Judy Turek had a busy year. The East Meadow poet finished 391 poems in 2020, and her work was published in 12 anthologies.
Turek, 58, who goes by the gender-neutral J R Turek, could be seen at poetry readings and creative writing workshops across Long Island. “We have a huge poetry community,” she said.
When the coronavirus pandemic brought about large-scale business and cultural shutdowns, members of the arts and entertainment industry — including poets and writers — faced new challenges when they couldn’t perform live or collaborate in person.
“A lot of people are negative and thinking about what they can’t do,” Turek said. “But think about the things you can do.”
Turek has been writing since she was 5 and, for the past 16 years, has challenged herself to write at least one poem a day. “I remember always writing,” she said. “It’s always been an outlet for me; it’s been a release. And through Covid, it’s been my sanity.”
Over the past six months, she ap-peared in more books than she had in all of 2019, she said. She also participated in a number of virtual events that, she said, she would have otherwise overlooked.
In July, she took part in the 2020 Poetry Marathon, the 14th annual online competition in which writers across the globe write a poem every hour for 24 consecutive hours. “It was life-changing,” she said. “It was remarkable just to push yourself. By 4 a.m. I was so punch drunk and tired, but I just kept writing.”
The organizers of the event published a compilation of 24 of their favorite poems — one for each hour — and Turek’s poem is the third one in the book.
The pandemic also gave her more time to reflect and go through her family’s possessions. Her father, Marty Raffaele, died in July 2009, at age 73; her mother, Cathy Raffaele, died in April 2018, at 79; and her brother, Mikey, 58, died in October 2019. “So now I’m the last of the bloodline,” she said. The “R” in her pen name stands for her maiden name, Raffaele.
And Turek’s parents and brother remain alive in her poetry. The first anthology in which she was published this year was Korean Expatriate Literature Volume 24. The book came out on the anniversary of her father’s death, and her poem, “Midnight to Eight,” was about his working the night shift when she was a child.
One of the poems she wrote for the Poetry Marathon also memorialized her father, who worked for 24 years as a police officer in New York City’s 18th Precinct, with which he responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“He was so proud to be a cop,” she said. “My poem is all about remembering him and honoring first responders.”
Turek published her fifth book, “Midnight on the Eve of Never,” in 2019, while her brother was still alive. It consists of roughly 100 poems mostly focused on mortality and grief, drawing from her experience of losing her parents. When her brother died, she said, the book helped her cope, and publicizing it brought her a newfound comfort.
She was able to promote it more widely in 2020, when she started appearing at virtual poetry readings around the world without leaving her home. In October, Turek was a guest reader at an event in London called National Poetry Day, run by a UK nonprofit called the Forward Arts Foundation. She has also read at poetry events across the country, including in Alabama, Iowa and California.
“This year,” she said, referring to 2020, “I’ve met people I would have never met before and I’ve done things I would have never done before.”