POET INTERVIEW – LINDA EVANS HOFKE
Today’s guest comes to us all the way from Germany! Perhaps that’s why it took so long for her to get into the interview chair. Yes, yes, I’m sure that’s it. I’m just thankful she finally made it, as I’m sure you will be also.
Linda Hofke is yet another of Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides originals, going back even further than Walt and I, to the 2008 April Poem-a-Day challenge. She has rightfully received recognition from Robert, and has earned a name for herself among the poets who frequent his site. We feel blessed to have her frequent our site as well.
Back in January of 2013, Linda received my “Beautiful Bloom” for “Beyond the Love of Fishing.” This poem continues to be not only one of my favorites of Linda’s, but one of my favorite poems in general. When I awarded Linda her Bloom, I said, “Several of you are not only poets, but story dreamers. It seems what we struggle to do ourselves amazes us in others, and I truly envy this ability.” I can envision this poem becoming a future well-loved classic.
Beyond the Love of Fishing by Linda Evans HofkeGrandpa’s hands were old and gnarled like the bark of the trees surrounding him, yet in the thick of winter he clutched his fishing rod, gloveless hands exposed to the elements, patiently waiting for a fish to nibble at the bait, determined to provide for dinner. Though the bounty of the river was plentiful, he’d often spend hours down by the water for one reason or another—the need to reel in a second catch because the first was too meager for a proper meal, or fragile Mr. Wilkens would stroll by and knowing the unfortunate state of both his health and his finances, Grandpa would offer the fish to him. More than once his generosity resulted in he and Grandma having a simple meal of potatoes that evening, but Grandma never complained. Not only did she love his selfless acts but she loved every little thing about him—that slightly crooked smile of his just before he recited the punchline of a joke, the way he whistled church hymns while he planted the garden in Spring, the stray curl of a hair that always flew out of place right next to his left ear when wet. She noticed every tiny detail, good or bad, and loved him with all her heart. It was that love, so deep and true, that allowed her to get through any Sunday meal. On the day of his funeral as we shared tales of his life, we spoke of those year-round Sunday fishing trips. A lump formed in my throat as I thought of this tradition ending and solemnly swore to do my best to catch a fish the coming Sunday. A sweet smile replaced her teary eyes as she replied, “Don’t bother, dear. I always hated fish, but he so loved to fish and I couldn’t break his heart.”
As with all our guests, I asked Linda to share a poem of her own, and tell us why she chose that particular poem. Here is her response:
“I enjoy walking in the woods and the nearby vineyards, sitting in the back yard listening to the birds singing. Being in nature helps nurture the creative side of me. I also think it is important to be kind to the earth and to respect the diverse creatures that inhabit it. Therefore, my poem Badak Api (published in Bolts of Silk and later in the anthology For Rhino in a Shrinking World) immediately comes to mind.”
in the deep forest,
surrounded by raging fires
an old Malaysian woman drops to
her knees, thrusts her hands outstretched to the
crescent moon and pleads, badak api! badak api!“
but the flames continue to flicker and spread,
dance among the trees, twirling around her.
In the morning, this spot of forest
is reduced to tiny embers and the only trace of her
lies in warmed bones and powdery ash like the
ground-up horn of rhinoceros used by the medicine man
to combat fever and convulsion.
No mythical creature could have saved her
from the inferno. No mighty Sumatran rhinos dared to
answer her call for they must remain hidden
from the poachers who seek to rid them
of their pointy defenses; they have
no time to stamp out evening fires, even if one
desperate soul must succumb to extinction
a bit sooner than they.
*Though there has never been any evidence, there are legends about rhinoceros stamping out fire in Malaysia. This creature is called badak api in Malay. Badakmeans rhinoceros and api means fire.
Now, let’s get to the interview.
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Linda! I joked about having to drag you all the way from Germany to finally get an interview, but I really am thankful to finally get this opportunity. And glad you have a lead foot, or you might never have made it. 😉
LINDA: Have you ever heard that saying about some people gaining weight as they grow older? Well, I think it is true and a big clump of fat must have settled in my right foot. The need for speed sometimes needs to be suppressed, especially when I am in the states. Driving 55 on a Pennsylvania highway feels as if I am going at a snail’s pace.
