Thursday, July 26, 2012

Writer Joan Hanna Interviews Me about New Poems “Summer Kitchen” and “Fishes and Their Fathers”


“Summer Kitchen” and “Fishes and Their Fathers” poems in the July/r.kv.ry

 by Joan Hanna

JH   Can you share a little about the inspiration for these poems?

Elizabeth P. Glixman: Inspiration for these poems started with images. Years ago I lived in an old farmhouse circa 1800s. There was no central heating or plumbing. And of course no air conditioning.  This farmhouse like many others of that time had a summer kitchen. Summer kitchens were in separate buildings away from the house or off the main kitchen. That way the whole house would not heat up from the cook stove. Through the windows of this particular summer kitchen in winter (the windows faced maybe a dozen apples trees) I could see the bare branches of the trees at dusk against a purple, deep blue and pink fading sky. There was snow on the ground as well as the deep forest of dark green behind the trees. It was a stunning image that never left me. That image floated around in my mind for years until I needed  it to express a feeling I was having about another experience. 

On page five In The Triggering Town, Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing the author poet/ teacher Richard Hugo writes: “I suspect that the true or valid triggering subject is one in which physical characteristics or details correspond to attitudes the poet has toward the world and himself.”

 On page fifteen he writes: “Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words.”

The image of that apple orchard through the seasons and in winter in particular ignited my need for words. But I had no poem to write at that time. Thirty years later as I watched many of my older relatives pass away, I walked through their homes before they were sold. Many objects including a blue milk glass shoe, the lamp that was left on with a timer for as long as I could remember were taken from the house by strangers or other relatives. No one was home anymore. The sense of place I had known for years was gone only to live in memory. Just like the sky faded behind the apple trees I watched from the kitchen in the farmhouse so do life’s season and situations change. That image lying dormant in my mind woke up. 

There is more to the creation of the poem “The Summer Kitchen.”

The couple that owned the farmhouse with the summer kitchen  moved to a home with electricity and central plumbing long before I arrived. The physical challenges of the house with the summer kitchen were beyond them as they aged. I understood this years ago. But now after years more of living I gained a greater understanding of the emotional challenges, what it means to loose a home, a person, a dream, your youth and be left with memories. Images, experience and memories were like a perfect storm and became the poem, a larger poem then if I had written one about the branches of the apple trees years ago. 

The unique and wonderful thing about creating poetry, art or fiction is that everything that is stored in a poet, writer, or artist’s mind can be accessed at any moment when it is needed to explore something. This usually happens when a feeling or an experience is ready to be expressed. It ripens. Time doesn’t matter. I think it is this way for everyone. Even if they do not create works of art. Everyone has “ah ha” moments. Creative people are able to unite all the elements and create something concrete to show others.

 About “Fishes and Their Fathers”
The image of my vail tail beta fish Benny (he was an indigo blue) was the triggering moment for the poem “Fishes and Fathers.” That fish lived in a bowl for over two years. I religiously cleaned that bowl weekly. I felt protective of that small fish. I was his caretaker. Number one trigger: the image.

Number two trigger:
I'd seen many single mothers while working as a preschool teacher. I saw and heard about the hardships they faced raising children alone. I saw their protective instincts toward their kids and their frustrations.  Since many meaningful conversations with young children can happen when doing a task together, I  added an imagined conversation of a single mother and her daughter as they watched  the fish and cleaned the fish bowl to the poem.  I gave the mother  the burden of explaining to the child why her father was not coming home. I didn’t clearly state if the father had died or left. The poem is about loss, coping, adjustment so that aspect was not important to me. The reader can decide and bring their own experience or imagination to the poem. I wanted to show a woman alone (similar to the woman in the “Summer Kitchen” poem) adjusting to change in her life, a different season in her life. And, show the relationship of caring she had with her child.

JH: I love your repetition of images in “Fishes and Their Fathers" like the curve of the fishbowl linking to “the curve of my belly” and “the roundness of your face.” Can you elaborate a little on this technique?

