Choosing a Poet's Life
Despite daunting obstacles, Colby poets pursue their solitary, creative craft
By Gerry Boyle '78
Published May 29, 2007
Jody Zorgdrager '89 leads a double life.
Zorgdrager works for a medical products company in Seattle, sitting at a computer and crunching numbers. After work she pursues her true calling: writing poetry. ;"It's data specialist by day and poet by night," Zorgdrager said, adding that, with a book of poems coming out soon, her cover was blown. "A whole bunch of jokes about how I'd be giving poetry readings at staff meetings," she said.
Two decades after she began writing poems in creative writing classes at Colby, Zorgdrager has found success. A master's of fine arts from Warren Wilson was followed by slow but steady publication in increasingly prestigious journals and magazines. The former third-grade teacher, substance-abuse counselor, and adjunct college instructor will see her first book of poems, Of Consequence, published later this year or early next by a small press in Nebraska.
Zorgdrager credits faculty at Colby, especially Peter Harris and Ira Sadoff (English), for sending her down this artist's track. "I just can't say enough as far as their influence on me with poetry," she said. And then she chuckled. "I don't know if I owe them gratitude or blame."
But for Zorgdrager and others like her, writing poetry is no laughing matter. To pursue it as an undergraduate, a student may have to weather criticism from parents who were hoping for a more marketable college degree. To continue to pursue the craft after college takes determination, commitment, and a willingness to sacrifice.
"It's mostly a singular art, so it gets lonely," Zorgdrager said. "It's difficult, too, because I've found that I've always, on some level, had to justify to the professional world what I was doing as a writer....But I wouldn't have it any other way."
She is by no means alone.
At Colby there now are more students who want to write poetry than there are classes to accommodate them, says poet Adrian Blevins, an assistant professor of English. With the limited space in The Pequod, the College literary magazine, filled, students this spring founded a new poetry-only publication, The Collective. A group of five seniors and juniors, dubbed the Varsity Poets, includes one student bound for the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh and another attending a prestigious summer writing workshop.
"We steal them from other majors," Blevins said. "They start writing and they have the talent. And then the question becomes, 'What do I do with my talent?'"
It can be a daunting gift to acknowledge. "They're afraid they're going to be poor," Blevins said, "and that might be true."