Cheryl J. Fish grew up in Flushing, NY. She is a poet, fiction writer and environmental justice scholar. Her recent books of poetry include CRATER & TOWER, on trauma and ecology after the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption and the terrorist attack of 9/11/01, and THE SAUNA IS FULL OF MAIDS, poems and photographs celebrating Finnish sauna culture, the natural world, and friendships. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Poetics-for-the-More-than-Human-World, New American Writing, Newtown Literary, Terrain.org, Reed, and Hanging Loose. Her short fiction has been published in Iron Horse Literary Review, CheapPop, Spank the Carp, and Liar’s League. OFF THE YOGA MAT, her debut novel about three characters turning 40 as the year 2000 (Y2K) approaches, will be published in 2022 by Livingston Press. Fish's essays on films and photography by Sami artists challenging mining and extraction have appeared in the books Arctic Cinemas; Nordic Narratives of Nature and the Environment; and Critical Norths: Space, Nature, Theory. She is the author of two books and essays on African-American travel writing, June Jordan's environmental justice poetics, and women's travel literature. Fish has been a Fulbright professor in Finland and visiting professor at Mt. Holyoke College; she teaches at BMCC/City University of New York, and is a docent lecturer in the Dept. of Cultures at University of Helsinki.
Cheryl's work appeared in Pond 62
Why do you write?
I write to learn and realize. To make meaning out of experience combined with imaginative leaps. I write for fun and reflection, to mine the interstices between past, present, and future. To try to provide insight, humor, and compassion in complex situations, and of course to experiment with language. Prose and poetry spring from different impulses for me, with areas of overlap.
What other creative activities are you involved in?
Teaching for one, which requires a lot of creativity, dedication, patience, and organization. Parenting, which involves much creativity, improvisation, challenges, and games. In terms of the arts, I draw on many of them in my writing and practice or have practiced some of these activities: music, dance, painting, photography, basketball, fencing, yoga, snorkeling, parkour, travel.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I have too many favorites to single one only out. I shirk at questions that ask me to pick a “favorite” of something. I take pleasure in the multitudes.
Tell us about the mechanics of how you write.
Usually notes first, often in a notebook/journal or on paper scraps whenever an idea comes to me. I am a fan of prompts that get me started or that I use to guide something already begun and take it in unexpected, unplanned directions. For my novel, at the beginning I took notes and kept a whole notebook on each of the characters’ backgrounds and behaviors and jotted down plot ideas. For flash fiction since its short, it is more likely to be stream of consciousness at first, but then meticulous revision like anything else. My scholarly writing requires more outlining and incorporation of what other scholars have argued. Gaining distance from first drafts and coming back fresh applies to all genres. Receiving feedback from my writing groups. Reading out loud is very helpful for what we don’t notice on the page.
Finally, what do you think about Carp, the fish, not our website?
My last name is Fish, so any meditation on a fish is a fairly personal one. Carp are often considered invasive species. They are not well regarded and they can be large fish. I don’t have personal experience with them, and I don’t recall eating carp. I don’t go fishing, but I understand some people use carp as bait to catch other fish. That seems like it can also be a metaphor; I have played with the idea of invasive species in plants and humans in a poem I wrote about a community in Florida. However, I love to snorkel and come face-to-face with fish and look in their eyes. When I am underwater with flippers and a mask it becomes a transcendent experience. I visited the Great Barrier Reef in North Queensland, Australia, right before the COVID pandemic hit, during the summer of bush fires, a profound, provocative experience and I have a new short story based on it.