August 17, 2022
By WB King–
Moving words from writers such as William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop captured BK Fischer’s attention from an early age. But pointing to a life-changing poem, said Westchester’s first-ever Poet Laureate, just isn’t possible.
“As with many readers, poetry has always been a part of my life,” Fischer said. “Asking where I met my first poem is like asking a person where they met their first song.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, in partnership with ArtsWestchester, announced Fischer as Westchester County’s first Poet Laureate in 2020. One of 23 nominees, Fischer, who has called Sleepy Hollow home since 2000, was unanimously selected by a panel of poets, writers and countries. representatives. His two-year term, which includes an honorarium, ends in December.
“It’s been, as expected, a great way to amplify diverse voices for poetry in the county,” Fischer said. “I have written and performed poetry for public occasions including the Westchester County Covid Memorials in 2021 and 2022.”
Pop Up Poetry
Among the programs Fischer directed were “Sheltering in Stanzas” and “Emergence Poetry Pop Ups.” The latter took place throughout the summer of 2020. “People from all over Westchester came out and read their poems at venues outside the county,” she said.
Among the participants was Kathleen Williamson, winner of the 2018 “Poetry in the Pavement” project at Sleepy Hollow. Standing in front of Swan Lake on the Rockefeller Reservation, she read her poem, “The Kingfisher.” It was there that she first encountered the majestic bird of prey known for its loud, dry rattle.
“The bird, bright blue, big-headed, swooped down along the lake and away you went, down the path, flying gravel,” the poem begins.
Williamson’s video is featured among more than 20 others on a Youtube dedicated to the program. Fischer, standing on the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, read his latest book, receive (BOA Editions, 2021), which reimagines the story of Noah’s Ark as taking place in the near future on a container ship.
“After catastrophic flooding and gun violence lead to the collapse of society, the ship leaves the Hudson River and embarks here near the Tappan Zee Bridge,” she noted in conversation with Hudson’s Independent. “A woman named Val is found in the wreckage of her flooded home by Roy, the former UPS man, and together they join a group escaping on a freighter to Greenland. The book, she noted, was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award.
Backgrounds and traditions
Author of four other books, Radioapocrypha, My lover’s speech, Vault of Saint Rageand Mutiny GalleryFischer also wrote a critical study, Museum mediations: reframing ekphrasis in contemporary American poetry. His poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Paris review, Boston review and The Los Angeles Book Reviewamong other journals.
For Fischer, poetry is dialogue. However, determining how readers and the public might contribute to the discussion is like hitting a moving target.
“A writer is always guessing how readers will react…having steeped in and studied a field and its many backgrounds and traditions, it’s only after you’ve published something that you know for sure how readers and critics will get the job,” she explained. “But one way to anticipate the response is to perform your work in public and hear and see how the public reacts to it.”
Recently, Fischer shared a poem in progress during a reading in Ridgefield, Connecticut. As she has done many times before, she studied the room for comment from the audience – a grimace, a smile, or perhaps a look of introspection.
“Audience feedback will affect how I edit the piece,” she said. “Nothing happens – no complete work in any art form happens – in isolation, although there are periods of time when one works alone.”
Accustomed to the studies and rigors of academia, Fischer graduated from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and New York University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts, Masters of Fine Arts, and arts and a doctorate.
For the past seven years, she has taught at Columbia University in the School of the Arts writing program. Previously, she taught at New York University and Marymount College. Over the years, she has also managed to teach writing lessons in river towns.
“I have been involved over the past two decades in many aspects of literary life here [in Sleepy Hollow],” she says. “I taught for eight years at the Hudson Valley Writers Center and did many poetry tours as a volunteer with Tarrytowns public schools and with other organizations.”
Poems on demand
Fischer is looking forward to the “Serious Fun Art Festival,” taking place October 15, 2022 from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the steps of White Plains City Hall. Here, she will host “The Poet Is In.”
“Six outstanding poets from Westchester will be featured throughout the day, where they will create poems on demand for festival-goers,” she said. “Composing on typewriters in a booth like Lucy’s in the Peanuts cartoon, poets will be ready to create a poem for your occasion,” she explained.
Whether on subjects of love or grief, celebration or lament, apology or elegy or perhaps an ode to a favorite pet, Fischer, with published Westchester poets Kathleen Ossip, Andrés Cerpa, Rachel Simon, Sean Singer and Eric Odynocki, will associate words with emotions.
“Bring them your wishes and walk away with a poem made just for you,” she said.
Reflecting warmly on her position as Poet Laureate of Westchester, Fischer is grateful for the experience and will continue to champion programs that nurture and promote creative writing pursuits. For budding poets, she has two tips: Read everything.
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