Janet W. Hoyt, 88, poet known for recitations

April 25, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Janet White Hoyt, a poet whose memorable recitations of her work in Annapolis coffeehouses endeared her to audiences, died of lung disease April 18 at the Sunrise assisted-living community there. She was 88.

The former Hillsmere Shores resident, whose home overlooked the South River, was born Janet White in Appleton, Wis., the fourth of five children. She was raised in a cultivated family, and her early memories were of the book-filled home in Farmington, Mich., where she spent her youth.

"We had so many books that we never used a library," she said last year in a filmed interview with Max Ochs, a poet, musician and teacher. He is host of the monthly 333 Coffeehouse at Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, where Mrs. Hoyt was poet laureate. She also did readings at the Red Door in Arnold.

Her powers of observation of nature and the human condition were honed early, as her parents insisted that their children share at evening gatherings what they had seen and experienced during the day.

"I became interested in poetry as soon as I could read," she said in the interview. She composed and memorized poetry by the time she had entered kindergarten.

After graduating from high school, she attended Lawrence University in Appleton and studied English literature and speech. To reward herself after long hours of studying, she would select a poem from an anthology and memorize it.

Her father's death in 1933 profoundly moved her, and in her poem "Continuity 1," she wrote:

I stand in the old cemetery

Here is my father buried

And my father's father

And the grandmother I am said to resemble

And whom I never knew.

Here are the old names

On the old tombstones.

In 1938, she married Edgar D. Hoyt, a family friend who became a naval architect. After he worked in Bremerton, Wash., and Bethesda, the couple settled in Annapolis in 1972. Mr. Hoyt died in 1999.

Mrs. Hoyt's poetic influences were Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, and her work reflected a deep religious faith. Her poems were composed in an odd way.

"Like John Milton, who was blind, she'd write poems in her head and then memorize them before committing them to paper," Mr. Ochs said. "When she was giving a reading at the coffeehouse, she never rattled papers because her whole repertoire was in her head. She knew them by heart.

"And because her poems were short, she'd tell her audience to save their applause until the end when you can `really let me have it,'" Mr. Ochs said.

Mrs. Hoyt preferred long, flowing, flowery purple caftans. Her extravagant wide-brimmed millinery was equally as whimsical and always adorned with fresh flowers worn in the hat or carefully tucked into her steel-gray hair.

"She was lovingly called `the old lady with flowers.' She was kind of a character -- eccentric and flamboyant -- and full of flair," Mr. Ochs said.

A son, David K. Hoyt of Glen Burnie, recalled his mother's numerous acquaintances: "She stopped to smell every flower. She patted every dog and admired every baby. That's her in a nutshell."

She was an avid tennis player -- on the courts until she was 83 -- and celebrated her 80th birthday with a tennis party at the indoor Big Vanilla tennis and fitness club in Arnold.

Her life was not without its struggles. She battled alcoholism for years until a relative suggested that she attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

"She was a stalwart of the 12-step program and a good friend of Bill W., the founder of AA. And she was a mentor to the young ones and wanted to help them out," Mr. Ochs said.

At her death last week, Mrs. Hoyt had marked 32 years of sobriety.

She was a member of South River Bible Church, 744 W. Central Ave. in Davidsonville, where a memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. May 11. Burial will be in the family plot in Appleton that she wrote about in "Continuity 1," which is included in her book Legacy:

Yet

My children may come here,

Sometime,

When I am one with my father,

And my father's father,

And the grandmother I am said to resemble

And whom I never knew-

Here.

In the book's title poem, "Legacy," she asks,

What can I leave to you

Who are so dear to me?

A rock,

And a rhyme,

And a memory.

Mrs. Hoyt is also survived by another son, Peter B. Hoyt of Savannah, Ga.; a daughter, Katherine H. Zlotnicki of Erie, Pa.; a brother, Ralph K. White of Cockeysville; a sister, Hester Maury of Seattle; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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