge’s unexpected outcome

By Saad Ghosn

Jerry Judge. Photo by Saad Ghosn.

“Poetry found me and gave me a different voice,” says Jerry Judge, a Cincinnati poet who started seriously writing only in his mid-forties. “I was having strong feelings about many issues and not a good way to express them adequately. Poetry worked for me; it gave me a powerful tool to get them out.”

While growing up, Judge loved to read; he wrote a few short stories for his own pleasure, also on high school and college assignments; he even published a couple in his twenties. He also occasionally wrote poems in an attempt to impress girls.

His academic career, however, took him into business administration and then social work, a field he has worked in ever since. Initially and for a long time he held a demanding and stressful job in public child welfare; it consumed most of his time. For the past nine years he has been a caseworker for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a mentoring program that pairs kids with adults who serve as their role models.

In 1990, deciding to slow down professionally, Judge took a writing workshop. This is when he discovered his strong affinity for poetry; he has been writing it since, publishing his poems in various magazines, in seven chapbooks to date, participating regularly in writing groups and in public readings.

“With poetry everything came out – my thoughts, feelings, fantasies, joys, worries, questions,” he says. “Each poem would take me on a different discovery path, put me in touch with unexpressed or unexplored parts of myself, and the outcome often unexpected.”

As a result Judge wrote about fatherhood, family life, relationships, death, social issues, politics.

His poems on justice, peace and wars, also abounded even though hard to come because of all the feelings and pain involved and all it took to dig them out. Judge did not shy away from them, however; he wrote many over the years, pertaining to the violence of wars, the futility of innocent deaths, the inflicted ravages of youthful demise, the hypocrisy of warmongers. He recently put them all in a chapbook he titled, Night Talk in the Barracks.

“It was important to let them all out together in a book,” he says, “They were clearly stating my anti-war perspective, and I was loudly saying: ‘This is me.’ ”

“Cleansing for Americans,” one of the poems in the book, satirically addresses the attraction Americans have for violence and their self-destructive use of might and weapons when facing the problems of the world. Through his words, Judge progressively overlapped bombs with flags, with church, and transformed an apparent ode to violence into a sarcastic American prayer: “We will wave our flags and bomb./We will attend church and bomb./Bombs will cleanse./Hallelujah!/Forgive us our sins./Hallelujah!/Bombs. Bombs. Bombs.”

In “Deep In The Heart,” he treats of money, greed and wealth, of their self gratifying role in triggering and shaping wars: “How right to have a President/dedicated to the super rich./At strategic points across America,/certain men will pause and contemplate/their wealth. The gleam from their smiles/will light the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq.” His poem, “No Forwarding Address,” goes back to the Gulf war. Its title evokes death, loss of contact, abandonment, reflective of Judge’s feelings at the time, sorrow mixed with anger and a sense of isolation. Images of violence coincide with the insensitivity to violence when it affects others and the callous detachment from reality when TV announcers play only the out-of-touch advertisers. It also reminds of Cincinnati City Council’s proposal to outlaw begging by the homeless in order to not inconvenience downtown merchants. Judge closes on all these feelings with the image of empty eyes, a metaphor for the lost soul of society, a statement he felt applicable to our country.

Judge reads his poems in public whenever he can, sharing his feelings and powerful images with varied audiences.

“I feel the need to share my poetry, to have someone else hear it or read it,” he says. “I want it to make an impact. When I feel strongly about something, I have to voice it, and my poetry comes to my rescue. It becomes my conversation, my communication. I use it to trigger awareness, thinking, to plant a seed.”

Judge has also been an activist for peace beyond his poetry. When in his early twenties he enlisted to avoid being drafted to Vietnam, he soon became a conscientious objector, ready for imprisonment if not discharged. Awaiting court decision, he actively participated in anti-war activities, rallying with similar minded objectors in Austin, Texas, writing regularly for the Fatigue Press, an alternative press for military men. Whenever he feels a peace and justice issue needs to be heard, he is always prompt at writing letters to the editor or to congress, participating in marches and demonstrations.

In Cincinnati, Judge has also been instrumental at strengthening the voice of other poets, encouraging them in their writing and publishing. He is an active participant in the Cincinnati Writers Project and the Greater Cincinnati Writers League, groups that meet regularly to read, review and critique poetry, develop writing skills, foster learning, at the same time mentoring emerging poets and forging relationships.

Judge will continue writing poetry, as it is his voice.

“I would like to write more about homelessness, about progressive issues I have deep feelings for, the environment, childhood, warfare, climate warming,” he says. “Also about poverty, domestic violence, child abuse; dissident poetry that involves me from within, that is universal. I learn a lot when I write. Poetry keeps the door open and lets me wander, like an explorer, inside my own territory.”

Judge also wants his poetry to trigger action in himself and in others. He wants it to clearly and loudly state his beliefs, to reflect who he is. He always carries in his wallet “As a Man,” a poem by David Ignatow, whose last lines say, “I am haunted by the poem/yet to be written/that I may live as a poem/when I die as a man.” This would also be his wish.