Meet Jude Roche, 94, poet laureate of Warwick

Jude is an unusual name. Tell us about it.

I was born Doris Jewell. When I was 12 I changed everything. I started writing and I changed my name to Judy. It was difficult to get everybody to go along with that, including my father. He thought that was ridiculous. You can’t just change your name! But I did, and when my husband came along he changed it from Judy to Jude, so I’ve been Jude for most of my life. Now I just sign my name Jude.

When and where were you born?

I was born in Albany, NY on February 4, 1923. But I prefer to celebrate my birthday in May because it’s a nicer time of year.

In your bedroom you’ve got a couple guitars, a keyboard and ukelele. Are you a musician?

I fiddle around. The guitar on the right, Terry my daughter painted for me. It’s a steel guitar, so Maggie went out and bought me a string guitar. And I can’t play any of them. We’re a family of musicians so you gotta have musical instruments in the house.

As a child I took piano lessons but that didn’t work out for me - I play by ear, not by notes. I learned to read notes singing with the Warwick Valley Chorale, which I did for 20 years.

Your household was and is an artistic one. What’s your artistic background?

I worked as creative director of a marketing company, hiring artists, writing promotional material, a job I enjoyed and kept for 20 years. I took art lessons but always saw myself as a writer. Writing was and still is an addiction. When I shared my creative writing with Jack he would often cry. Then I’d have to wonder if he thought it was good or bad.

Your daughters made it to the big time as the folk singers The Roches. When did you realize they were unusually talented?

When they were 10 and 12 years old, Terre and Maggie started playing guitars. They were naturally talented and began to play in coffee houses. When Terre was in high school and Maggie was at Bard College studying acting, they both dropped out of school and took off to go on the coffee house circuit. They got a car and drove all over the country, appearing at colleges. I had had enough! I called them in California and told them to “get their ass home.” They drove home in five days.

Were you involved in their careers?

After retiring in 1988, I traveled with them around the country, to England, Ireland and beyond. I ran their fan club, which grew as they put out new albums and made appearances. There were 5000 names to be dealt with by snail mail.

My great sadness is that my daughter, Maggie, died of breast cancer in January. And everything about me has changed since then. The things I think of and things I feel, all perspectives, all kinds of things have changed. So you have to change with them.

You’ve got a whole bunch of lives ahead of you, you know? You don’t realize that when you’re young and beautiful and everything is going well. You wind up with a collection of lives. I’m on my 13th, just so you know.

When did you get serious about your writing?

After Jack died in 1995, I published my first book, “Words,” stories and verses about him. I don’t call my writing poems; I call them verses. I’ve written four books since then. Now I have macular degeneration and I’m unable to see a lot of the writing I’ve done over the years.

How did you come to be poet laureate of Warwick?

I was sitting here at this table when the phone rang. Michael Newhard said, “Good morning Jude, this is Michael Newhard.” [Laughs]

“Oh yeah? What can I do for you?”

He said, “I’m going to ask you to be poet laureate,” and that’s what happened.

Right off the bat he told me I had no obligations, that there was nothing I had to do. But I’ve since found out that most poet laureates do glorious things for their craft. But I haven’t done anything.

Well, you wrote your book.

Isn’t it funny, coincidentally with his call, I had just started thinking about the book. The two things happened at the same time. Actually there is a piece in there that’s called Warwick. It’s about Warwick. Afterwards I agonized about that. Oh my gosh, I ought to do something that makes it look like I live here. You know it’s funny how it just sort of just popped onto the page.

You’ve lived in Warwick since the 1980s. What brought you here?

When my husband, Jack, and I visited Warwick to have lunch with Father Lawrence, a Franciscan friar who was an old friend, we fell in love with the town and actually bought a house that very day.

Tell us about your latest book, Soliloquy.

Every single day last summer I worked on that book, and every single day I quit. It was too much. You look at that little book and you say, I could have knocked this off in a month.

Not so.

It was very difficult to do. First of all, I can’t see. I didn’t have anybody help me. Everybody afterwards was saying, Why didn’t you let me help you proofread it? There are mistakes in it.

I did the whole thing, beginning to end. When it was finished, I said that’s it, I’m finished. I’ll never write again. But you know what, I can’t stop. The problem is, I can’t physically write. If I write, and I do, I can’t tell you how many notebooks I recently just tore up because I couldn’t read any of it. Couldn’t see. What good is it?

How do you write: by hand, on the computer?

I write everything first by hand. There’s something about it coming from here [heart] to here [hand]. I’ve had a typewriter since I was 12 years old. Now I can’t type anymore. That was something I could do like wash my hands. But I can’t type anymore, and the keys are different from a typewriter, so the tactile communion is different. And then my hands don’t work anymore. Who ever thought that could happen to you?

Well I see a letter you wrote here in your study.

Oh yes, that’s my latest letter to Donald Trump.

MEMO

To: Donald Trump, President, USA

From: The Creator of Heaven and Earth

Date: Ash Wednesday, 2017

Subject: Humility

Remember, man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shall return. Amen

Are you going to send it?

No I don’t think so, I’ll just put it in my collection. I’ve got a whole collection of what I’ve written about Trump. What I can’t understand is why half of us feel that way and the other half think he’s going to make them rich and famous, I guess.

You fundraise for the Warwick Valley Chorale, draw, paint and write. Any other hobbies these days?

I’m not very active. I don’t like sports at all.

What is my hobby, you ask? I get up in the morning, I get dressed. I try to figure out what can I eat that I won’t have indigestion. [Laughs.] And then I think, Who did I talk to on the telephone today? Ooooh! I haven’t heard from so-and-so. And you’d be surprised how much effort it takes to get dressed these days. Or you say, shall I put the garbage out today or tomorrow.

You got special permission to paint your door purple, here in Warwick Grove, where all the other doors are traditional colors. Your rug’s purple, your shades. I take it you like purple?

Purple, everything’s purple. Well it’s my birthstone, it’s my flower, violet. And I used to have a pen that wrote a purple ink when I was a kid.

Interview by Pat Foxx and Becca Tucker. Foxx visits Jude every week. They have coffee and always find some humor in the way things are.