Monday, December 28, 2015

Poet Richard Fox: A Cancer Survivor Brings His Suffering to Verse

Poet Richard Fox: A Cancer Survivor Brings His Suffering to Verse

By Doug Holder

Richard Fox didn't start out wanting to write about his bout with cancer. It came to him as unexpectedly as the nefarious disease did. Fox has penned a new collection of poetry that deals with his trials and travails titled,” wandering in puzzle boxes” ( Big Table Books)

 Richard H. Fox was born and bred in Worcester MA. He attended Webster University, as much artist colony as college, in the early 1970’s. These diverse cultures shaped his world view and love of words. He is a former President of Poetry Oasis, Inc., a non-profit poetry association dedicated to education and promoting local poets, and was Managing Editor of its journal Diner. Richard’s poems have appeared in numerous journals including Above Place, Boston Literary Magazine, OVS, Poetry Quarterly, Midstream Magazine, and Worcester Review. He is the author of two poetry collections: Time Bomb (2013) and wandering in puzzle boxes (2015). A cancer survivor, many of Richard’s poems focus on cancer from the patient’s point of view drawing on hope, humor, and unforeseen gifts. He seconds Stanley Kunitz’ motion that people in Worcester are “provoked to poetry.”

I talked with him on my Somerville Community Access TV show  " Poet to Poet Writer to Writer"

Doug Holder: You are from Worcester. Stanley Kunitz , the late, acclaimed poet was also from Worcester. He said that people from Worcester are provoked to poetry. What do you think he meant?

Richard Fox: While he was Poet Laureate of the United States he came back to Worcester. His home is out in Worcester. There are a lot of events out at that house. The people who own it now treat it like a museum. Getting back to your question, he was asked by someone from the press why were there so many poets in Worcester. That's when he replied that people in Worcester are provoked to poetry. Worcester has more poets that you think for a city of its size. It has interesting atmosphere of blue collar workers, many ethnic cultures---it turns out a lot of writers. Your dentist could be a poet. Poetry seems to be everywhere.

DH: Did you grow up in a poetry-loving family?

RF: I didn't grow up in a poetic background. I had an uncle who was a Beat and he introduced me to a lot of the Beat art and literature. He was a bombardier on a B24 in WW ll, and went to the Rhode Island School of Design on the G.I. Bill. Later he went to Greenwich Village and supported himself as a painter.

DH: You help found the organization “ Poetry Oasis” in Worcester.

RF: Yes. The Poetry Oasis was a weekly venue. We brought in a large selection of poets from New England and nationally. We sponsored open mikes, workshops, and did outreach in schools and senior centers. There were a lot of poets who developed their voice with us. We had an eclectic mix of Slam poets, religious poets, etc.... There was an acceptance of the diversity and style. There was a lot of support. You know it is a hard thing to get up there and read your poem—here we encouraged it—there was a lot of positive energy. We also had a magazine “ Diner'”that came out four times a year. This was before the Internet was in vogue. We had a wide distribution of poems. Eve Rivkah was one of our poetry editors.

DH: In your poetry collection “ wandering puzzling boxes” you deal with your experience with cancer. Why did you want to revisit such a painful part of your life?
RF: I had a friend who was a medic in Vietnam. I would talk to him on the phone about his experiences. He told me, “ You are fighting a war.” For him—his defining time was his ten months in Vietnam before he got injured. Cancer becomes a defining moment in your life. Some people have asked me,' “Did cancer change you?” It is hard for me to look back at myself before cancer because life is incremental. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I don't feel good. But then I say to myself “Yeah, but your are alive.” I am really all about not wasting days after seeing people with cancer not make it. It took me about 15 months after my own experience to read and write poetry. I talked to poet John Hodgen,. I asked him to send me prompts. And John is a master at this. I viewed the prompts as a puzzle. I did not intend to write about cancer—but it was in my subconscious. The prompts helped bring it out.

DH: Have you read to other people who have or had cancer?

RF; I have. I have had poetry readings that specifically dealt with cancer. The q and a after is about 50% cancer, and the other half is about poetry. You know if you haven't been through cancer then you can't really understand it. What you have to understand as a cancer victim is that the depression and despair you feel is normal. That is a hard thing to know. Most people who have it feel they have to fight harder. Your body experiences a lot of damage from chemo and radiation. Your strength is greatly diminished. You have to pick your battles.

DH; I have interviewed the playwright and screenwriter Israel Horovitz. I noticed you wrote a poem about his visit to your high school in the late 60s.

RF: In high school I had a great drama teacher. He had worked Off-Broadway as an actor, but he wanted his marriage to work so he came up to Worcester to teach. He treated high school students like professionals. He had play-writing competitions. He had top notch playwrights judge them. He also got playwrights to speak to the students. Israel Horovitz came in 1968, during the Vietnam conflict. He made his talk into a exercise in improvisation, and asked the students “ Will you strike the school?” he even threw a chair across the stage. He created quite a stir. The student body was pro-war . I was anti-war. The interesting thing is when I went to my high school reunion all the pro-war kids came up to tell me how wrong they were.

Chemo Brain

Lost in the grocery store you've shopped in
since you pushed a cart for your Mama? Have
a cup of Peppermint Tea, the red box on the
shelf opposite your belt buckle. Leave your
pants alone, grab a couple of bags, stumble
four aisles left to the household articles,
choose a ceramic mug, #1 DAD or I’M GETTING
SUPERPOWER? Next to the pharmacy is a water
dispenser with twin taps: boiling and cold.
Put the tea bags in your mug, tags over the
rim. Fill with your preference but hot must
be best because you are shivering suddenly.
Suppose shopping is a spoiled idea when you
wanderlust for two hours to fill a thirteen
item list. Perhaps you should sit down here
on the floor til your wife can pick you up

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