Interview by Camille Meyers
Flyway: Where do you call home? What makes it “home” for you?
SF: I have a few places I consider home: central Pennsylvania where I grew up and where my dad has a dairy farm/cheese-making operation, and Finland, where I lived for a year after high school. I consider these places home, because of the extended amount of time I’ve spent there, my connection with the land, and that these are places I come back to in my writing.
Flyway: What is your home place’s defining characteristic?
SF: The two places I consider to be homes are quite different, and I tend to define places by their natural environments. Central Pennsylvania has rolling mountains, many diverse farms, and thick forests, so thick that people not from Pennsylvania are scared by the density of our forests. To me, it’s a funny reaction, but I see how overwhelming Pennsylvania forests can be. Where I lived in Finland was on the coast, so the sea and inland bogs defined that place for me. I was often overwhelmed by the vast expanse of water and the wind coming off the Baltic; it was so foreign to me, living by water.
Flyway: What kind of writing excites you, what can’t you put down?
SF: The books I’ve been thinking about most lately are Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam series, the first book Oryx and Crake in particular. Those books are her speculative fiction on what the future could be like based on current issues like corporate America, the food industry, and climate change. She shows how these issues can further transform American and global societies with disastrous results. Her series scares me, because I can see the events in the book actually happening. But these books also encourage me to think and act in preparation for our changing climate. What I often think of about climate change is food production and sustainable agriculture. I wonder; how will I eat? How will I grow food if the climate I knew in my childhood is different from my adult life? Though I’ve considered issues of climate change with agriculture before, Oryx and Crake forced me to consider the implications of our current society and food system more critically.
Flyway: What are you reading right now for YOU, your own aesthetic?
SF: I’ve recently been revisiting a poetry collection by Michael McGriff, which won the 2007 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, called Dismantling the Hills. His poems are about Coos Bay, where he grew up, and he talks about its economic downturns and describes “blue-collar” work in a lyrical way. His poems are absolutely stunning. I’ve found his handling of rural/small town people and the harsh beauty of the Oregon coast attractive and I try to exemplify that in my own work about farming and rural life.
Flyway: How do you define “environment” and how is this definition important to you?
SF: This is a tough question! Environments are more than just mountain ranges or forests, but are systems of living beings. Soil is not inanimate. Shorelines are not inanimate; they are constantly shifting. I think we as humans need to have more awareness of environments as living and changing places and see that environments are also the places that we create, like cities or our own homes. We need to broaden our ideas of what environment means. It’s not just the state park 50 miles away — environment can be your own kitchen.
Flyway: For readers and those submitting to Flyway, what advice can you give?
SF: My advice, especially for poets, but applicable to all genres, is to read your work out loud before you submit it. This is what I do when I review submissions. It’s important that when you read out loud, the line breaks work or the pacing complements the working idea of the poem. Poetry comes from an oral tradition, and is still rooted in that tradition, even with most poems published today technically called free verse.
I would also suggest exploring not just natural environments, but also built environments. I get a lot of poems about trees, and trees are awesome, but I’d like to see them in a new way or place. I’d also like to see how human-made environments interact with natural environments or see as important places in their own right. I’m surprised I don’t get more poems about cities or towns, and I want to read those poems.