Judith Ortiz Cofer first came into my view in the late 1980’s. I was a graduate student at The University of Georgia, where she is on faculty. In fact, I was a lonely insomniac at UGA when I found myself seated one day in the Black Dog Café after an illuminating poetry reading by Coleman Barks. I had dressed in a black velvet skirt and almost matching jacket, something my mother found in a basement sale at Rich’s years before, and I was at the table with other graduate students in English who’d been at Barks’s reading. We were having tea in chipped cups on equally chipped china saucers, no two of which were alike. At the table next to ours perched “the eminent ones” (Coleman and other professors and published poets), and there there was a woman who caught my eye because she was lovely and because she looked like one of my much-adored aunts in Miami. This women held my awe; she was a Poet with a capital P. Words obeyed her like willing lovers, and this divine being said to her companions, with a subtle nod in my direction, “She’s beautiful,” meaning me, and the melancholy person I was then thought, Well, I’m no published poet, but—no matter—Judith Ortiz Cofer thinks I’m beautiful.
Professor Cofer never knew I heard her compliment, and I never found the courage to take a course from her, either. I felt inadequate just contemplating that scenario. I felt safer then researching someone other than myself. So I went the scholarly route (which, I must admit, is—to this day—also satisfying), charging into the world of Anglo-Saxon, even though I’d written poetry consistently since I was old enough to grasp a fat pencil, and even though as a serious graduate student I was then writing poems in margins and blank pages of my thick, predictable literature anthologies, but that is mostly where they stayed. Some did make it to paper and some of these made it to the trashcan. I continued straightforward.
Having studied German language and literature at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg years earlier on a Rotary Club International Graduate Scholarship helped me secure a Fulbright
Copyright©Carmen Butcher 1995