Tribute by The Georgia Review

kitchen_headshotJudith Kitchen—essayist, teacher, critic, poet, and reviewer nonpareil for The Georgia Review for more than a quarter of a century—died on 6 November 2014 after a years-long up-and-down struggle with two potentially fatal illnesses. Judith’s doctors more than once gave her a length of time to live, and more than once she beat the rap with a determination born of her passion for living—and for speaking and writing her piece.

No, her pieces: numerous, various, and oh-so-smart and articulate and loving, but sometimes with an element of the just-plain-pissed-off.

Judith wrote for us some fifty substantive essay-reviews from the late 1980s forward; she finished revising her latest—and now her last—only days before her passing, and it will appear in our Winter 2014 issue, due out in mid-December. The totality of her intelligent, incisive, and humane discussions runs to some 750 of our pages—enough to fill nearly four full issues—and we are planning to bring out a generous selection of these poetry studies in book form by late 2015.

An outside reader for the manuscript of this proposed volume said, “Judith Kitchen is one of the two or three leading poetry critics in the United States and one of the five or so in the English-speaking world”—remarkably high praise, but praise with which I would not argue.

Perhaps inevitably, Judith became a trusted friend as well across all those years of our editorial back-and-forth, and I will have more to say about her in due time—whether in The Georgia Review or elsewhere. However, I cannot close without mentioning her astonishing essay “The Circus Train,” all fifty-six pages of it, in our Summer 2013 issue. Perhaps we writers are always concocting our own epitaphs, but I want to single out a passage from “The Circus Train” that has, for me, a greater-than-average leaning in the direction of a summing up:

You out there—I hope you’re there, because I need you. I need someone to carry this project forward, to write back into a past that is beginning here. And now. You won’t be using decoder rings or Our Miss Brooks on the radio. No, you’ll start with smart phones and Kindles, Darth Vader movies, sneakers with lights in their heels. Digitized, somethingized—whatever will be the next science fiction in the making. Whoever you are, I hope you are watching the world go past. Your world, and your inner world within it. Look up. Take out your Bluetooth and listen. The water makes a sound as the ferry moves through it. Rips open. Overhead the mayhem of gulls is persistent. Everything persists, even as everything changes. So keep a close watch. I’ll want an accounting. I’ll want to know whether memory itself can be eroded if there’s no one to decode its messages, no one to sort out its meanings and give it its newly coined nouns.

At least one message needs no decoding: Judith Kitchen led a valuable, memorable life.

[article courtesy of The Georgia Review]

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