Sleepy Hollow resident B.K. Fischer has been chosen as Westchester’s first poet laureate, a newly-created two-year position awarded by the county in partnership with ArtsWestchester. Fischer is the author of five books of poetry and teaches at Columbia University. We caught up with her to discuss her inaugural role.
RJ: Where did you grow up? Was art a big part of your upbringing?
BK: I grew up in Gambrills, Maryland, living on a steady diet of books from the public library. I always loved the arts, and found my way into arts experiences in school and at the urging of some great teachers—dance, crafts, music, museums, writing. I can’t sing at all, though.
RJ:When did you begin writing poetry?
BK: Apparently when I was five. My mother has a few verses I dictated to her on the occasion of my friend’s sixth birthday, in which I lament that I am still only five. I wrote poems and stories throughout my growing up, and I sought out writing teachers and literary life – magazines, newspapers, summer writing groups – starting in middle school, and then all the way through the lucky years of a very long education.
RJ: As Westchester’s first poet laureate, this will be a foundational role. What do you hope to achieve over the next two years?
BK: I’ll strive to serve and amplify the diverse voices of our communities. I believe all poetry is dialogue—a conduit not only for expression but for collective energy, empathy, and connection.
RJ: Quarantine limits some aspects of your role. What are some ways you hope to bring people together remotely?
BK: We’re starting with virtual readings and programs, online events that anyone can tune in to from home. As soon as we can gather outdoors again, I hope to host an event on the waterfront to celebrate the beauty of Westchester’s landscapes between the Hudson and the Sound. Poets are engaging deeply with this moment of environmental reckoning.
RJ: Poetry is having a moment right now, especially after Amanda Gorman’s readings stole the show at the inauguration and Super Bowl. If someone wants to start reading poetry, what are some good entry points?
BK: A great anthology for young people is Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation, edited by Lynn Melnick and Brett Fletcher Lauer. Another great place to start is Best American Poetry 2020, edited by Paisley Rekdal and David Lehman, a glimpse of some of the best poets writing now. And sign up for the Poem-a-Day from the Academy of American Poets, a jolt to start your morning: https://poets.org/poem-a-day.
RJ: What local poetry resources do you recommend?
BK: Check out the incredible programming at the Hudson Valley Writers Center! Great stuff is always happening there—virtually and hopefully soon in the physical realms again. The Katonah Museum of Art also has a world-class poetry series, not to be missed.
Fischer’s latest book, Ceive, comes out in September. In this story told through poems, a Sleepy Hollow woman survives a catastrophic collapse of society in a reimagining of Noah’s Ark set on a container ship. She describes it as “a meditation on loss, survival, and hope.”