Poet-a-Day: Meet Sandra Heska King
It has been a delight getting to know Sandra Heska King over the years. The contributing writer and social media team manager for Tweetspeak Poetry has a generous spirit, infectious sense of humor, and a limitless curiosity about all things poetry. Her heartbreaking villanelle, “To My Mother,” makes an appearance in How to Write a Form Poem. You’ll get to read the whole thing once you get your hands on the book, but for now, here are the first few stanzas:
To My Mother (an excerpt)
I held you captive in my sight
while evil fingers burrowed deep.
I heard you crying in the night.
While you focused on the light
and pumpkin-apple deer stood watch
I held you captive in my sight.
You pulled strings, made magic sleight
with finger-writing in the air.
I heard you crying in the night …
—Sandra Heska King
Here’s what Sandra has to say about her villanelle:
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me a little about the origin of “To My Mother.”
Sandra Heska King (SHK): I wrote “To My Mother” in 2011, a month after my mom died from a GBM (glioblastoma), a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer with star-shaped cells that shoot out finger-like tentacles that swiftly invade the brain tissue. My sister, dad and I lived with Mom in a hospice house for five weeks. The poem refers to some of our bittersweet experiences during our stay, including mysterious deer that showed up at critical moments (though sometimes attracted by pumpkins and apples) as well as times of uproarious laughter.
Mom worked first as a medical transcriptionist and then as a court recorder. Her fingers could fly across the keys. I was at her bedside when she passed and actually felt and heard the “chain” break.
TR: Why did you decide to write the poem as a villanelle? Or did writing in the form “cause” the poem to happen?
SHK: I wrote this poem in response to a poetry prompt to write a villanelle. It was issued jointly by Tweetspeak Poetry and what was then The High Calling. So the form caused the poem.
TR: What do you hope poets can learn from a book like How to Write a Form Poem?
SHK: I think of form poetry as kind of the basic structure of a house. There are walls but all kinds of freedom to design and decorate inside the framework. Form gives an opportunity to get more creative within its boundaries, like a child at play. Also, I think of the various forms as roots growing deep in the soils of the past. They haven’t changed, but we (and the times) are always changing. So they give a kind of stability with room to explore. I think they can stretch us and help develop discipline. They also give us the chance to build poems that are more memorable because they more easily lend themselves to memorization. I hope I and other poets can more quickly learn to spot particular forms as well as write them.
About Sandra Heska King
I’m a Michigan girl, raised on a northern lake, who ultimately found herself planted on 60 acres in the south part of the state. Now I live in South Florida on a lake (technically a retention pond) on the edge of the northern Everglades. I trained as a nurse but have played with words for as long as I can remember. I thrive on a good dare and believe there’s no age barrier to adventure—whether it’s kayaking with alligators, photographing bobcats up close and personal, or committing long poems near sleepy iguanas. I buy more books than I own shelves to store them, adore a blank journal with a Pilot Precise® extra fine point pen, and am addicted to Häagen-Dazs® Coffee Almond Crunch ice cream bars. Chartreuse is my color of creativity. I’m a contributing writer and social media team manager for Tweetspeak Poetry and am working on my first book.
Hear Sandra Read “To My Mother”
go to 38:24 to hear Sandra read
Photo by Sean Hobson, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.