"I love stories. I love reading stories, writing stories, and imagining the story behind an old photo or an antique."
May 2, 2024

A Poet-Professor’s Life Stories

Dr. Christine Redman-Waldeyer is a popular English professor, award-winning poet, journalist, author, and editor. For nearly two decades, she has taught writing, literature, and journalism at PCCC, while also serving as the advisor to Visions, the student newspaper.

Dr. Redman-Waldeyer holds a doctorate with a concentration in creative writing from Drew University and has published five books of poetry, among other works. Her poetry has received three Honorable Mentions and two Editor’s Choice Awards through the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest, as well as a recognition in the Paterson Literary Review for her poem “Napkins and Chinatown,” (2018).  She is also the founder and editor of the women-focused “Adanna Literary Journal.” 

The thread that runs through all the facets of this poet/professor is storytelling. “I love stories,” she says. “I love writing stories, reading stories, imagining the story behind an old photo or an antique.” 

Her most recent book of poetry, “The Nest,” (2023) is the sequel to “Where We Nest,” (2020) a collection of poems written during the pandemic, a time when the poet was thinking about “where we decide to build our nest, and what we do to keep the nest intact.”  In the sequel, she explores, through childhood memories and stories drawn from everyday experiences, what her “nest” has come to mean today.

“The book dives into what it feels like to watch a parent age or become ill. It dives into how badly humans can treat each other at times, how badly we can even be to ourselves. While it can be personal at times, I hope readers can see themselves in my own story,” says Dr. Redman-Waldeyer.  The poems are funny, sad, uplifting, and painful. They tell the stories of friends, cats, families, and nature. Author Nancy Gerber, in her review of the book, describes “The Nest” as a “deeply moving poetry collection (that) enraptures with powerful images and precise detail.”  

A striking example is the poem “I Am the Petals,” which contemplates issues of natural innocence, self-discovery, and self-acceptance all vividly illustrated in the fourth verse:

I am Eden
I am Eve,
I pretend I’m Adam
but really, I am the petals
of the Japanese cherry tree.
I like to dance.

I like to ride the sound
of the distant train
or ocean
or church bells.

In simple yet surprising language, Dr. Redman-Waldeyer’s poetry presents common life experiences that most of us share – childhood games, teenage feelings of inadequacy, taking over the care of a parent who once took care of us – and finds in them a journey toward self-understanding.

Growing up in the New Jersey shore area in a working-class family, young Christine enjoyed observing nature, dancing unselfconsciously in front of her favorite mirror, creating her own little books, and putting on shows she produced for the other neighborhood children. She loved the stories her parents told her about the grandparents who passed away before she came to know them. “They kept my grandparents alive for me,” says Dr. Redman-Waldeyer. “They never said a bad word about them, so my grandparents were like angels to me.”

A good student in school, Christine was never pressured by her parents to achieve a perfect report card.  Like many students, she had her strengths (writing and history) and her weakness (math). ”My father used to say, ‘a  C is average, and there’s nothing wrong with being average,’ ”she recalls.  This unpressured environment allowed young Christine to pursue what gave her joy without judgement.

But then life happens and experience invades innocence, as when a professional New York ballet company came to participate in performances by the local dance studio where teenaged Christine was an avid student. Shocked by the extreme thinness of the dancers, Christine concluded that an average body was not good enough in ballet. “I started to eat less, sometimes just rolling an apple peel around in my mouth, Dr. Redman-Waldeyer explained. The self-doubt that tainted her joyful love of dancing is explored in  in “I Am Hungry,” a poem from “The Nest.”

In her pre-college years, Christine took her writing public and saw that her words had impact. A concerned citizen, she had strong opinions and ideas to share, writing so many letters to the editor of her local newspaper – all of which were published – that the newspaper gave her a special award. Soon she was writing regularly as a journalist, reporting on local meetings and events. “It was good experience, and I liked writing the stories, but I didn’t continue, because I didn’t like the politics,” explained Dr. Redman-Waldeyer.

It was in her late teens and early twenties that the young writer began composing poetry. Remarkably, her first poem won recognition. It was written in response to a local news story about a stag that was chased into the ocean by police and shot. “I felt compelled to write a poem,” said Dr. Redman-Waldeyer. Titled “Only Death Became Your Mate,” the poem was published in the local newspapers and brought the young poet her first fan letter from a woman who wrote to thank her for writing it.

Yet, when she later took a writing workshop led by a well-known poet, he told her that what she was writing was not even poetry, because it was not crafted. “It was uninformed,” says Dr. Redman-Waldeyer. “I had studied the great poets in literature classes, but the classes focused on interpretation, not on craft.”   She didn’t realize at the time that she was writing free verse.

Over the next few years, Dr. Redman-Waldeyer worked at various New Jersey colleges, teaching both history and English, but it was when she came to PCCC that she finally received validation for her poetry.  She became acquainted with Maria Mazziotti-Gillan, a published poet and the founding director of the renowned Poetry Center at PCCC.

“I was over the moon,” said Dr. Redman-Waldeyer. “Maria validated my type of narrative poetry, a type that some established poets, (like the workshop leader) tend to critique as not being poetry.”  She embarked on a serious study of the genre, taking workshops with Ms. Mazziotti-Gillan and with several leading poets who frequently taught at the Poetry Center, among them Laura Boss, Linda Pastan, and Alicia Ostriker.  “It was wonderful,” said Dr. Redman-Waldeyer. “They all helped me to hone my skills in writing narrative poetry.”

As a teacher of poetry, she encourages her students to write about what they know, often supporting the students by writing her own work alongside them.  “Students are incredibly talented when they can tap into experience,” said Dr. Redman-Waldeyer. “Giving them permission to use the personal “I” in their work can be what many of them would say is healing.

Praised by students for her attention to their needs and her caring manner, the professor commented, “I am thankful for teaching writing. It allows me to better understand my younger self who didn’t really understand the great poets when I studied them. These students are young. You need life experience to really deeply understand both the reading and writing of poetry.” 

What lies ahead for this multi-faceted writer and professor who seems to have done it all?  “I’m not sure yet,” replied Dr. Redman-Waldeyer. “Maybe a memoir. I already have some good story ideas.”