While reading her poem “Liars Hall of Fame,” BK Fischer sketches the shape of an asterisk in the air. Conjuring up her own poetic voice, she sways in her home office chair to the rhythm of her words. Prior to virtually reading this poem from her Mutiny Gallery collection, published in 2011 by Truman State University Press, she says: “Even when they are already in print, I keep messing with my poems.”
That mess—revising, remixing on the fly and repurposing poems—has artistically paid off. Fischer is the author of five books of poetry and has been a teacher of poetry for more than 25 years. In the majority of that time, she has called Westchester home and is the County’s inaugural Poet Laureate. The time and dedication put into her craft may seem lengthy, but she is still producing and creating with high energy.
Her upcoming collection Ceive, which will be published by BOA Editions, is a deep meditation on the Latin root word meaning, “get, receive,” as well as a retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark in the present day on a container ship. Excitedly, Fischer said: “All of the poems about the journey have titles that use the root word in some way.” Her excitement for words hasn’t left her since childhood, as BK explains: “since I was about 5, I always wrote poems.”
Although her love affair for words hasn’t changed, her writing process has grown. She went from a budding poet “who wrote one lyric poem at a time” to a time-constrained editor who, motivated by parenthood and the interruptions it brings, “started writing interconnected sequences in a more project-based way.” She explains: “I could pick up wherever I left off in the short intervals of time I had available for writing.”
As a teacher, Fischer has taught hundreds of students in university classrooms, schools and community centers like Hudson Valley Writers Center. One of her most “soul-changing” experiences was her time teaching at Taconic Correctional Facility, where she taught an introductory creative writing class to women in a college program. Says Fischer: “They were pursuing degrees and, in many ways, it was just like teaching any other class. And yet, they were speaking from this very different condition as incarcerated persons. That changed how I think about the carceral state … and about justice more generally in the whole society.”
Her view about justice is intertwined with her belief that poetry plays a vital role in efforts to “mobilize access.” In our Westchester communities, Fischer as Westchester Poet Laureate will have an amplified opportunity to do so in word and deed alongside activated stakeholders.
However, her advice to aspiring poets—young, old, marginalized or incarcerated—is more practical: “Read. Read everything. There are so many ways to be a writer, because there are so many communities of writers. You start by being a reader—you see what you like, and see what those people are reading, and then you read that, and you see where those people were published in magazines and you send your stuff there. It’s all a network, and it branches out like a big ecosystem, and it has room for everybody.”
Rashaun J. Allen is a contributing writer at ArtsNews. He is an Instructor of English at Westchester Community College and the author of several independently published poetry collections, including “The Blues Cry For A Revolution,” which was an Amazon Kindle Best Seller in African American Poetry.
A version of this article first appeared in the February issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.