Sandra Lindow is a poet, writer and reading specialist from Wisconsin, who uses science fiction and altered mythology to examine feminist topics and women’s experiences. Three of her poems are featured in this issue.
You work with a broad range of speculative writing, including scientific themes like medicine and space as well as mythological themes and folklore. What do you like about speculation, and specifically about speculative poetry?
I like speculative poetry because it takes the stuff of scientific knowledge and speculates, “What if?” What if just one thing were different what would happen instead? How can science work symbolically to explain human relationships? How can I create a revisionist feminist mythology that also works symbolically to explain something about the universe? How does the health of our bodies affect our dreams?
I’ve always had more questions than I have had answers.
How did you start combining poetry, science fiction, and the subject of women?
I grew up reading science fiction. I published my first poem when I was 11. I wrote a romantic science fiction story in high school and one in college. Even though I earned a Master’s degree in English, became a teacher and began regularly publishing my poetry, I didn’t write any SF poetry until I got into an argument at a science fiction convention.
To the chagrin of several serious McCaffrey fans, I said that Moreda, the main character of Ann McCaffrey’s Moreda: Dragon Rider of Pern, dies a stupidly heroic death. I said that she wouldn’t have died if she had raised her children herself rather than fostering them out to surrogate parents.
My point was that if she had raised her own children herself she would have had to learn to manage her time and her energy. She would have worked sensibly to achieve her goals, as the women did in Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “Sur.” In “Sur” a well-organized team of South American women reaches the south pole before any men, an uneventful trip except for the birth of a baby.
As a result of the argument I went up to my hotel room and started writing poems that would eventually become my chapbook, The Heroic Housewife Papers. “She had one at her breast and two in the back of the wagon when she went out to fight dragons...” The poems are about sexism and the important life (and dragon-fighting) skills women learn from homemaking and childcare.
Since the Heroic Housewife, I’ve gone on to write many speculative poems. I particularly like revising, modernizing, and responding to folktales and myths. What if the life on earth were created by a many legged goddess who needed a pedicure? What if Snow White suffered from anorexia nervosa? What if Ezekial and his wife lived in Montana and the dry bones he made rise belonged to a T-Rex?
You have put women’s experiences in many contexts, relating them to historical thought, current situations, and futuristic extrapolations. Are you more interested in the past, present or future?
Our understanding of the past and our expectations for the future work to inform our present day choices. I want to make good choices about my own life because I’ve learned the lessons of history but I also don’t want to be limited by traditional ideas of what a woman can and cannot do. Thinking speculatively releases me from the rigid corsette of tradional women’s roles.
You’ve written about more than women’s issues. What particular topics are you inspired to write about right now?
My most recent chapbook, Walking the Labyrinth: Poetry of Conflict and Resolution was written in opposition to war and violence in the world. I’ve also edited a volume of peace poetry by local poets called A Peace of the Valley. It goes to press tomorrow. Of course, peace is ultimately a feminist issue.
Can you share any communities or resources that have been especially relevant or helpful to your work?
Although I’ve been an SF reader since early childhood, my husband, SF critic Michael Levy, introduced me to science fiction conventions when we were dating. At conventions like WisCon and MiniCon I met and became friends with many SF writers and poets.
It was at a convention that I first heard about the Science Fiction Poetry Association and its newsletter Star*line. SFPA has been crucially important in supporting and energizing speculative poets. One of my first Heroic Housewife poems was published as a short, short story in Asimov’s. Tales of the Unanticipated has published a number of my speculative and science-based poems. My revisionist mythology poem “Juno’s Jazzercize” will appear in its next issue.
Roger Dutcher’s Magazine of Speculative Poetry has been definitive in the field and very supportive of my work. In the last ten years I have also been involved with SF reviewing and criticism and have attended conferences of the Science Fiction Research Association and the International Conference of the Fantastic and the Arts.
Do you have any favourite science fiction or fantasy to recommend to vagina nerds?
I would recommend science fiction or fantasy by Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Joan Slonczewski, Lois Bujold or Eleanor Arnason. All of them examine what it is to be a woman having adventures in inner or outer space.
Some feminist classics are Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Slonczewski’s Door into Ocean, Sheri Tepper’s Gate to Women’s Country, Pamela Sargent’s Shore of Women and Suzy McKee Charnas’s Motherlines.
There are many wonderful SF writers who deal intelligently with women’s issues. A few of them are men. Urban fantacist Charles deLint has created many female characters who are strong and believably female.
What is the most interesting project you are working on right now (poetic or otherwise)?
My next writing project is to finish a book on Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve already published five chapters that focus on her approach to childhood trauma and moral development. Her newest book Gifts takes a look at (among other things) anger management in teenagers, a topic of particular interest to me because I work with emotionally disturbed adolescents. I will be presenting it as a paper at SFRA in Las Vegas in June.
I’ve just finished the layout work on the local peace anthology I mentioned earlier. Since I’ve worked full time as a teacher since 1972, I haven’t had a great deal of time to do editing but in the last two years I’ve worked .9 time and have had one day every two weeks to write and edit. I have very much valued this time and plan to retire from my teaching job in another year so that I can devote more of my time to writing and editing.