WHY I WRITE – by Linda Nemec Foster

Linda Nemec Foster’s essay is featured on the website, Write Across Chicago, which is sponsored by the Illinois Writing Project based at Northeastern Illinois University. A member of the Society of Midland Authors, Linda is the only non-Illinois resident featured on the website.

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WHY I WRITE – by Linda Nemec Foster



By Linda Nemec Foster

I write because I want to connect with others. I’m primarily a poet and I love poetry for the powerful way it uses language and the blankness around line breaks and stanzas to reflect metaphor, imagery, tone, rhythm, and pacing. Poetry is the only kind of writing where what you don’t say (think of all that white space on the page that surrounds a poem) is as important as what you do say (the language that encompasses each line). And when a poem is read out loud–connecting it to that ancient oral tradition that was the precursor to all written literature–the process is complete.

I also write flash fiction and prose poems that balance the tone between narrative and lyric voices. I like to work with this dichotomy: it’s an ambitious exercise but when the piece can achieve that balance between a narrative arc and strong lyricism, it’s nothing short of magic.

When I’m starting a new poem, I’ll write the first drafts in longhand on a yellow legal pad or a standard notebook. On average, this process of early drafting can result in five to ten rough drafts; that is, every poem I create begins in drafts of at least five to ten versions. After I determine that the piece has achieved a decent structure of form and content, I take the most recent draft and type it on the computer. The revision process continues as I see how the structure evolves as a typed piece. This is particularly essential for poetry as line breaks, stanzas, and section breaks are readily formatted on the computer screen. Currently, a lot of poets and writers prefer to compose directly on the computer but I’m “old school.” I love to feel the paper, to hold the pen, to cross out words and add lines. It’s a tactile and visceral experience for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know the computer is essential for final revisions but that initial creative spark–the first drafts–are always handwritten.

My work of being a poet, a writer, and now (after eleven published poetry collections) an author has enriched my life in ways that are inestimable. True, there is no money in poetry. But the intangible rewards are gratifying and humbling. The most amazing situation I experienced as a writer was when I received an email from a person I never met. This woman had purchased one of my poetry books–a collection of haiku and visual art–that was a quiet meditation on nature and our place in the natural world. Every day she would read excerpts from the book to her friend who was in the advanced stages of terminal cancer. The poetry gave both of them a sense of peace and serenity as one life ended and one life carried on. No award or recognition could match the significance of those words from that stranger.

Linda Nemec Foster is a poet, writer, literary presenter, and founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College. She is the author of eleven collections of poetry including The Lake Michigan Mermaid (with Anne-Marie Oomen), Talking Diamonds, Amber Necklace from Gdańsk, Listen to the Landscape, and Living in the Fire Nest.

Linda Nemec Foster featured on the Poetry Foundation’s Website

Below is an excerpt from the Poetry Foundation’s Website:

Linda Nemec Foster is the author of 11 collections of poetry, including The Lake Michigan Mermaid (Wayne State University Press, 2018), coauthored with Anne-Marie Oomen; Talking Diamonds (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2009); and Amber Necklace from Gdańsk (Louisiana State University Press, 2001). Her work has been published in anthologies, magazines, and journals, including the Georgia Review, Nimrod, Quarterly West, Witness, New American Writing, North American Review, and Verse Daily. Her poems have been translated into European languages, have inspired original musical compositions, and have been produced for the stage.

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Book review of Talking Diamonds

A Review of Talking Diamonds, Linda Nemec Foster’s new collection of poems.

By Oriana Ivy

The typical poem in this beautiful collection by Linda Nemec Foster, her eighth book, is quiet, elegant, and wise. These poems do not shout; they whisper – about aging and dying, a mother’s frightful dementia (the mother no longer recognizes her daughter and calls her “Mom”), deformed children who are nevertheless a gift, and dead stars whose light still travels to us. They are filled with small, uncanny observations, for instance the demented mother saying “What a glorious burden” to the living room wall.

It is the poet’s gift of compassion that makes such poems not only bearable, but a pleasure to read. For instance, we learn that the mother’s own mother died when her daughter was only fifteen.

But me, I heard my mother calling
my name every day long after
we buried her . . . Always
the same voice from that dark place.
`Helen, Helen.’ Her voice so clear
as if she was in the basement
calling me down to help her fold
clean, white sheets.

