A Remembrance of Judith Roche
November 21, 2019
By Laura Gamache, WITS Writer-in-Residence
Judith Roche grew up in Detroit, Michigan, but she almost didn’t. Her poem, “Drowning in Lake Michigan,” begins: “My first memory looks up to sunlight through water.” I heard her read it a few years back at an It’s About Time reading at the Ballard Public Library. It is the first poem in her book, Wisdom of the Body, from Black Heron Press. The poem was so Judith, full of calm, wry, open-eyed observation. She was three years old when it happened.
Later in the poem, she writes: “You’d think/It would scare a child, but ever since/I’ve leapt to water as my element.” I leapt to thinking about her public art project at the Locks, where you pushed a button near the fish ladder viewing ports and heard one of her Salmon Cycle poems, and to the beautiful anthology, First Fish, First People: Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim, which she co-edited with Meg McHutchison.
Judith Roche died on November 14, 2019. She was one of the early WITS Writers-in-Residence, but she and I met earlier, as Washington State Arts Commission rostered artists in the early ’90s. I have run into her all over the Northwest poetry and literary teaching scene for three decades. I will miss our brief but deep conversations, at the Skagit Poetry Festival, the SAL Poetry Series, Hugo House, and AWP conferences.
She is done with writing and reading and teaching, from elementary students through college. In “Tail Pantoum,” she writes, “In my next life, I want a tail.” I hope that for her too, and that she might be smolt, backing out to sea, smelling it and using that tail to flip forward into whatever awaits.
Laura Gamache earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Washington. She has two chapbooks: “Never Enough” (2017) and “Nothing to Hold Onto” (2005). Her poems and teaching essays have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including WA129 (2017). She has had the privilege of writing and reading with students as a WITS writer since 1997.