MARIE ELENA: Though I’ve known for quite a while now that you live in Germany, I don’t recall knowing the back-story. How did this Pennsylvania gal end up in Germany?
LINDA: My husband moved to the U.S. when he was five. His parents had a house in Germany and his grandparents lived there. When his grandmother passed away, the house was empty and we had the opportunity to move in. I’ve always been one for new adventures, so even though I didn’t speak German at the time, I agreed to give it a try. My husband said two-to-three years. I told him, “Let’s do five.” Five turned into six, six into seven, and before we knew it ten years had flown by. In December, it will 14 years since we moved.
MARIE ELENA: Exactly where do you live?
LINDA: I live in Michelau, a small village about 25 km northeast of Stuttgart. Our population is 586 people. We have one traffic light, an Italian fine-dining restaurant, an electrician and a plumber. That’s it.
MARIE ELENA: Sounds perfect, actually!
LINDA: I always say, “klein aber fein” (small but nice). Many, many years ago it was a farming community and in the hills wine grapes grew. Now there is only one family with cows, two with horses, one or two with chickens, a few goats. One man recently acquired a few elk. On the hills are apple trees and fields full of wildflowers that look beautiful in spring. Look at that view! Isn’t it beautiful?
MARIE ELENA: It’s stunning, Linda. It makes me want to see it in person. What do you think is the biggest difference between Germany and the U.S.?
LINDA: The biggest difference is vacation time and public holidays. All full-time German workers get six weeks of paid vacation each year. Most of my friends here take two-to-three weeks in one stretch, vacationing in or outside the country.
People value their free time. There is always some event going on nearby, celebrations, or meeting friends at cafes or the Biergarten. Many people go for walks on Sunday, and there are a multitude of nature trails in my area.
In addition to that, we enjoy many more (non-working) holidays throughout the year than in the U.S. For these two reasons I’ve adopted the saying that Americans live to work and Germans work to live.
MARIE ELENA: Wow. That’s enough of a difference to make me want to grab Keith and head over there to join you.
LINDA: On an entirely different note, the school system is entirely different. To explain that in a clear manner would require a lengthy description, so I’ll just say that both have their good and bad points. I truly believe that no country in the world has a perfect educational system.
MARIE ELENA: Now in the reverse, is there anything that is surprisingly similar between Germany and the U.S.?
LINDA: There are many similarities. In many ways, the landscape in this area of Germany is similar to that of Pennsylvania.
Also, due to globalization, many typically American products which were not readily available 15 years ago are easy to find. Peanut butter, hamburger rolls, brownie mix. Such things are easily found on the grocery store shelves today. Cupcakes, pulled pork and barbequed spare ribs are all the rage right now. It seems as if each year the differences are fewer and fewer.
And then there is Denglish. This is a portmanteau of the German words Deutsch and Englisch, and refers to the ever-increasing influx of English words or pseudo-English in the modern German language. There is much debate about this. Some people feel the inclusion of English words into the German language is a good idea which will benefit future generations with international relations, whether it be simply for personal pleasure, travel, or business.
However, due to much of the pseudo-English, many linguists have voiced their concerns about Denglish. Pseudo English (or pseudo anglicisms) are words that are English or seem to be English but have different meanings in German. For instance, the word handy. In English it is an adjective. My husband is very handy around the house. In German, handy is a noun. Ich kaufte mir ein neues Handy. Translated: I bought myself a new cell phone/mobile phone. Smoking is another example. When I was still learning German I was telling my friend about an event where my husband and I were dressed up. I was trying to describe our attire, but didn’t know the word for suit or even tuxedo or anything close. So I used the few words I knew and put in some hand motions and my friend says, “Smoking?” and I said, “No. Stefan never smoked.” What a laugh! The German word for a dinner suit or tuxedo is smoking.
