Janet Aalfs

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Janet Aalfs
Born Janet Elizabeth Aalfs
New Bedford, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Occupation Poet, martial artist
Known for Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts
Parents Joann Aalfs

Janet Aalfs (born 1956) is an American poet and martial artist. She is a co-founder of Valley Women's Martial Arts and the Institute for Healing and Violence Prevention Strategies and the National Women's Martial Arts Federation. She served as poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts from 2003 until 2005.

Life and work[edit]

As a 13 year old, Aalf read her first poetry, and began practicing writing. Her father, a minister, was described by Aalfs as sporadically violent and abusive. He is credited with teaching Aalfs about the American civil rights movement of the 1960s.[1] By the age of sixteen, Aalfs had participated in assisting her mother in the founding of the women's center in New Bedford, Massachusetts, read and found inspiration in her sister's copy of Sisterhood is Powerful, and had her poems published by the women's center at Southeastern Massachusetts University. During her first year at Hampshire College, in 1974,[1] she joined the women's center and registered for women's studies classes at University of Massachusetts, which shared classes with Hampshire.[2]

Sexual orientation[edit]

While still in college, Aalfs would come out of the closet as a lesbian.[2] She would go on to get her Master's of Fine Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College.[3] Shortly thereafter she would found a women's writing group, and eventually two lesbian writing groups: Calypso Borealis and the Tuesday Night Lesbian Writers Group. She also founded Orogeny Press, a publishing house for fiction and lesbian poetry. In 1978, Aalfs began practicing martial arts and became a founding member of Valley Women's Martial Arts and the Institute for Healing and Violence Prevention Strategies (VWMA/HAVPS) and the National Women's Martial Arts Federation.[2]


Aalfs has served as the director of VWMA/HAVPS since 1982, and was a board member and is head instructor,[3] as well.[1][2] She holds at seventh-degree black belt in Shuri-ryū and a fifth-degree black belt in Modern Arnis. Between 2003 and 2005, she served as the poet laureate for Northampton, Massachusetts.[1][4] She lives and works, with her partner, in Northampton.[1]


Aalf's poetry process begins in the morning, writing poetry at her kitchen table. For several hours she might work, writing longhand. After completing something she's satisfied with, she then types her poetry out on a computer, proceeded by additional hand editing. Her subject matter varies, ranging from martial arts to family, relationships, nature, love, and violence against women. Kathy Goos, of the Northampton Arts Council, described Aalf's poetry as having a "musical quality." Her work has also been inspired by Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich, Walt Whitman, Lucille Clifton, Stanley Kunitz, among others. As poet laureate of Northampton, she was paid $1,000 a year, following Martin Espada.[1]

Further reading[edit]

Works by Janet Aalfs
  • with Carol Wiley. Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching. Mumbai: Frog Books (1995). ISBN 1-883319-09-9
  • Reach. Florence: Perugia Press (1999). ISBN 0-9660459-2-0
  • "Women and the martial arts." Women of Power 3 (1986).


  1. ^ a b c d e f Susan Wilson (2003). "Poetic license, Northampton's poet laureate Janet Aalfs blends body and mind in words to inspire a community". Daily Hampshire Gazette. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d Barbara J. Love (2006). Feminists who changed America, 1963-1975. University of Illinois Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-252-03189-2. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Stephanie T. Hoppe (1 March 1998). Sharp spear, crystal mirror: martial arts in women's lives. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-89281-662-0. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  4. ^ "Bird of a Thousand Eyes". Collective Copies. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 

External links[edit]