All Rise for Judge J.C. Todd

JC Todd-300dpi-1600 ppi

Credit: Mark Hillringhouse

Don’t you love it when you go to a party and the host starts out by apologizing to everyone for how messy her house is? I do! It makes me feel better about apologizing to you all about how belated this post celebrating Judge JC Todd, and her contribution to the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award. If you only have a vague recolection of such a contest, let me refresh your memory: It was a poetry contest held by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA with over 500 poems submitted. The proceeds of the contest went toward their Live Your Dream Award, which benefits a female head of household who has experienced hardships, demonstrates financial need, and wants to go back to school. A typical winner of the award is often a single mother who has experienced domestic violence, and wants to become a nurse or social worker.

When I came up with the idea of holding this contest, with its prize of a broadside of the winning poem designed by MaryAnn L. Miller, I knew I needed the perfect person to be judge. I also knew that the perfect person, without equivocation, was JC Todd.

JC was wildly supportive of my brief female and non-binary reading series, and is the type of person who lifts others up, both through her words, and through her actions. I met her first through the Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway where she was a teacher and I was a merit-based scholarship student. Everyone was requesting JC to be their teacher in the line, and I followed suit. We worked together on the last day, where it was agreed by the group to do a “gentle” workshop, without teeth. I said I would prefer teeth. When workshopping my poem, JC was brilliant, kind, and then at the end said something quite accurately critical, and her teeth gave a sharp chomp, almost as though she were eating my mixed metaphor. I have been a fan of hers ever since (and often wish other teachers had a signal that they were about to bite into my poems).

I asked JC why she said yes to this contest, and what she enjoys about sharing a dynamic duo with artist and poet MaryAnn L. Miller, and she wrote the following beautiful essay. I hope you enjoy.

“Living with poems is a life-long pleasure, deeply rooted in listening to my mother’s voice reading from The Child’s Garden of Verses and Shakespeare’s sonnets, alternating a poem for me with a poem for her. A profound pairing, the music of her voice connected poetry and sharing. It’s an ancient connection: the incantations, poems, stories and songs of bards, griots and wise-ones preserving the histories and cultures of their peoples. Of course, I jumped at the chance to couple my love for poetry with the value of sharing implanted in me by my mother.

But judging this contest was also in concert with another profound life experience. Like the young mother who will receive the Brittany Noakes Scholarship to support her continued education, I too am a single mother. When my daughter was born, I was unmarried and parent to a 14 year old son and a newborn. It was an exhilarating and scary time, laced with the persistent question, how can I pull this off alone? Help from friends revealed the question’s foolishness: I didn’t have to. It does take a village, and I want to be a villager who passes on what she has gratefully received. Although I won’t be judging this contest next year, I will be supporting it and I hope you will too.

Being a villager means working with others as well as working for them. It’s a joy to work with MaryAnn L. Miller, the designer of the broadside that so beautifully interprets Lisa Grunberger’s evocative poem, “Genesis: Beginning the In.” MaryAnn and I have been friends for years, having met as teacher and student in the MFA Program for Creative Writing at Rosemont College. I couldn’t wait for her to graduate so we could become friends. I admire her because she truly lives as an artist, reimagining herself and her life in order to practice her art. A painter, master bookartist, printmaker, fabricator, and a poet and memoirist, she’s now experimenting with cell phone videos and working on a hybrid memoir. As a single-genre writer who has trouble sewing a button in line with a buttonhole, I am in awe of how she moves from genre to genre, refining her craft and adopting a mode that best suits her needs; she’s an exemplar of “form follows function.”

Over the past year, we’ve worked together closely, collaborating on an artist book, FUBAR, whose point of origin is the text of sonnet from a sequence I wrote titled “War Zone.” During two residencies, one at the Experimental Printmaking Center (EPI), where she is the resident book artist, and one at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), we conceptualized the project. Although I was involved in all steps of its development and adapted the poem to the flow of the pages, MaryAnn painted the original monoprints, designed the book, invented the binding, and fabricated each of the 20 limited edition copies and their slips. She created an accompanying broadside and printed the book and broadside through Lucia Press, her fine arts press. She did all this in response to a single poem that touched and jangled her.

The urge and impulse to respond to the world and to others is part of what makes her a consummate artist. Another part is her mastery of craft, her appreciation of what is well-made. And the third part is the virtue of her practice of art as a way of life. This trivium of response, mastery and life-long practice is her genius. Serious business, yet accomplished with the affection, curiosity and merriness that transforms seriousness into delight. What I’m saying is that it’s such good fortune to be MaryAnn’s friend, collaborator and sister in mischief.”

I’ll post JC’s bio in the comments.

I remain immensely grateful to her.

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3 thoughts on “All Rise for Judge J.C. Todd

  1. J. C. Todd, author of FUBAR, an artist book collaboration with visual artist MaryAnn L. Miller (Lucia Press, 2016), and What Space This Body (Wind Publications, 2008), is a Pew Fellow in the Arts. She has been awarded fellowships by the Ragdale Foundation, the UCross Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and has been a resident at the Hambidge Center and the Baltic Center for Writers and Translators. She is a commended poet for the 2016 Hippocrates Open Award for Poetry and Medicine and a finalist for the 2105 Poetry Society of America’s Robert Winner Award. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review and American Poetry Review, and are forthcoming in The Doll Collection, 50 Over 50, The Wild River Review and other journals. A consultant to the Dodge Poetry Program, she is on the faculty of the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College and the MFA Program at Rosemont.

  2. Pingback: The Brittany Noakes Poetry Award-Winners and Finalists | Shevaun Brannigan

  3. Pingback: Reading: For my IL friends! | Shevaun Brannigan

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