A poet in the hills of Hawley: A conversation with Jody Stewart about her new book, ‘This Momentary World’

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 02-17-2023 3:00 PM

I have been acquainted with Jody Stewart for years. She is a fellow Hawleyite.

I feel as though I only started to get to know her when I interviewed her recently about her new book of poetry, “This Momentary World” (Nine Mile Books, 160 pages, $16). I enjoyed every minute of our conversation. I also enjoyed her poems.

The book is a compilation of decades of the work of this poet, who is also known as Pamela Stewart and Jody Cothey. The poems wend their way through her life and her interests: a love of history and literature, familial and romantic strife and adventure, a centering in nature.

I asked Jody how she ended up as a poet. When she said that she wrote poetry because she couldn’t draw, I replied that I couldn’t draw, either, but had seldom waxed poetic.

“I think I was read to as a child,” she explained. “I liked sound, and I liked rhythm.”

Establishing herself as a young poet, she felt a certain amount of insecurity, and she still sometimes does. “I think a lot about the people around me, people I know and people in the past, who have massive devotion (to the craft) and know so much about the past … I always feel like I’m kind of winging it,” she confessed. “I don’t know how I became a poet!”

She noted that her path to composing her poems isn’t always clear. “My process varies constantly,” she remarked. Every once in a while, she is struck by inspiration and churns out a quick, satisfying poem.

In contrast, she said, “Sometimes I will write something and make words and sentences and then I’ll go back and really work on it.” Knowing that I’m a baker, she likened that process to “sloppy cake you get to go in and fix before anyone sees it.”

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“Now that I’m a whole lot older, I can live with the flops,” she added. Her method of writing varies as much as the character of the finished poems. Sometimes she sits down and works indoors. Other times, “it’ll come when I’m out with the dogs.”

“A lot of the times in the summer,” she mused, “I sit under the tree and that’s a good dreamy place ... Oftentimes when I’m driving, I’ll pull over and have to write something down.”

She takes advantage of time to write whenever and wherever she finds it. She confessed that she wrote some “hospital haikus” while laid up after her recent knee surgery.

This combination of methods leads to “lots and lots of scraps of paper,” she sighed. Nevertheless, the scraps are precious. They can be arranged and edited into something.

Jody characterized much of her inspiration as coming from people she has known or observed, from her father to her first husband to a neighbor scything in the fields. Looking at the nearly 50 years of poems in this one book, she characterized the project as “a step out, another way of looking at myself and looking at my past.”

She told me that early in her career she liked to write almost exclusively in the third person, “in the voice of a person who wasn’t me.”

“Once I became another person, it was easier,” she recalled.

Clearly, as she has matured, she has come into her own. She characterized much of her early poetry as about yearning. “Now that I’m older, I don’t have to yearn so much because I have so much. I’m lucky ... I almost want to write sentimental poems now, poems that come from the older heart.”

The book’s later poems reflect that older heart, as well as an increasing attention to the New England landscape, which is crucial to Jody. “It’s the cinematic background, the emotional background of the book,” she said of the scenery in her life and her poetry.

Jody isn’t sure what she will write next. She is torn between commenting on the current political landscape in her work and trying to transcend it, she told me.

“I’m just looking forward to what’s coming next,” she said.

Jody Stewart will read from “This Momentary World” on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the LAVA Center on Main Street in Greenfield as part of Greenfield’s “Third Tuesday Word” celebration.

The doors will open at 7 p.m., open-mic time will begin around 7:20 p.m., and the featured poets will begin around 8:30 p.m. Along with Jody, Doug Anderson will be on hand that evening reading from his acclaimed new book of poems, “Undress, She Said.” A donation of $1 to $5 is asked for this event.

Jody will be happy to sign copies of her new book that evening and will make a donation for each book sold to the Franklin County Regional Dog Shelter.

“This Momentary World” is also available at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls, and it may be ordered from the publisher, Nine Mile Books, at www.ninemile.org.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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