Life & Language with Linda M. Fischer

Linda M. Fischer, a merit award winner in Atlanta Review’s Poetry International Competition in both 2013 and 2015, has poems published or forthcoming in Ibbetson Street, Iodine Poetry Journal, Josephine Quarterly, Muddy River Poetry Review, Poetry Porch, Potomac Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse-Virtual, and elsewhere. Twice a Pushcart Prize nominee, she has published two chapbooks Raccoon Afternoons and Glory (Finishing Line Press). For a look at these and more poems: Alexandra Reynolds speaks with Linda below.  

Tell us about your inspirations for “GENETIC.” It appears to be an intensely personal work. How much do you let your personal life enter your poetic life?  
“Genetic” was inspired by my son as he was preparing to build a deck for his sister during an extended visit to the States. In spite of majoring in biology, he ended up on an entirely different career path after working part-time running laser light shows for the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Since then he’s become highly adept at anything mechanical. As he was drawing up a list of supplies for the deck, my thoughts wandered to childhood memories of my father and how his capabilities have re-surfaced in my son—motherly pride mixed with regret at my father not having lived long enough to see how successful he’s become.   
When I sit down to write, I naturally want to produce a prize-worthy poem. This, however, is a lofty and elusive goal. I usually resign myself to getting something—anything—on paper and settle on whatever engages me at the moment, if only as a starting point.  I end up with a lot of personal poems in the process and feel less self-conscious about it now than when I started writing poetry. 
What led you to become a poet? 
I wrote my first poem almost by accident. I’d already had 3 children and I was immersed in their reading, thinking I might be able to write picture books myself. Turning out something that looked like a genuine poem was quite a thrill and being able to repeat the experience was supremely satisfying. Subsequent efforts were, however, sporadic. It took another 20 years or so to commit myself to it seriously, but the desire never left. I think I’d come to feel I had something of a talent for it, if untested. After a series of largely unfulfilling jobs, I came to the conclusion that it was “now or never.” Then, of course, I regretted not having done so much earlier in my life.      
Which writers have influenced you throughout your career? 
I’d have to start with Sylvia Plath, probably not long after I graduated from college. As an English major I otherwise read the standard works in my survey courses. I have to tell you that writing poetry was the furthest thing from my mind then—it was all I could do to get through term papers. I was captivated by C.K. Williams while taking a couple of his workshops—this was soon after my family’s move from China Lake, CA, to Swarthmore, PA, in 1973—while he was a relative unknown. Linda Pastan was another touchstone. Her work reflects a life very much like my own, and it gave me a sense of freedom about using personal themes in my poetry.  Christian Wiman’s work blows me away. I recently discovered Eamon Grennan. His descriptions of the natural world encouraged me to slow down and pay more attention to detail in building a poem. Of course, there are many others—a world of contemporary poetry I knew little about, having been a late starter. I read poetry now almost exclusively. It continues to open up a breadth of possibilities for my own writing.    
Can you tell us about your writing process? 
It’s a bit haphazard. It may start with a phrase, a line, or a bit of description that strikes me—hard to quantify. Sometimes I just read to get the poetry part of my brain in gear. I’m not disciplined enough to write on a set schedule. I eschew writing on assignment through guided prompts or coursework. When I went back to school for a master’s degree, I’d never even heard of MFA programs. At this point, I’d have to say I’m largely self-taught. I work with what I’ve got and try to write consistently, that’s all.  
What was the proudest moment in your writing career?  
That would be having “Memorial Day Weekend” accepted for publication by Fine Gardening magazine in 2000 (printed in the June, 2001, issue). I’d been writing for several years without sending anything out, waiting until I’d convinced myself I could keep it up and accumulate a backlog of material. The poem, a narrative about long-distance gardening for my mother (at my childhood home in Beacon, NY) seemed a perfect fit for their “Last Word” feature, although I wasn’t aware of their ever having used a poem. I sent it off anyway—on a whim. The editor actually telephoned me with the news. On top of that, I was paid handsomely for it—much to the chagrin of my husband, a prominent scientist by then who bemoaned the fact that he’d never been paid a farthing for anything he’d written. I was fairly plotzed—evidently I was publishable! Who knew? I'd turned a corner! 
My favorite lines in “GENETIC” are “Like lunar tides / sluicing through familial blood, they persist.” Imagery is central to the understanding of your poem. How did you go about crafting these images? From memory or imagination?  
I don’t remember specifically how I came up with “lunar tides,” but from there it was an easy jump to “blood.”  This, for me, is the miraculous thing about my process—an idea will eventually come to me if I obsess about it long enough. It’s a matter of associations—a coupling of imagination, I suppose, and verbal agility. I spend a lot of time looking for just the right word, thanks to my mother’s influence. She never talked down to me when I was a child, and I remember long conversations during my adolescence that demanded—from both of us—a certain precision of expression. This left an indelible mark. My mother was always a great reader and also a lover of poetry. As a kid, though, I preferred riding my bike or playing baseball to sitting around with my nose in a book. 
“GENETIC” features a powerful and definite ending. How do you know or decide when a poem is finished? 
I know I’m there when I realize that a deft line or two can pull it out, something of a clincher. I’m often a couple of stanzas into a poem before I even have a clear idea where I’m headed. The ending has to wrap up what precedes it with a shiny bow. It has to feel right and it has to sound right—the hard part. Sometimes I can make the ending more forceful by stressing internal rhyme, but it really depends on the content of the poem. There is no magic formula, and it can take hours of head-banging. Afterwards, if I’m pleased with the result, I go through a period of elation. But it doesn’t last—the letdown is not knowing where the next poem is coming from.   
What writing project are you working on now? 
Alas, at the moment I am between poems, [having just finished one].  They often come in 2’s and 3’s. I’m waiting….