Thomas Nelson English instructor Janice Hoffman had a pretty good year in 2017. The Poetry Society of Indiana published one of her poems in “Ink to Paper,” its literary journal. Another one of her poems was accepted by “Plainsongs,” a literary journal in Nebraska. And she was named runner-up for Poet Laureate of Hampton Roads. This year, four of her poems will appear in the South Dakota State Poetry Society’s “Pasque Petals” and two others in the Kentucky State Poetry Society’s “Pegasus.”
“In general, community college faculty do not publish often,” said Patrick Tompkins, Ph.D., Dean of Communications, Humanities and Social Sciences at the College. “However … we have a handful of writers among whom something is published almost every semester.”
Being published is not new to Hoffman, who teaches at Thomas Nelson’s Historic Triangle campus in Williamsburg. Her work was first published in the 1990s, and in 1995 she won an international award from “The Canadian Writers Journal.” She has submitted poems for consideration in other journals this year, as well as the Poetry Society of Virginia’s annual contest.
She’s been writing her “whole life, especially in the last 30 years.” Some of her creative non-fiction has been published in Indiana, and she’s working on children’s fiction. However, her main work is poetry.
“I do lyrical work and memoir poetry or confessional poetry,” she said. “Writing is easy. What’s harder is, there is so much out there, to narrow the search.”
The majority of her work since 2011 has focused on her 35-year-old son’s suicide.
“I write more than just about him, but it’s so therapeutic,” she said. “After he died, I wrote a lot, and I had a really long poem that was in sections. What I’ve done this year is gone back and pulled parts of those sections out as individual poems. They’re the ones that are getting the attention.”
The poems being published in “Pasque Petals” are about her son, while the poems in “Pegasus” deal with other topics, although her son’s death is woven into one of them. Another prominent topic is nature, especially birds, but she will write about anything that strikes her. She tries to avoid politics, but doesn’t shy away from social issues.
“Most of it’s about women’s issues, not politically and social,” she said. “But just a women’s experience; from a mother’s point of view, a grandmother, my mother. I like to write about personal things, but other things as well.”
Her styles vary but her favorite is “free verse, for sure. I like lots of concrete imagery and figurative language. I want it to be accessible but things that people can relate to on an emotional level.”
Hoffman, who has been teaching at the College for 10 years, grew up in the Midwest and attended Indiana University, where she majored in English and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In addition to her teaching duties at Thomas Nelson, she assists with monthly poetry readings for students, faculty and staff at the College.
“Janice Hoffman is not only an extraordinary poet, but one of our very best instructors,” Tompkins said. “In fact, the two are linked. As a teacher of creative writing at Thomas Nelson, Janice’s credibility is rooted in the experience of a writer who has been honing her craft for years. Increasingly, she is being recognized across the nation for the beauty and power of her poetry.”
Hoffman, who has a daughter in Louisville, lives with her husband and their only grandson in Williamsburg. She’s more motivated than ever to continue with her writing.
“I’m not getting any younger,” she said. “It hit me a couple years ago [that] I need to finish what I started while I’m still here. When I die, it will all be thrown away. I want to get my manuscript published.”
She admits to feeling the pressure of time that she didn’t feel when she was younger.
“Probably one of the things that was a catalyst was his death,” she said of her son. “I’ve really, really been writing a lot more since then; not all about him but it stimulated that whole realm.
When I was younger I just wanted to write, but now that I’m older, I want to leave some kind of legacy.”
She admits to a longstanding love of writing, and would continue to do so even if her work weren’t being published.
“I write for myself, but whether it should or not, publication of any of my work seems to confirm its validity,” she said. “But on a personal note, it helps to keep his memory alive on some level.”