Minty, Judith M.

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MINTY, Judith M.

Nationality: American. Born: Detroit, Michigan, 5 August 1937. Education: Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science (now Michigan State University), 1954–59; Ithaca College, B.S. 1957; Muskegon Community College, 1970–71; Grand Valley State College (now Grand Valley State Colleges), 1971; Western Michigan University, M.A. 1973; Michigan Technological University, Ph.D. (honors) 1997. Family: Married Edgar Sheldon Minty in 1957; two daughters and one son. Career: Assistant professor, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, 1977–78; associate professor and visiting poet-in-residence, Syracuse University, New York, 1979. Professor and poet-in-residence, 1982–93, and since 1993 professor emerita, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California. Guest lecturer, English Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, 1974–77; poet-in-prison pilot project, Muskegon Correctional Facility, Michigan, 1977; visiting poet-in-residence, Interlochen Center for Arts, Michigan, 1980, University of Oregon, Eugene, 1983, and University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1994; visiting lecturer, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1981–82. Awards: International Poetry Forum award, 1973, for Lake Songs and Other Fears; John Atherton fellow in poetry, Breadloaf Writers Conference, 1974; Yaddo fellow, 1978, 1979, 1982; Eunice Tietjens award, Poetry, 1974; Montalvo award, 1989; Mark Twain award, Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, Michigan State University, 1998; Michigan Council for the Arts grant, 1981, 1983; Foundation for Women Residence grant, 1994.



Lake Songs and Other Fears. Pittsburgh, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.

Yellow Dog Journal. Los Angeles, Central Publications, 1979.

In the Presence of Mothers. Pittsburgh, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Counting the Losses. Aptos, California, Jazz Press, 1986.

Dancing the Fault. Orlando, University of Central Florida, 1991.

Walking with the Bear. East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 2000.


Critical Studies: "Mother Lore: A Sequence for Daughters" by Marilyn Zorn, in Great Lakes Review (Mt. Pleasant, Michigan), 6(1), 1979; "To Sustain the Bioregion: Poets of Place" by William Barillas, in Midamerica (East Lansing, Michigan), 17, 1990.

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Judith M. Minty writes in archetypal images—of water, wind, and bears. Her early poems tend to be male centered, while the later ones develop the female side, merging the male and the female into a seamless journey through the North Woods of Michigan. Somewhat reminiscent of Robert Frost's self-imposed geographical limitations, Minty narrows her borders, fixing her poems specifically in time and place.

Minty's first book of poems, Lake Songs and Other Fears (1974) is a very uneven work; it is disjointed, with poems that seem unrelated. She does, however, introduce motifs—water, wind, the father—that continue in her later works. Her second book, Yellow Dog Journal (1979), is a much more complete, mature collection. The book is framed by quotes from the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, reflecting the Finnish immigrant culture of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the setting of Yellow Dog Journal. Divided into two seasons, fall and spring, the collection consists of a series of related poems that read like a poetic journal. Individually the poems sometimes seem small and weak, but taken as whole, they are evocative of the magic of living in the northland. The mythic symbol of the poetic voice is the bear—sometimes frightening, sometimes comforting, but always a presence. In one of the book's most powerful poems, the refrain is "When I last dreamed the bear," and in this poem the voice comes to an understanding of the bear and, perhaps, of the father: "And though we never spoke, / I knew then that he loved me, and so began / to stroke his rough back, to pull him even closer." The book is about a return to the woods and a return to the father (who also left the North Woods). Minty writes of the father's stories of Yellow Dog River: "Late nights, he'd whisper its bends / my face close to his Finnish guttural, / cheeks flushed from his beard's rough stubble." The collection is the poet's epic journey to her place of creativity, and, as with other epic heroes, much of the journey is solitary.

In Minty's 1981 collection In the Presence of Mothers' the individual poems are much more complex. The poet's language, again like Frost's, is simple, but there is a deeper meaning beneath the images, an exploration of the unconscious, personified by the northern nature presented in the poems. For example, the poem "Ice Storm" is in some ways a response to Frost's poem "Birches." In Minty's poem

At first, the trees accept their new skins.
But by the third day, they can't
bear the weight. They begin
to bend, bow down to the sleep, and we
hunch like stones over the breakfast table.

By the end, however, after the trees have split and broken, "we gather limbs and find / the few faint buds that exposed themselves." Like Frost's poem, Minty's is about a celebration of life even in the midst of loss.

Minty's collection Dancing the Fault (1991) seems to be the culmination of her earlier work. In this book she captures the sense of home. Even though many of the pieces are set in California or New York, the essence of the spirit of the North Woods of Michigan is not far away. The collection includes poems of friendship and motherhood. One of the central pieces of the book, "Christine, On Her Way to China: An Earthquake Poem," provides the title of the collection. In the poem Minty writes, "I thought, even then, how we are planted here, / how ordinary our lives are, how we must / make adventure from these briefest shifts and passings." It seems as if this is a core theme to Minty, to learn to "dance the fault," to make a celebration of life.

Reading Minty's poetry provides lessons in the workings of the mind of a poet and in the development of a voice. At first halting and disjointed, Minty has moved on to become evocative in her exploration of deep meanings in a sense of place—in the woods and water and in the bear.

—Jenny Brantley