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Judy Botts1 Resized

Maybe You’re a Poet, and Don’t Yet Know It!

In a way, Judy Botts never saw it coming. 

Yes, she’d always been an avid reader. And a fan of artistic expression. And a lifelong proponent of the power of words. 

Still, Judy Botts – poet

“Yes,” she said recently, with a bit of hesitation. But in the next breath, she seemed to draw down with conviction: “Yes. Yes, I believe I am.” 

Welcome to Judy’s encore – wrought from a lifetime of teaching and a zest for life – that of a poet, even if it is in a part-time way. 

A native New Yorker, Judy moved around a bit as a youth due to her father’s job as a salesman. In high school, she belonged to the Future Nurses of America, but after enrolling in college, abandoned that career path in favor of teaching. She earned a degree in it from State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego in 1972. 

Before entering the classroom, she worked a few years in retail sales, then made her way to Michigan and served as a paraprofessional in elementary classrooms here with Grand Rapids Public Schools. She later taught within the same system’s community education program. 

She found her pace, though, in the Montessori school culture, where she served more than a dozen years as an instructor, during what she recalls fondly as “the halcyon days of education.” 

In all, she spent some 32 years as an educator before retiring – only to serve another eight years as a substitute, finally exiting the classroom just four years ago. Her husband, Jim, is also retired from teaching. 

Five years ago, Judy joined a writing class dubbed “Writing As Spiritual Expression.” It meets at Fountain Street Church -- where she’s been active as a member and volunteer --  and is directed by local award-winning poet Nessa McAsey, who specializes in poetry as therapy. 

“I never imagined myself doing this,” says Judy, “but it’s such fun, especially when you see the different approaches and perspectives that everyone has in creating their own work.” 

In Judy’s own case, she focuses on something about which she feels passionate, and will simply sit and freewrite whatever comes to mind. “After that initial brainstorming, I set it aside, then pick it up again, and look at the thoughts I’ve written down, and find things that are related.” 

The tough part sometimes, she acknowledges, is fitting poetry into her already busy schedule, which includes regular exercise, volunteering for initiatives sponsored by Fountain Street Church, and assisting a friend who struggles with cancer and sometimes needs a helping hand. 

Judy says she doesn’t gravitate toward any favorite poets, but simply enjoys reading a wide variety.  

As for sharing her work in a public way, Judy’s not yet published. But she did step forward to read a poem recently, in conjunction with an exercise she and other fellow poets performed in the wake of the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. 

Her advice for others who feel compelled to write poetry but have yet to pick up a quill? 

“Just do it,” she says in earnest, adding that “We are our own worst enemy” when it comes to doubting what we are capable of. 

“Don’t worry about being good enough, or whether you can even do it,” Judy says. 

“Just sit down, and start writing!”

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