Lyn Lifshin Poet/Writer: Niskayuna, New York

Lyn Lifshin Poet/Writer:
Niskayuna, New York


Pending Press Release:  all poets and writers are excited about a new accepted book:  Secretariat:  The Red Freak, The Miracle to be published in 2013 by Texas Review Press by our very own Lyn Lifshin, poet/wrier, Niskayuna, New York.  Keep your eye open for its release:
If you have any questions contact Lyn:

When did you start writing poetry and why?
My mother always told me when I was three, and we were driving down a back road from Barre, to Middlebury, Vermont. I turned to her and said it "looked like the trees were dancing." She had named me Rosalyn Diane because she thought it was a good name for an actress but then said, "well maybe I'd be a poet instead."

I loved "NOW WE ARE SIX," loved the music and imagery in the poems and I'm sure on some level that excitement and beauty stayed with me. In third grade I had a teacher who (I had skipped from grade 1 to 3 because I could read well but never caught up with long division) read us poetry each morning and had us write our own poems. She would bring in boughs of apple blossoms and we would write our own poems. I still have the ones I wrote in one of those pale, lined notebooks in my Niskayuna house. We read a lot of poems, Longfellow, Milton. One Saturday I copied a poem of Blake's out and showed it to my mother and said I wrote it. Since we lived in a small town, Middlebury, Vermont it was not surprising that she ran into my teacher and said what an inspiration she'd been, how I had written a poem with words in it she didn't even know I knew. So, for Monday, I had to write my own poem, and I had to use words like "rill" and "descending" in it.

What is your writing process?

I got started writing later than many-- I did a handful of poems when very young and Robert Frost wrote something great on one so in the back of my mind I kept that. I thought someday, maybe. Ironically, I was afraid I had nothing to write about even when I wanted to write--- a summer in Cape Cod-- I remember sitting there in a white dress -- maybe 16 --with a pink velvet cummerbund wanting to make a poem and no idea where to start or what it could possibly be about. Even in college I was afraid to take a writing class. But it was not until I left graduate school after walking out of my PHD exam that I began: first in the quiet times at a public radio station where I edited the Scene on 17. There were always slow times when I began to read poetry, subscribed to many magazines listed in Len Fulton's directory and found each day magical, reading and writing. When I left that job, I wrote every morning on Rapple, standing at a kitchen counter. When I got into ballet on Appletree, I wrote in bed or at my desk over looking Chinese dogwood and wild trillium I dug up years before with my mother on the Mother's Day a week after her mother died. I lived alone and I loved it. Sadly a van blew up last summer in my driveway: destroyed all the trillium-- so rare and gorgeous and killed most of the dogwood. I have a notebook of poems about that, still not typed, but full of loss. In those days, I'd work all day-- write early and in the afternoon deal with the mail, or in typing up poems. When I was editing one of the three major anthologies I did, including the long time running TANGLED VINES, that came first and I hardly wrote any of my own work. Though after reading so many mother and daughter poems (I had written very few until then) that became a major theme for many years in my own work. In the award winning documentary film by Mary Ann Lynch: LYN LIFSHIN: NOT MADE OF GLASS my typical day at work is the main thing: my basement full of news clips, the stacks of notebooks (I always have about 60 handwritten ones just waiting and waiting-- some go back to 1990…). I will never get to all of them, never get to read all I want…it's overwhelming. The film shows me in various readings, at ballet, just every day all day routines. I am very excited: the film, once distributed by WOMEN MAKE MOVIES and show at film festivals is just now coming back as a CD. It probably shows my writing life as well as anything; as does a Washington Magazine issue I think in August 1997 and some articles in The Writer's Market.

Moving to DC -- I wrote around ballet-- classes in the morning, writing some on the metro, visiting museums so often -- a calendar I kept shows 5 or 6 days a week I'd be at some exhibit or talk or movie and those often became what I wrote about. I wrote a little on the metro then but it wasn't until I moved to Virginia where the ballet studio is a much longer trip away that I began writing so much more on the metro--- it's almost seemed the only time I have-- I remember writing poems for the anthology DICK FOR A DAY and putting a harmless book jacket over wildly erotic books I didn't feel ok having others watch me read. Since I've done a lot of series of poems, I carry heavy books on the way and the train ride always seems too short. I still write in wire spiral note books but I long for the old kind: with unicorn on the front: now the notebooks are either very soft backed and floppy or worse: the pages come right out-- I never expected normal nice notebooks would disappear.
When I travel I always have a notebook-- I write bits of poems-- like this late spring in Turkey-- on cramped small notebook pages. If asked to write on a topic for a collaboration or anthology, I get obsessed with that and can write full tilt anywhere: at someone's camp for 4th of July, in the car, at the kitchen table--rarely at a desk.

Of course I can't forget the writing I did at art colonies like Yaddo, The Millay Colony and Mac Dowell--- where the days are like beaches with nothing on them and you can just walk out and everything is new and clean. Though I haven't been to Yaddo for a while, I can see in many books many poems are from those stays, especially at Yaddo where I visited three times. I miss it.

Editor Note: Yaddo is a retreat for artist in Saratoga Springs, New York. Their website can be found here:

Tell us about yourself-where you are from, education or lack of, family roots, some background.

