The language of emotion: Molly Fisk begins tour of collection ‘California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology of Poems’
Special to Prospector
Named Nevada County’s inaugural Poet Laureate in 2018, Molly Fisk defined her role beyond the traditional duties associated with the title.
“I was the first poet laureate for Nevada County, so I got to design how it was going to work here,” said Fisk. “I did some public readings and wrote some poems, for instance to commemorate the libraries new amphitheater.”
However, she did not see herself editing and publishing an anthology as part of the job. Nonetheless, the author of four books of radio commentary and 15-year veteran of broadcasting for KVMR in Nevada City, Fisk took advantage of an opportunity to receive grant funding to do just that. The result, “California Fire and Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology” is home to poems written by nearly 150 contributors of all ages from across the state expressing varied observations and emotion on the topic.
Just before the end of her tenure last year, Fisk heard about a grant offered to poet laureates by the Academy of American Poets, the caveat being an exclusion of county designees. Fisk said she contacted the organization to plead her case as a county representative, thinking it would be a help to her successor, but the change took place at once.
“I proposed a grant at the absolute last minute. I thought of it in the SPD parking lot,” explained Fisk. “They wanted the project to address the concerns of the community, and to reach out to youth and I thought well, obviously we have to talk about fire.” (The Camp Fire had recently destroyed the community of Paradise.) Fisk said she also knew the best way to get to kids was through California Poets in the Schools for whom she used to work.
Because the project lent itself beyond the scope of Nevada County, Fisk put out a call to teachers, statewide, for “poems about fire and anything else of destructive nature the weather was bringing.”
She said hearing about the disrupted lives of the students from Paradise served as inspiration. “I know from my own experience that writing can help you with trauma. It can help you pretty well and pretty fast, but not everyone feels they can write, so just promoting that a little bit, I thought would be really helpful.”
The proposal she submitted consisted of three parts: to send poets into schools around the state to run five week sessions with students; to take student poems recommended by the teachers along with those selected from an open call to adults; and create an anthology to promote the book via live readings.
Fisk was one of 13 poet laureates to receive funds and the only one with a project about climate change. She received a $30,000 grant and managed to complete the first two parts of the proposal by the beginning of 2020. The final obligation was to get exposure to as many people as possible.
“I scheduled 20 readings around the state,” Fisk said. “They were all scheduled for National Poetry Month, which is April and so by the middle of March we realized that was not going to happen so we canceled all of them.”
She said it took awhile to recover from that stumbling block but the project is now moving forward in the new realm of virtual meetings. Four readings are scheduled on Zoom.
The readings will include poetry that will leave you feeling hopeful, Fisk said. “The book is full of different kinds of poems from people of different ages and backgrounds. Some of them have lost their homes and it is heartbreaking to read the poems. Some of them have survived and some of them are writing about things that are very hopeful, especially the kids.”
Fisk added the variety of the work is something that is hopeful in itself because of the range of responses. “There is lovely work in there that will make you feel wonderful.”
A lot of people who have read it have expressed feeling comforted by the book, Fisk said. “There is an element of resilience and survival involved that they needed badly, that they weren’t really expecting and I feel that is the value. Writing poetry is valuable for the writer because they are able to say something, they are able to get whatever the feelings are out of their body. They are able to communicate how things felt.”
She said the poems also serve as a way for people who do not live in the area to be educated in an almost physical way to understand what it feels like to be in the storm.
Each of the virtual readings are free and all are welcome to sign up. Fisk said one positive to come out of this format is the ability to gather a great number of writers together. “I get to go to poetry readings that are held in places I would never travel to, given by people I would not otherwise get to see — so it is incredibly valuable. You wouldn’t find a 20-person poetry reading happening at the Miners Foundry – it would be too hard to figure out – so in a way, Zoom has been astonishingly helpful.”
The four readings coming up are educational and are also a way to help people cope with all that is happening. “Poetry is not everybody’s cup of tea, and sometimes people are afraid of it, but I have made it my life’s work to make poetry more available to people. Poetry is a language of emotion and it really helps people,” Fisk concluded. “You see it the minute things go wrong. People are turning over and over and over again to poetry to help them figure out the uncertain times we are in right now and so writing more of it and spreading it around more is a public service. It really helps people in a direct way.”
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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