This is heartbreak presented in the most intimate, quiet voice. In a later poem, just as quietly, we are told her mother was conceived to take the place of two daughters who previously died. It’s all muted colors and gray sky. A new kind of trinity presides over this volume: Mother, Daughter, and the Spirit “where everything begins and nothing ends.”

Linda Nemec Foster’s other great gift is her sensitivity to the astonishing in unlikely settings.

. . . nothing prepares you for this vision:
Our Lady of Guadalupe on Waikiki.
A blue ocean away from where she
first appeared to that dirt-poor
Indian peasant on Tepeyac Hill,
you can’t miss her shape of glorious
colors coming toward you: deep teal,
bright vermilion, bronzed gold tattooed
on the chest of a huge Mexican from Baja.
Even his back is emblazoned with her back
and you’re stunned by the accuracy
of detail; the little angel at her feet
holding a sliver of the crescent moon
as if she were a living, breathing icon.
. . .
This ocean, this beach at your feet
as if she were Boticelli’s Venus
washed ashore with the sea foam,
washed ashore for your approval.
And you tell yourself this isn’t a miracle,
only a tattoo; this isn’t anything
extraordinary, only your life

Here is a poet who is always prepared for miracles, and who recognizes the deep affinity between Venus on her shell and Our Lady on the Crescent, typical of the icons of the Black Madonna. In another unforgettable poem, “The Blind and the Lame Swim at the Y,” the transformation is even more startling:

But it’s the crippled girl
with a slash for a mouth
that amazes the water. Tiny
deformed feet that curl
like tender shells forgotten
on some deserted beach,
become the shining, sleek fins
of a mermaid’s tail.

The poem ends with a stanza of skillfully wrought wisdom: mothers will accept their handicapped children “without regret” –

Because the secret heart of every
fairy tale is locked deep within
these children. Because this heart
beats in goodness which is rarer
than perfection. Because this heart
is like water: uncaring yet
kind, transparent yet full.

Among my favorite poems is “Red Amaryllis, 1937,” honoring an art lover, a man who even in a strip joint behaves in a courtly manner:

When a black girl
with erect nipples came to dance inches from your face,
you stood up, took her hand, and began to waltz.
. . . After the waltz, you kissed her hand.
She said her name was Jasmine. Flower of night air
and moonlight, you replied.

Another favorite is “The Nature of the Beast,” with these lines about a cat bringing its offering of a nestling it killed:

But remember how it holds the gift
tenderly in its mouth, approaching
you like a child, a lover who wants
to give you the gift of its wildness.

Poetry is not the things themselves, it is in how we respond to them – quietly, lovingly, without judgment or bitterness, only with compassion and understanding, Linda Nemec Foster teaches us. In spite of heartbreak, there is beauty and grace in life. Everything can be transformed, transfigured into brilliance. In the title poem of the collection, she imagines diamonds talking

about their lives underground.
Never are they bitter or angry. Nor do they
even curse those dark
memories of suffocating black. They know
every facet of their brilliance began as mere
coal – a mere dark fist waiting
for a chance to be something
other than ordinary.

But then it turns out that nothing is merely ordinary. Simply to wake up to another day is already extraordinary, if we have the eyes to see. Linda Nemec Foster certainly has the eyes that are always ready for miracles, and the words with which to describe them. Through her, we see that life is indeed a glorious burden – with equal emphasis on “burden” and “glorious.”


The book is available from Amazon and New Issues Press. To see more about Linda Nemec Foster, I encourage readers to checkout her website.

Poet Oriana Ivy blogs about poetry at Oriana-Poetry. Her translations of Zbigniew Herbert are available at Scream Online. Some of her poems are also available. online. A powerful sequence about her Polish grandmother appears here. Her poem “My America” about discovering America for herself is available at her blog.

Originally Published by Writing the Polish Diaspora, click here to view article.

Linda Nemec Foster’s poetry collection ‘Talking Diamonds’ sparkles with brilliance

“Talking Diamonds” proves to be a fitting title for Linda Nemec Foster’s latest collection of poetry as the poems within sparkle with brilliance.

Honored as a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2010 Book of the Year Award in Poetry, “Talking Diamonds” is arguably Foster’s strongest collection yet — quite a feat for Grand Rapids’ former poet laureate, who adds this, her ninth collection of poems, to her lengthy list of literary accomplishments.

“This was such a labor of love for me, to do this particular book,” Foster said. “When I was putting the manuscript together, I was thinking, ‘There are a lot of dark poems here — about death, my mother’s dementia.’ … Whenever I hear reactions, it makes me feel so good, because it was a challenge to put the book together, some of the poems were not easy to write.”

