When I think of Nevada City poet Molly Fisk, an image of Janis Joplin comes to mind.
Picture Joplin a few years on (Fisk is 45) and make her a poet instead of rock star, put her in the Sierra Nevada foothills instead of Texas, and you've got a good mental picture to work with.
Fisk grew up in San Francisco and Marin County. She went to college back East, and for 20 years lived in Cambridge, Mass.
She moved back to California in 1990, the year she began to write.
She has been a sweater designer, banker, bookkeeper, waitress, editor, clothing buyer, contract investigator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, teacher, muse and home remodeler. She also holds an MBA from Simmons Graduate School of Management.
But all other interests fell by the wayside when she read a contemporary book of poems, Mary Oliver's "American Primitive."
"For reasons I cannot explain," she said, "poetry turned out to be my native tongue." What a wonderful discovery.
And all the many and varied experiences that she had must have proved helpful when Fisk decided to move to Nevada City in 1996. The old gold mining town of less than 3,000 people has a large number of editors, writers, folksingers, poets and not a whole lot in the way of local jobs.
Fisk moved to Nevada City because she fell in love with a man who lives there. She describes him in a short prose piece included in "Terrain," her most recent book of poems, which includes poems by two of her friends.
" 'Terrain' came about because my two writing buddies, Oakland poet Forrest Hamer and San Francisco poet Dan Bellm, and I decided we wanted to do a project together," said Fisk. "This was in the summer of 1998, and Forrest's book 'Call & Response' had been out for a couple of years, but Dan and I were struggling with the first-book publication blues, sending things out and often getting second place or finalist but not getting actually published.
"Each of us had had a chapbook published, Dan's 'Story in a Bottle,' which is now out of print, and my 'Salt Water Poems,' by Jungle Garden Press in Fairfax."
"Salt Water Poems," a limited edition letterpress chapbook, costs $100 - not very accessible for the ordinary reader. Fisk and her colleagues wanted to have something to read from at various literary gatherings and they wanted something they could price to sell.
"So we decided to do a collaborative chapbook and after a little procrastinating, each of us came up with about 20 poems. Somehow the job fell to me to put it together, I think because I had just done an anthology of kid's poems for California Poets in the Schools," she said.
"I spent about a week with everything strewn around me on the living room floor figuring out the order. Then Dan and Forrest made some changes, and then we were done," she said.
"Hip Pocket Press of Nevada City was nice enough to give us their name and an ISBN but they were on hiatus, so we did all the organizing of printing and binding, eventually settling on a print run of 300. It took a while to figure out the numbers because about a month before the book came out, Dan had two books taken, one won the Cleveland State University Poetry Prize ('Buried Treasure') and the other ('One Hand on the Wheel') was taken by the new California Poetry Series from Roundhouse Press as its first book.
"So his attention was focused elsewhere, and we were a little worried about 'Terrain' languishing in one of our basements. But I was still pretty gung ho to have something to read from and sell, so we went ahead.
"A couple of months later I won an National Endowment for the Arts (grant) and then had the California Poetry Series pick up my first book ("Listening to Winter," No. 4 in the series), so my attention got focused elsewhere, too, but I think we all feel as though 'Terrain' has a special glow about it.
"The poems in the book are not arranged into three little sections, one for each of us, but rather scattered together, so when we do readings from it, we all read alternately, making the event a little more like a chamber music concert than a standard poetry reading. That effect, and the quality of the poems, and our considerable friendship, meld together to make a wonderful evening.
"We are now all running around reading from individual books," she said. "Forrest's new one, 'Middle Ear,' comes out from the California Poetry Series next month as its seventh offering but I am plotting to get us together this spring for a 'Terrain' reading in the foothills," she added.
You can order "Listening to Winter" from Roundhouse Press/Heyday Books (510) 549-3564, "Terrain" from Hip Pocket Press (415) 626-2946 and "Salt Water Poems" from Jungle Garden Press (415) 456-1234. You can reach Molly Fisk at firstname.lastname@example.org
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