Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

March 9, 2014

Serendipity in poetry: Judy Hartley finds an outlet in language

TRAVERSE CITY — Judy Hartley has written poems about almost everything under the sun. And she has stacks of composition books to prove it.

“If there was a fire, that’s the first thing I would grab,” she said. “It’s my life story.”

But a recent sleepless night spent jotting a four page poem about a woman living through the Holocaust brought the 71-year-old retired interviewer a bit of serendipity.

“It was about 5 a.m.,” Hartley said. “I never dreamed I would write about concentration camps. It’s not pretty.”

She penned poems throughout the night. But one — a rather dark piece about a pianist in a concentration camp — caught her attention the next morning while she was watching the news.

A network newscaster droned along that morning, piping news of the bigger world through Hartley’s small TV nestled along the west wall of her home in a Traverse City apartment complex. Then, through tired ears, she heard the words “pianist” and “Holocaust.”

The story detailed the life of 110-year-old Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest Holocaust survivor. Herz-Sommer, an accomplished pianist, had died at her home in London.

The newscaster went on to explain that Herz-Sommer played music while she lived in a German concentration camp during World War II. She went on to be featured last year in a short documentary film titled “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.”

“I felt chosen to write that,” Hartley said.

It’s also not the first time she’s written something that she later realized was related to a world event, she said.

But poetry for the most part is an outlet for her — an avenue to put her sometimes chaotic thoughts and emotions on paper.

Hartley began writing poetry at age 22 after reading Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. And in 1985 and 1988, she self-published two collections of her poetry — “Wise Child” and “Behind My Curtain.”

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