Germantown Poet Victoria Peurifoy Finds Her Voice and Helps Others Find their VoiceBy Alex Schiappacasse and Theodore Z. Bordelon
For Germantown resident Victoria Peurifoy, poetry and writing have always played an important role in life. Whether writing poems about her experience reconnecting with her long-lost son, documenting taxpayer stories for the IRS, or writing notes as a child to her mother, Peurifoy’s pen has helped to shape her experiences from an early age.
Nicknamed “the Axiom” by her fellow local poets, the 61- year- old retired tax auditor’s propensity to write was, until recently, just a hobby. A self-described “Army brat,” she began writing as a child in Alexandria, Va., where her father was stationed.
Peurifoy said that she was unable to ask her mother personal questions as a child due to the arrival of her grandmother, who came to live with the family early in Peurifoy’s childhood and who brought with her a set of staunchly traditional values.
“My grandmom was not as open as my mother—she didn’t have that liberal mindset, she had that ‘pop-you-in-the-mouth’ mindset,” Peurifoy said. “So I couldn’t ask my mom things out loud, I had to write her a note instead.”
Peurifoy wrote her mother notes about everything, from the “facts of life” to more mundane topics, such as the possibility of attending social gatherings with friends.
In college, Peurifoy’s subject matter changed to relationships, and she began to explore poetry as a medium of artistic expression.
“You always think you’re in love in college,” Peurifoy said, laughing.
Peurifoy’s career as a clerk typist and, later, a tax auditor for the IRS, caused her to practice a very different style of writing. “When you interview the taxpayers, you had to write down everything they were saying about a particular issue,” Peurifoy said.
She didn’t decide to compile the poetry she’d written until her retirement party six years ago when she announced the upcoming publication of her first book, The Wild Spirit Behind the Voice. Up until the end of her 35-year career with the IRS, Peurifoy didn’t put much thought into her poetry writing as anything more than a pastime.
“I wasn’t thinking about that at the time” Peurifoy said. “I was thinking about survival.”
Poetry to calm the spirit
Since retiring, however, poetry has become an integral part of Peurifoy’s life. As she puts it, “It’s just a way to calm my spirit.”
Peurifoy has published numerous other collections of her poetry since her retirement in 2007, and currently teaches a poetry writing class at Germantown’s Center in the Park. She has also entered—and won—several local poetry competitions.
“I think it’s just in me,” Peurifoy said. “It allows me to be silly, it allows me to be serious, and it allows me to give a little history.”
Her more light-hearted works center on Philadelphia, nostalgia and children. In “I could Take You Back,” she reminds readers and listeners of the days of VHS tapes, drive-ins and when “cell phones looked like walkie-talkies.” “No Sunday School,” which she reads in a falsetto voice, gives a “first-person” account of a child’s attempt to skip Mass, while other poems allude to her love of “the City of Brotherly Love…‘hoagie town.’”
For Peurifoy, however, the most meaningful poetry in her portfolio concerns deeply personal matters. One of her early books, No Expiration Date, was focused on the loss of her husband to throat cancer, and the struggles of taking care of a terminally ill loved one.
“I didn’t like the way the doctors talked to us at the end of his life when they couldn’t do anything for us,” Peurifoy said. “I wrote all these poems that centered around being a caregiver and how it feels and the frustrations you go through.”
Reuniting with the son she relinquished
The son she gave up for adoption when she was 17 has also become a focal point for her poetry. After being “harassed” by her mother and sent to an alternative school because of her pregnancy, Peurifoy opted to put her son up for adoption. However, Peurifoy was able to see her son immediately after she gave birth and even gave him a name, against her adoption counselor’s wishes.
“My mother never knew it but I did get to see him,” Peurifoy said. “I told the social worker at the hospital that I wanted to see my son. She said ‘you can’t do that’ but I said ‘I haven’t signed any papers yet so you can’t tell me I can’t do that.’”
The experience deeply impacted Peurifoy, who said she often cannot help crying while reading poetry about her son.
“The nurse came to the door and they showed me my son,” Peurifoy said. “And I said, ‘boy, doesn’t he look like a 5 pound bag of sugar.’”
While she longed to reconnect with her child after giving him up for adoption, Peurifoy didn’t see or hear from her son until September 2012 when she received an email at 4 a.m. She said that God intervened to make sure she was awake to get the email just as it came into her inbox.
“I said ‘Lord, you cannot be serious. I could just turn over,’” Peurifoy said. “I laid there and He said, ‘Get up, right now and go to your computer.’”
After checking her email, she found a message with the subject “concerning adoption,” and was reconnected to her son by one of his friends who had recently found her adoptive parents and who used the same process to locate Peurifoy.
Her son now lives in Australia, and goes by Joshua rather than John, but Peurifoy was ecstatic to have regained contact with him, despite the name change.
“Oh my God, it’s him”
“I started screaming, ‘Oh my God, it’s him,” Peurifoy said. The mother and son have continued communicating ever since, and he has become a regular source of inspiration for Peurifoy’s poetry.
In the coming months, Peurifoy said she hopes to release her autobiography, which she plans on titling “A Blade of Grace.” She would also like to publish children’s literature. In the meantime, she said she will continue to read her poetry live at local venues and teach classes at Center in the Park.
“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people here and have become very close friends with a lot of people here,” Peurifoy said of the community center. “It’s a strong outlet if you choose to use it that way.”
Theodore Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alex Schiappacasse can be reached at email@example.com.