In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Lisa Higgs
- Tell us about your poem in Volume 20. How did it come to be?
In November 2014, my beloved grandmother was diagnosed with terminal uterine cancer and given 3-4 months to live. This was a tremendous blow––not only because she was almost 100 and still fit enough to be living on her own with help from my father, but because she had taken me in during a turbulent time in my 20s and was my sounding board and most stalwart cheerleader. Given that I lived over 8 hours away and had two young children, I knew I would not be able to spend as much time as I would want with her in her final months. Her move into a care facility meant the loss of our weekly phone call, as she was unable to bring her home phone that was designed to aid her hearing. At some point in the next month, I decided to begin writing her letters to make us both feel better. In one, I included a sonnet that I had written that morning––with the promise to write her a poem each and every week. Deciding to write a sonnet a week seemed easy enough for the few months [and] didn’t seem impractical. Having those months stretch until the last day of January in 2016 meant I was continuously forced to approach my grandmother’s life and her impending death from many different angles and approaches. This poem was written in the autumn of 2015, I think. I was obviously not sure what to write to my grandmother that very early morning, but the dogs kept me good company as I worked to the poem’s conclusion. Whenever I saw her during her final year of life, Grandma never failed to comment on how she was one of the few to receive mail, which made me glad and sad at the same time. All my letters and poems were in her nightstand drawer when she entered her last sleep. I have found that I can’t open a single one, though the packet is now in my possession.
2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
My first desire was to write stories like Laura Ingalls Wilder––my best friend, Karina, and I had great ideas for a story about being chased by cows in a pasture near my house, but we never got all the way through a full draft. I also wrote odd news and bits and pieces for the Withrow Elementary newspaper, which another best friend, Ali, and I produced on the school’s very first computers – two on a cart that we’d wheel into the hallway to work. Poetry came to me for the first time while I visited our former exchange student in Spain for a month in the summer between sophomore and junior years of high school. Lots of time to think in a foreign country where you only understood every third or fourth word––I wrote my first “real” poem in Toledo.
3. How has writing shaped your life?
Writing makes me wake up way too early because if you have kids quiet isn’t all that easy to come by. It gives me a reason to listen deeply, think broadly, and stay curious. Writing keeps me reading, for inspiration and for information. I joke with my daughters that they will be responsible for making me as “famous” as Emily Dickinson after my death because poets seem to not always know they are bound for fame and literary fortune. I imagine there will be a lot of scraps and notebooks and reams of printed papers, but I can’t imagine a time when I don’t need to keep writing.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
Eavan Boland, Tracy K. Smith, Louise Glück, Basho and Issa. The books that I review for KR Online always teach me new things about craft. The music of Hamilton for whenever you need 3 ½ hours to go quickly on a long car ride. Louise Penny and Jacqueline Winspear when you just need a good mystery to take you out of yourself.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
Once I am done coordinating Rochester’s Regional Science Fair (don’t ask me how this happened), I’ll be working on revisions for my chapbook of grandmother sonnets––coming out sometime this year  with Red Bird Chapbooks. My editor is challenging in all the good ways, so I can’t wait to dig back into about 20 of these poems, including the sonnet published here. The revisions also will help my current full-length manuscript, as the chapbook is my final section, more or less. I have enough poems for about half of a new manuscript, full-length, which would be my third unpublished collection. I did mention Dickinson, right? I also just recently started a new essay about God and my brother, which is only odd if you know one or the other. I used to think I was an essayist, not a poet, and I haven’t written in this form for many years, so I’m curious to see if that new writing path is opening again for me.
Visit Lisa’s website here.