EPG: Being a visual person I notice repeated patterns of line, shape and color in my environment. In this poem I tied together images of a bowl, a belly a face by their common denominator curves and roundness. These images are more like metaphors or similes: the bowl is like a belly, the cheek is like the bowl, the cheek ‘s curve, the belly’s roundness, the fish bowl are all like each other.

Then there are the associations. I put these images to good use in my work. I associated the curve or roundness of the bowl with a pregnant woman’s belly and the curve on the face with the touch of a hand on a cheek to the protective tender maternal instinct. Curves are inherently feminine or organic. The mother was protective of her child in the womb as she was now when her child asked her a difficult question. The fish bowl was also pregnant in another way, it was the catalyst for the child’s question. I hope this is not confusing.  Sometimes it is hard  for me to explain "clearly" the workings of my own poems.

JH: Please share links to your website, publications or book links.

EPG:  Finishing Line Press will publish my latest chapbook, I Am the Flame, about my female ancestors, in November.

Here are links with comments and reviews about my other chapbooks

 A White Girl Lynching

 Cowboy Writes a Letter and Other Love Poems

The Wonder of It All

I Am the Flame book cover blurbs to let readers know the overall theme of the poems.

In poems rich with evocative details and surprising turns, Elizabeth
Glixman, through family stories, history, and an imagination brimming with
wonder and wisdom, defines her place among her female ancestors. She solidifies
her connection with them as she writes, "I am all these women / ... I am their flame."
Later, she returns their "bones to the core of the earth / to the heat" where, with her flame
of passion and newfound understanding, they become a "new orchestra / of
woman song.
-Berwyn Moore

I Am the Flame blazes a trail of poems that looks back upon one's roots. Through insightful vignettes, Glixman delves into the traditions and lives of her ancestors with the inquiring mind of "a child entering life shocked by light / remembering the womb from where we all came." A beautiful and riveting collection.  -Arlene Ang

JH:  Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on poetry, links to other chapbooks and the lovely book blurbs for your upcoming chapbook, I Am The Flame. Just one final question, what does recovery mean to you?

EPG: For me recovery is the process of moving forward to a more balanced self or life when you have been traumatized or affected adversely by experiences. It  can be a big event or addiction but doesn’t have to be. It only needs to be a deeply felt experience or condition, one that has altered your life kept you stuck. I think most of us are in some form of recovery from something whether is a relationship that didn’t work, a death of a loved one or issues with weight, lack of motivation, job loss, insomnia and unfullfillment (life offers a lot of possibilities). The women in both poems have lost their husbands and have to move forward. They are in recovery imo. In both poems the natural cycle of nature is significant as it mirrors the changes in their and our lives.

Joan Hanna was born and raised in Philadelphia and now lives in New Jersey with her husband Craig and rescued Beagle Odessa. Joan holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University and has published poetry, nonfiction, fiction and book reviews in various online and print journals. Joan is an Adjunct English Instructor at GCC and also works as Managing Editor for Poets’ Quarterly, Assistant Managing Editor for River Teeth, A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative and Assistant Editor, Nonfiction/Poetry for r.kv.r.y. Quarterly Literary Journal. Follow Joan’s personal blog at


Cindy Silverstein said...

Elizabeth, it was so nice to read about you and your writing process here on your blog where you have written about so many other poets and their work. I enjoyed reading about your experience on the old farm. Being a visual person myself, I carry around a collection of pictures of the past that are connected with very strong feelings. Strung together they become a kind of movie about my life. These images are so powerful. As I think about these images now I realize there are hundreds of them before I even get to age 7. I'm sure these images play out in my art now , but I never consciously thought of exploring them as part of my creative journey. That opens up a whole world of possibility. Thank you for this wonderful post.

Elizabeth said...

You're welcome.
Those images from the past are a wealth of creative inspiration when you connect to them. I bet you have a bunch of paintings just waiting to appear. It is like the images in dreams, they are all symbols of a time,a place,a thought,an idea, a feeling.

Cindy Silverstein said...

You've given me a lot to contemplate, Elizabeth. Thank you for your insightful words.