MARIE ELENA: How amusing and fun! Could make for some awkward moments though, I’m sure.
LINDA: Imagine you are speaking to your German friend. He tells you his son just left with a bodybag. Sounds gruesome, doesn’t it. After a bit of explaining you are relieved to discover that the word Bodybag in German means message bag. His son works as a bicycle courier delivering messages. He carries the letters, documents, or packages in his messenger bag. He just left for work.
MARIE ELENA: Hahaha!
LINDA: It gets worse. Then you ask what job his daughter has. He says he’s very proud of her. She is a street worker. Proud? Street worker in English can be understood as prostitute. However, a Street Worker in German is a social worker who helps people in the lower-class neighborhoods.
MARIE ELENA: Oh my! You have my tummy hurting from laughing!
LINDA: Trampen? That’s a verb that means hitch-hiking. Going to an outing? In English this means attending an outside event. In German it means someone is “coming out” as gay.
You see the problem? Things can be easily confused and terrible misunderstandings can occur.
MARIE ELENA: Yes, I can see where this could get not only comical, but become a problem.
LINDA: Even when English words are adopted and used properly, many fear the German language will gradually be lost. In an effort to preserve it, they want to limit the addition of English words, which I can totally understand.
MARIE ELENA: Linda, what do you miss most about the U.S.?
LINDA: Well, there are no longer many American things that I can’t get here, whether it be food, products, films, music, or shows. (Though it airs a day or two later here I do enjoy watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.) It is more so that I can’t find German things while in America.
The only “things” I really miss are people. Not only is my entire family in the states, but my husband’s family is as well. I wish I could sit and chat with my mom, go out to eat with my father and step-mother, go out for sushi with my sister, see my brother’s new house, attend my nephew’s wedding, see my niece’s new baby, have coffee with my in-laws. But thousands of miles (and ocean) separate us. Holidays can be especially hard. Though less stress, certain holidays (like Thanksgiving and Christmas) lack the feeling that comes from being surrounded by family. This past Mother’s Day I spent an hour on the phone talking to my mom. It would have been much nicer if I could personally bring a bunch of daisies (her favorite flower) and greet her with a hug.
Oh, and cardinals. There were many cardinals that frequented our birdfeeder in Pennsylvania. There aren’t any cardinals in Germany.
MARIE ELENA: Cardinals are our official State of Ohio bird. I’d miss them too, if I couldn’t see them daily. Linda, I can’t imagine being so far from my family. That must be so difficult.
If you were to ever return to live here in the United States, what do you think you would miss most about Germany?
LINDA: I would miss many things from Germany: the ancient castles and fortresses, Fachwerkhäuser (which google translate tells me are called half-timbered houses in English), and the old churches. I would miss Zweibelkuchen (onion pie) and the variety of breads and the cafés and getting fresh, local produce at the town square’s marketplace. I would miss the bicycle paths. They are all over the place here and you can travel great distances through Germany and Europe on them. My husband went with a group of cyclists on a tour from Germany to the northern region of Italy. I’d miss the close proximity of neighboring countries and the ease of travelling to them. I would miss the environmentally friendly mindset of the Germans, and I would miss all the friends I have here.
To be honest, I can’t say if I will ever return to the states or not. If someone would have asked me 25 years ago if I would ever live overseas I would have laughed and said “probably not,” but I did a college exchange to northern England and loved it, and now I am in Germany. I no longer plan that far ahead because there is always that fork in the road that comes into view when you least expect it. Also, when we moved here my daughter was just two and a half years old. Although she’s been back to the states several times, this is home to her. So we’ll be here at least until she has completed her schooling. After that, who knows? My husband and I know a nice, quaint spot in Italy that we wouldn’t mind calling home one day.
MARIE ELENA: The way you speak of Germany (what you love about it) tells me a lot about who you are as a person, Linda. None of it surprises me, I must say. And I believe I would love all the same things you express here.
Now let’s move on to your talents. As is the case for several of our “Bloomers,” your talent spills into other areas besides poetry: short stories, photos, and, (if I remember correctly) art. Please tell me how you discovered each talent, and which one you feel you are most comfortable with and skilled at.