Although Foster rightly describes the collection as dark, the warmth of her works brings light to the darkness. The poetry here is emotional and moving, the way Lake Michigan moves, slowly and gracefully, a blend of cool swirls bearing shimmers of sunlight.

Among her best here is “Red Amaryllis, 1937,” named for the title of a painting by Georgia O’Keefe and representative of Foster’s gift for ekphrastic writing.

Written for a friend who died 15 years ago, the poem details a real-life experience in which her friend accepted an exotic dancer’s request to dance for him by taking her hand and leading her in a waltz.

The poem for which the collection was named, “Talking Diamonds,” is a pensive piece, bearing a sense of rebirth and desire to be extraordinary:

“They know every facet of their brilliance began as mere/coal — a mere dark fist waiting/for a chance to be something other than ordinary.”

In the final words of the poem, it is revealed that not just diamonds underground become greater than they are, but so do we in the human realm, who similarly wait to awaken.

Filtering through the collection are glimmers of Foster, herself. Although “Talking Diamonds” is filled with poems for people in her life and works of art that served as inspirations for her poems, we still see the artist standing beside the finished work.

“I Enter my Mother’s Dementia” explores her relationship with her mother, through mention of the present and a reflection back to 1974. “The Third Secret of Fatima” reveals her Catholic background (Foster is an Aquinas College alumna).

Another glimpse of the artist here is reminiscent of her book, “Amber Necklace from Gdansk.” We see pieces of amber scattered throughout this newest collection, a reminder of Foster’s rich, Polish heritage.

Even longtime devotees of Foster’s will close the cover of “Talking Diamonds” impressed by how sharply the local poet has honed her craft.

Her works here are exceptional and gleaming, serving as a reminder that even experts can excel beyond their own greatness.

“I chose every word. Every word is meant to be there,” Foster said.

E-mail the author of this story: [email protected]

Originally Published by The Grand Rapids Press, click here to view article. 

Review of Linda Nemec Foster’s Talking Diamonds

Talking Diamonds
Linda Nemec Foster
New Issues, 2009
Review by Jeanne Lesinski

Featuring a sprouting amaryllis bulb, a handful of seashells, and a holy card of  the Virgin and Child—all bathed in red—the cover of Talking Diamonds sets the tone for the many somber poems in this, Foster’s ninth collection. Other books by Foster, who was named the first poet laureate of Grand Rapids in 2003, include Amber Necklace from Gdansk and Ten Songs from Bulgaria.

The emotional intensity of the first 20 pages of Talking Diamonds propels the reader relentlessly forward, through poems of parental loss (“Sleeping in a Room Filled with the Past” and “I Enter My Mother’s Dementia”) and parental anxiety, then downward with the falling rain and disintegrating towers to the “Total Eclipse.” I admit to finding myself in circumstances eerily similar to those portrayed in some of these poems, but that is not the only reason they haunt me like the bassoon solo in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Foster crafts her poems well, juxtaposing  images to great effect in “Sleeping in a Room” in which a collection of shells meshes with the physical and mental souvenirs that represent “the past lives you’ve survived and left behind.”  She does the same with voices in “I Enter My Mother’s Dementia.” By alternating between the protagonist’s thoughts and artifacts of the mother’s past life and painful evidences of a diminished present, she draws the reader into the midst of this experience. Each poem grows steadily heavier as it progresses, ending in a manner very true to life.

In a handful of poems Foster explores spirituality, sometimes humorously as in “A Sign from God” or “The Tao of Junk Mail,” but at other times downplaying the dramatic for the quotidian, as in “The Third Secret of Fatima.”  The numinous appears unexpectedly for the protagonist of “Vision,” sunbathing on a Hawaiian beach. It takes the form of a man bearing a tattoo of the Virgin and Child, like a holy card, on his front and back. Suddenly, the incongruousness of this vision overwhelms the protagonist:

And you tell yourself this isn’t a miracle,

only a tattoo; this isn’t anything

extraordinary, only your life,

the crowded beach, the husband and son

waving impatiently for you to just

come on, come on, dive in.

And yet. And yet, the emotional truth rings out in this as in other poems in the collection. Where else should the miraculous happen but in everyday lives, in moments when humans are graced with the extraordinary through enhanced perception. Foster seems to invite readers  “come on, come on, dive in,” into Talking Diamonds and into life.

Originally Published by 360 Main Street, click here to view article.