J R Turek is the 2019 Walt Whitman Birthplace Writer of the Year


No writer is immune to writer’s block, says Judy Turek, who has been writing at least one poem every day for 15 years, adding that she has a “bizarre” ritual to invoke creativity when she needs it.

The East Meadow resident picks up a book, often a dictionary or thesaurus, and fans the pages until she comes across a word that inspires her and sparks an idea.

“Sometimes I write a whole pile of poems,” she said, adding that the most she had completed in a day was a collection of 32 poems for a Christmas project to honor the U.S. military.

Turek, 56, who goes by the gender-neutral moniker J R Turek, has been named the 2019 Long Island Poet of the Year by the Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington.

“She’s an incredible poet, and she deserves it,” said Bob Harrison, another local poet and a close friend of Turek’s who nominated her for the recognition. “When you’re in the poetry community here, you start seeing her everywhere.”

May 31 will mark the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth, which, Turek said, makes the award that much more meaningful. She will be honored at a reception at the birthplace on April 28. In the meantime, she said, her friends in Long Island’s poetry community frequently remind her of her new distinction.

She read at an open mic night at the Bellmore Bean Café on Monday, hosted by the Performance Poetry Association, of which she is a board member. “Let’s hear it for the Poet of the Year,” a friend shouted as she made her way to the microphone, and there were cheers from the audience.

“Long Island has a very tight-knit poetry community,” said Jack Zaffos, a fellow PPA board member. “We all know each other and support each other.”

Turek has made a name for herself in that community. In addition to her work with the PPA, she also has leadership positions with local writing groups including the North Sea Poetry Scene, Princess Ronkonkoma Productions and the Bard’s Initiative.

For 22 years she has run her own literary club called the Farmingdale Creative Writing Group. She has published four collections of poetry, has mentored several young and emerging Long Island poets as an editor and, in recognition of her dedication to the craft as both a poet and a teacher, she was named a 2017 Woman of Distinction by then State Assemblyman Thomas McKevitt.

Turek wrote her first poem at age 5, and was first published in the mid-1980s in “some weird, obscure magazine,” she said, noting that her poems were printed in such a small font that they looked like newspaper classified ads.

Asked if a writer could make a career of the craft, she laughed and said, “It pays in gratitude and appreciation and accolades, but monetarily it’s tough.” After graduating from Carle Place High School, Turek immediately began working full time, and has had various jobs throughout her career, including administrative roles at computer companies, in the automobile industry and in real estate.

But, she said, writers earn “the kind of wealth that you can’t put in the bank.”