Welcome to our Q & A feature article, Poet Chat. In each issue of the KotaPress Poetry Journal, we'll talk with one of the poets whose work is appearing that quarter. Submit your poems for the next issue, and we could be chatting with you next time.
This issue we are talking to Charles Fishman, also featured in this issue with his poems "A Father and Two Sons," "First Laugh," and "To The Unknown Father." We think you will find his philosophy on poetry to be insightful, and surely there are many of us out here who would agree with him about poetry being a "safe harbor."
You'll have to read on to get the rest of the story!
Chatting with Charles Fishman
Q. Why did you start writing poetry?
A. I discovered poetry by chance, in my 10th-grade history classroom, as I skrunched down behind the broken-spined, obsolete, & oversized history text & tuned out Mr. Hamm, my World History teacher. The words were humming there, above my head, in faded charts that Mr. Hamm had long ago tacked to the wall. The words asked me to listen to them, and I listened; they asked me to let them enter me, & I invited them in. This transformation in the terms of my existence occurred when I was 15, at a time when I felt increasingly disconnected from family & friends, from school, & from myself. I had one foot very tentatively planted on the rocky ledge of the moment & the other foot reaching back, sideways, any way, for the solid ground I knew should be there. At the same time, my handholds were also slipping: whoever I was, I was no longer at home on the planet. The new language I found in Mr. Hamm's classroom seemed like a life-line some merciful spirit had thrown to me.
Q. Where are you in your poetry career today?
A. I still seem to be on the periphery of the sacred grove, but I have glimpsed the shrine. I've published hundreds of poems, seven chapbooks & three booklength collections of poetry, a major anthology of Holocaust poetry, & other work. I created an important regional visiting writers program & directed the program for 18 years. I've also created an international poetry award & several writing awards for undergraduate students, & I have served as an editor or judge on numerous occasions. I'm aware that my work is respected in some quarters, & I do have genuine fans who encourage me & help sustain me--& for this gift I'm endlessly grateful--but it's clear that my brand of poetry is not the flavor of the moment, & this has made it very difficult for me to find a publisher for my new work & next-to-impossible to ensure that my poems will remain available for old friends & new readers. This is one of the reasons I've gradually turned to publishing on the Internet. I feel the Web is where my work is most likely to attract new attention & where it will fade from view less swiftly. I want to please myself & my fans, & I'm eager to reach out to new readers. I hope many who read this will be interested to know that I have two new booklength manuscripts ready, including a collection of Selected Poems.
Q. What does poetry mean to you?
A. Poetry is a safe harbor I'm sometimes permitted to enter. The water in this harbor is icy clear & cold, deeper than the distance between stars. When I approach the mouth of this harbor, I'm worn out by life, so that only the outer shell of me remains nourished & vital, but when I draw near to the mysterious shore & dive beneath the luminous & translucent water, an electric current rises from the depths & sends sparks to all corners of my inner world. Then I hold my breath, as the fire burns back into my veins, into my mind & heart, & I savor the feeling that I am home again & fully alive.