LINDA: I started writing as a child. I wrote short stories and poetry. I worked on the newspaper staff at school and wanted to be a writer. I liked to draw and later, as a young adult, I began taking pictures with my first 35mm camera. That’s how it began.
I remember my 8th grade English teacher telling me as I went off to high school, “You’ve got what it takes. Whatever you do, don’t get caught up with boys. Keep focused on writing.” Well, I wouldn’t say that boys got in the way (though I was interested in a few) but life just got in the way. Growing and changing and trying to find out who I was got in the way. Work got in the way. Excuses and insecurities got in the way. (They still resurface). In college I decided to major in Elementary Education with a concentration in reading because it seemed the safer path. Teach and write on the side. HA! So much for that plan.
A few years ago I told my husband I missed writing, and he said, “Then do it.” So I’ve started again. Whether I am better at writing poetry or flash fiction or non-fiction or taking photos, isn’t important to me (and personally, I couldn’t figure it out if I tried). I think I need to have variety. Believe it or not, I think I enjoy writing creative non-fiction best. Before I started sending my poetry out, I was writing a lot of nonfiction. Stories about parenting, cultural pieces, opinion pieces, memoirs. In fact, the first online writing contest I ever entered was at Sylvia Ney’s “Writing in Wonderland,” with my memoir story The Moon, the Stars, and Fairy Dust. I won. That gave me the encouragement to keep writing.
I also love writing anything for children. I’d love to write a picture book, non-fiction articles for magazines or a poetry book for kids.
As far as artwork goes, I haven’t done any for years and I don’t think I was ever that great at it. At least, not at drawing. However, I have been asked to create a collage for a poet’s upcoming chapbook and am so excited about getting my hands busy with cutting and pasting things. It has been ages since I’ve done so, but I always loved making collages.
MARIE ELENA: I have to wonder if your love for children’s writing is at least in part what draws me to your work. It does seem like I navigate toward those who love writing for children. 😉
You are one of the more “published” individuals I know, which (at least to me) seems to take skilled market research.
LINDA: Wow, I think you have me confused with someone else. I know a few people who post here that have published far more than I. However, I have had quite a few poems in journals (print and online) and anthologies in the past two or three years (as well as flash fiction/short story pieces on a smaller scale.)
As far as marketing goes, I sort of stumble across the information. For instance, a friend has a piece in a magazine and I visit the site to read it and add it to my list. A literary magazine pops up in my suggestions list on Facebook and I check it out. Sometimes while reading work at one publication I notice the name of an unfamiliar journal in the credits of a writer featured there and google it to see if it is still in publication and if I like it. I come across so much information in these ways that I don’t need to do much research. Also, I belong to a great group on Facebook which posts calls from journals almost every day.
A few years ago it was the opposite. I would spend endless hours researching markets. In fact I spent so much time doing so that I barely had time to write or revise work. It was counterproductive. Finally, I decided to forgo any extra searching and found my “happy medium.”
As far as submitting goes, I send work off sporadically. I have times where I just think of ideas, jotting down notes and phases where I just write and write and write. Submitting? I don’t submit as much as some of my friends, but my submission-to-publication ratio is on the high side. Approximately 40% of the work I sent out the past three years was accepted. What do I attribute this to? A few things. Firstly, I chose my market carefully. I know my limitations. I am at this time not brave enough (or perhaps not confident enough) to submit to some of the big journals like The New Yorker or Rattle. When I feel I’ve learned enough about the art of writing to compete against the mass of submissions in those places, I will send my work there. On the flip side, I don’t want to send my work out to a journal that is an easy market. For now, I prefer the middle-of-the-line markets. Most importantly, I need to like the journal. If I don’t see any work there that I enjoy reading, or if the set-up is not professional, I won’t send there.
Secondly, I feel most comfortable submitting to calls for themed work. Face it, if a journal announces it is looking for poetry or short stories related to loss, winter, nature, bicycles (or whatever the theme might be), half the battle is won. At least I know I am giving them something they want. Of course, the work still needs to be good, so I try my best to polish my work as much as possible before putting it out there.
