Interview with Judith Fox

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We love the way that the images build in “Meyer Lemons.” When you write a poem like this one, how does it change your experience of those memories?

Judith Fox: Most mornings, when squeezing lemon into my morning tea, I don’t give much thought to the action. But if I’m weaving that experience, or a similar quotidian moment, into a poem, I need to mentally linger over the details. Or revisit and circle the moment before deciding if it contributes to the poem and story. Often, as in “Meyer Lemons,” I start with a first line or image and see where that leads me. In this piece, a “dwarf” variety of the tree led me to memories of my former garden and the mature tree that was central to it. My new balcony plant was my Proust’s madeleine. It was during the revision process that I imagined the speaker in her childhood kitchen as she watched her young parents prepare to share a pot of tea—one of those surprise turns a poet hopes for.

RR: This poem is quite a vulnerable depiction of loss. How do you approach writing that kind of subject, and how can poetry play a role in working through grief, if at all?

JF: I consider myself to be a private person and allow a certain distance when I write about experiences that are painful to live through. When writing about grief, I look for unexpected metaphors or images that will help me explore, and shape, those unwieldy emotions. Through poetry, I’m able to engage with themes as unrestrained as love and death in ways that enrich, excite and challenge me. I don’t know, though, that I ever work through grief.

RR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? How do you know when a poem is done?

JF: I’m most comfortable creating and editing directly on my desktop; though if a desktop isn’t handy, I’ll scribble on any available writing material or device. A new poem might be triggered by an emotion or thought I’m grappling with, an article I just read or a phrase overheard. Writing to prompts doesn’t seem to work for me, but I’m often inspired to write—and write better—after reading poems that make me feel “as if the top of my head were taken off”. As I revise, I save each version and print out those I want to hang on my office wall to study. A poem may take years before I feel that it’s done.

RR: We saw on your website you’re also a photographer; how has working through different artistic mediums influenced your journey and process as a creative?

JF: I don’t think it ever occurred to me to build a wall between my images and words— I’ve been writing, painting and taking photographs since I was a kid. My father introduced me to poetry before I could speak—he wrote a poem to me for my first birthday (I still have it) and gave me a copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses on my fifth. (Don’t ask me to recite “My Shadow” unless you really want to hear it.) I don’t know where my interest in photography came from, but as a nine-year-old I sold flower seeds door-to-door so I could get a Brownie camera. I like to think of my words and images as a couple that dance well together. When I started writing magazine articles in my early twenties I often illustrated them with my photographs. Many decades later, I added spare text to my first photography book; it was that experience which inspired me to start studying and writing poetry..

RR: Your website mentions you’re working on a new collection of poetry—can you tell us anything more about that work?

JF: I’ve written a chapbook manuscript with the working title Bridge to New Music. The collection is about a woman newly married to a man who will soon be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The speaker is widowed and her older husband, divorced. The poems are about love, commitment, partnership and grief. They also explore the speaker’s life following her husband’s death.

Read “Meyer Lemons” by Judith Fox in Issue 11.2