Dodge Poet Spotlight: BJ Ward

Welcome to our continuing blog series here on Poetry Fridays, Dodge Poet Spotlight. We will be turning the focus over to the individuals who make our programming what it is in the schools, with teachers in Spring & Fountain, and on the ground at the Dodge Poetry Festival — the Dodge Poets.

Each week, a Dodge Poet will answer some questions about themselves and provide a selected poem of their own work. We hope that this will be a way for you to get to know the Dodge Poets a little better, and you can get an idea of why we love working with them so much.

We are first featuring leaders of our Spring & Fountain sessions.

Without further ado, today’s Dodge Poet is BJ Ward.

Photo Credit: Lauren Rutten

What are you reading?
Olives (A.E. Stallings), The Trouble Ball (Martín Espada), View with a Grain of Sand (Wislawa Szymborska), and The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” (Alan Light).

When did you first discover poetry?  What poets made you want to write poetry?
I first discovered poetry in 10th grade. The poets that made me want to write poetry: James Wright, Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, William Carlos Williams, W.B. Yeats, and my 10th grade English teacher, Edwin Romond—a fine poet himself.

Tell us about any personal habits, rituals, ceremonies, superstitions that are part of your writing practice.
Silence during the first draft. Windows open during revision. Springsteen’s album Darkness on the Edge of Town when putting together the order of a book.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
Reading at the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo Village. I read with Susan Jackson, who was lovely in words and in person. The audience was so receptive to the event—enthusiastic in its applause and in conversation afterwards. A close second: reading at a Barnes & Noble in Reno, Nevada. There were two Elvis impersonators in the small but friendly audience (a convention was in town).

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
I was 16 years old. At a family picnic I brazenly announced I wanted to be a poet. A woman shrieked. Every man just shook his head. Birds of prey started watching me closely, the vultures drooling. My mother, however, beamed.


287 was the long road to the newspaper plant
…… black-handed father would ride beneath
the weight of a night sky.
……..A father who works the night shift
knows that weight, how it accumulates from within
……..when his mistakes and debt
begin to press on his children and wife.
……..And so went his life—

If the stars spelled something real,
……..they might spell the equation
that my father never mastered–
……..the news just ran through his hands
and what slid there left the black residue
……..of the world’s doings, pressed knowledge
that read like misaligned tea leaves in his hardening palms,
……..and in his life line and heart line and other lines
that would normally speak a fortune,
……..the night just accumulated itself—
a little sky he would spread over us
……..when the world redelivered him in the morning.

BJ Ward

(originally published in Poetry,
from Jackleg Opera: Collected Poems, 1990 to 2013)

Photo Credit: Lauren Rutten

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