MARIE ELENA: I like your approach, Linda. And I’d say your outstanding submission-to-publication ratio is a good sign that it is an approach that works very well for you.
If you could choose just one publication in which your poetry could appear, which would you choose, and why?
LINDA: Well, that is a crazy question. There are many journals, both online and in print, where I would love to have my poetry appear. I am not sure that one journal is more “me.” I do have a few publications on my personal wish list, but don’t feel that any one of those journals is better than other.
If I could pick one place where I could have my poetry, short stories, and non-fiction articles published on a regular basis it would be a magazine instead of journal: Highlights for Children Magazine. I had a subscription as a child and my daughter received it for several years. It’s a top quality magazine, and I’ve found no other like it any place I have lived or traveled. I’d be honored to be published in Highlights, even if just once in my lifetime.
MARIE ELENA: Linda, you won’t believe this, but that is exactly how I would answer that question if asked: Highlights. I’ve submitted several poems and short stories to them, and have had no luck. My goal is to break into Highlights. Wouldn’t it be an absolute dream if we both ended up published in the same issue of Highlights some day?
LINDA: Highlights is the cream and cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, the icing on the cake, the crown on the queen. YES!!! Wouldn’t that be awesome to both be in the same issue. I’d like that.
MARIE: Now back on a more personal track: what is the one trait you have that you would change if you could?
LINDA: Considering my track record with last-minute posts for weekly prompts at Creative Bloomings, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I am a procrastinator. That sometimes causes me a bit of unnecessary stress, so this is the trait I would happily change (if I didn’t always push it off).
MARIE ELENA: *sigh* I can relate all too well. And in reverse: what is the one trait you have that you are most thankful for?
LINDA: Kindness. I try to be nice to everyone and to help when I can. That’s just the way I was brought up. You can never go wrong with kindness.
“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama
MARIE ELENA: Hear, hear.
Now, let’s welcome that beautiful family. Please introduce us.
LINDA: I met my husband, Stefan, shortly before my 21st birthday. One of his school friends was marrying my friend Danielle; I was going to be maid-of-honor and he the best man. Though the wedding was to be held in Pennsylvania, our friends were currently living in Florida. They came home for Christmas break and, as I am told, it was easier to kill two birds with one stone and all go to the movies together. (Personally, I don’t think that is the only reason. Danielle always tried to hook me up with guys). I wasn’t aware this was a group event until our route to the movies took a detour. When I asked where we were going, they said “to pick up Stefan.” I smelled a rat, and told them to pull the car over and let me out. I’d walk home. (Yes, I actually said that…even though I was miles from home). But they told me I didn’t have to sit next to him or even talk to him. Well, I didn’t want to spoil the evening, and didn’t want to be unsocial. I just didn’t want to be set-up with someone when my life priorities were being focused elsewhere at the time. So I went to the movies. Next thing I knew we were dating, and by the time the wedding rolled around, we were officially a couple. We’ve been married for 21 years, and I can’t imagine what I’d do without him.
Stefan is one of the most intelligent people I know. He is also a caring, helpful person. And he spoils me rotten.
He is an excellent cook. He makes homemade noodles, tasty roasts, osso buco, bread, excellent omelets, and gourmet delights. Though he denies it, I honestly feel he is a far better cook than I. I think he gets his talent from his mother. My mother-in-law is an excellent cook.
He plays trombone in the brass choir at our church and is active in our community. His hobbies include aikido, motorcycle riding, and cycling. Sometimes on the weekend he goes for an hour ride through the hills, comes back, and starts breakfast … all before I am even awake! We also go to dance class together once a week where we are learning to dance disco fox.
MARIE ELENA: Twenty one years. Congratulations, Linda and Stefan! I’d ask what your secrets are, but you’ve just spilled them. Such an inspiration!
And who is this lovely young lady?
LINDA: Katarina is our daughter. She’s a teenager, but we won’t hold that against her. