Following her passion at 80

-“A bonus life.”

That’s how Dorothy Weber Trogdon ’47 describes her career as a working poet, which didn’t reach full flower until she was 80 years old.

Second actsInitially, her life’s path led her to design, not poetry. Trogdon majored in art history at Wheaton, then earned a master of architecture degree from Harvard Graduate School of Design. It was there she met her future husband Bill Trogdon, who was studying under the renowned Walter Gropius.

After marrying, the couple moved to Seattle, Bill’s hometown. He found work right away in a leading architectural firm, but for Dorothy it wasn’t so easy.

“In office after office, I was turned away because I was a woman,” she says. “One potential employer stated frankly that having a woman in the drafting room would mean the guys couldn’t tell their dirty stories.”

Eventually, Dorothy did find a job, but soon Bill accepted a new position—in Spokane, Wash. The couple relocated.

-“And I was newly pregnant,” she says. Over the next 30 years, Bill worked as a partner in an architectural firm and Dorothy reared the couple’s three sons. She also worked part time as an interior design consultant and became a site visitor for the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research, which accredits interior design education programs. She was elected to the board, and served a year as chair.

Meanwhile, she was writing poetry, but showing it to almost no one.

“I had a locked drawer in a small desk in our bedroom, and that’s where the poems went,” she says. Occasionally, she would share a poem with a woman friend, a painter, who encouraged her.

In 1985, after Bill retired, the couple moved to Orcas Island, Wash., and Dorothy started to devote more time to writing.

“I began to wonder if my work had any merit beyond the approval of a friend, so I entered a competition run by the journal Passager, a publication of the University of Baltimore,” she says. “They published my poem ‘Every Day Something New’ under the title ‘Roses.’ My first published poem. I was 80.”

Encouraged, she entered another competition, sponsored by Floating Bridge Review, and had another poem accepted. She decided to self-publish a chapbook, Tributaries, printing 100 copies that quickly sold out. Then she published a second chapbook, 31 Poems.

Poet Kathleen Flenniken, an editor at Floating Bridge Review, offered to help Trogdon compile a book-length manuscript and sent some of the poems to an editor at Blue Begonia Press in Selah, Wash. Blue Begonia published the collection, Tall Woman Looking, in 2012.

Flenniken, now the poet laureate of Washington State, featured one of Trogdon’s poems in her first blog post as laureate. Trogdon’s poetry, she says, reflects “an eager, interesting mind, a lovely restraint, and an unquenched—maybe unquenchable—desire for something just beyond. These poems feel very alive—and ageless.”

Trogdon’s love of art threads its way through her poetry, which is full of visual imagery and references to color. Several of her poems are reflections on paintings by well-known artists.

Nature is also a recurring theme. “Tall Woman Looking,” the title poem of her book, evokes her childhood home in Maine, with its “brown shingled siding, blue hydrangeas, and … an old birch tree hammered by a woodpecker every April.”

“Sometimes I wish I had focused on poetry sooner,” she says, “so that I had time to get better at it. But these last few years have been incredibly rich ones, a kind of bonus life. I am the most fortunate of women.”

Photo by William Trogdon

Dorothy Trogdon’s tips for people considering a “second act:”

  • Pursue a submerged interest. Is there something you’ve always kept on the back burner, quietly percolating in your mind over the years? Have you thought, “I always wished I could…”? Tune in to those latent desires.
  • Test drive. Find a way to “dip your toes” in the field you’re considering. Read about it. Take a class or a workshop. Attend a lecture. Talk to someone who’s doing it.
  • Consider creative work—painting, clay work, music, weaving, dance, drama, writing—because at this stage of your life you have so much experience and life wisdom to bring to your craft. And you probably the time to do it, at last.
  • Push the naysayers out the door and lock them out! Perhaps those inner negative voices have always held you back (“I’m not good enough,” “There isn’t time.”) Don’t listen.
  • Go for it. Be serious, be prepared to fail and start over. Sign up and give it your best. This is the time of your life to speak from the soul if you are ever going to.