I was born in upstate Vermont, in Barre and we moved to Middlebury, one of those small college towns with a white Congregational church LIFE magazine came to photograph every winter. A calendar town. A town where you went to the Catholic School and were Catholic or the public school and you were Christian. Very few Jewish families except my grandparents and uncles and one other family. A start at feeling like an outside which I think helps to become a writer. We lived in one of the few apartments in a town where everyone else had a yard after moving from one rented house to another. It looked out over Main Street activity and in the back, the water falls from Otter Creek and a skyline where the sun set and the Catholic church jutted up. My mother had grown up in that town and desperately wanted to get away but after college at Simmons and Maryland college for Women, she ended back, something she always regretted. My father came from Russia, a taciturn, moody, quiet man-- the opposite of my mother in her younger years: full of fun, lively flashing brown eyes. Always up for a trip from VT to New York City for a cup of coffee. Or dancing on a ferry all night in the city and then going to work at Macy's where she sold more books than anyone. In her last days, her wish was to go back to New York.
I went to Syracuse University where I started in Theater and Fine Arts. I got into an advanced art class and not knowing exactly what a collage should be, I turned in one still wet with purple oil paint that the professor said her dog tracked all over the carpet and I would never be a painter.

I didn't stay in theater but giving readings has been so close to that. After Syracuse where I got a BA in British Literature, I went to University of Vermont for an MA in English and then to Brandeis University to work on a PH in English and then later, the University at Albany-SUNY-- I finished all the course work, had started my dissertation (which disappeared from my office) -- had 90 hours of credits and then walked out, drained and exhausted at the last exam I had to pass. But for a long time one of my most published poems came from that experience.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I always knew I wanted to write but felt I had to get degrees before I started so I could always have a "real" job. When I left SUNY, I painted a while and then worked at PBS station (Public Broadcasting Service) where during slow times, I wrote to the Small Press Directory, to Len Fulton, got copies of all the mysterious, wonderful, exciting magazines and then started reading them, submitting finally-- but to non academic ones. It took me a while to send poems to university publications after leaving, walking away.

Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Elaborate, not just yes, no.

I never thought of being published as a goal. Of course I wanted to share what I wrote, I suppose, but somehow I never expected to publish as widely and intensely as I have.

When do you write? When do you not?

I write all the time. When I am burned out, less so. Or when I am typing a pile of notebooks. When I used to edit anthologies I was too busy to write much myself but I have not edited any recently. Sometimes, when to write for a particular subject (like my Joni Mitchell poems), or poems that I had written to go with a painter's paintings-- poems about women in history and myth-- like Scheherazade, Nefertiti, or Eneduanna-- the first woman to sign her name to something or when I am working on say one of the horse books I've published-- I find each poem triggers more, the connection the subject creates momentum. In the last few years I've been very involved with ballroom-- and from that: BALLROOM from March Street Press and KNIFE EDGE & ABSINTHE: THE TANGO POEMS. Another time, someone wanted poems about Hitchcock so I wrote HOTEL HITCHCOCK. The same thing happened with my writing poems for THE DAUGHTER I DON'T HAVE, MONDO BARBIE, MONDO MARILYN, THE CONDO POEMS, TSUNAMI POEMS, OBAMA---all anthologies I wrote poems for and then ended up with a book or chapbook about (except the Obama anthologies).
What resources online (include links and websites) help you most as a writer? What resources who you suggest for beginning writers? I consider this question important since all need new sources to help us find publishers, forums, etc.
This is hard to answer. I don't use that many web sites. Small Press Review and of course Poets and Writers helpful. I wrote an article for the Writer's Digest issue THE BASICS OF GETTING STARTED IN WRITING-- a very helpful issue even though it is not new. It is volume 12, 1995-- it might still be on line.

Links (added by editor):
Small Press Review:
Poets and Writers:
Writer's Digest:

What inspires you to write

Anything can inspire me to write--the most unlikely things. A ceiling in a boring room, an overheard conversation, a line in a newspaper, photographs-- anything.
Who are notable authors who have influenced your writing?

Too many to list-- many in college, and high school and graduate school-- many I just discover reading literary magazines. I'd hate to list some and leave some out.

What type of stories, poetry, and/or fiction do you like to read, imitate, or write?
I never seem to have time to read as much as I like to. I buy mostly poetry books-- I hate not having time to read novels as I used to. Very frustrating.

If you had to choose, what would you say are the two best poems, flash fiction, or short stories you have ever written to this date?

What is your opinion on self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing? Please list for our readers the publisher(s), POD . (print on demand) or self publishing you use or have used.
I have never self published or used any of the presses that publish for a fee. I think they are find and have a great tradition but I've never used them.

If you have used traditional publishers who are they?

I've had so many-- from Black Sparrow Press, to Beacon Press, to Harcourt Brace--- some tiny ones no longer in existence. Many can be seen on my web site or listed in the (Missing info).

Links (added my editor):
Black Sparrow Press:
Beacon Press:
Harcourt Brace:

Give us a sense of your personal experience and attitudes toward them. Please understand there is a difference between POD publisher who request money to publish you i.e. universe, etc and those like and where you publish yourself and edit yourself. How do you feel about traditional publishers?

I have never used and am not really familiar with iUniverse or Lulu or CreateSpace. I am just glad I am not beginning to publish now because it seems so very hard and different from when I started; and is likely to get harder. Of course now there are many more venues that publish poetry, a plus.

Do you have any parting words for our readers; any words of wisdom to share?

I guess just to read a lot, do reading locally, join local poetry groups-- but especially read.

Are you trying anything new: video's on line, MP3 audio files, any

Some people have posted bits of videos about me on line-- I should do more.

Added by editor:

"American poet Lyn Lifshin. Lifshin, called the "Queen of the Small Presses," has published over 125 books, edited at least four anthologies." Quote taken from:


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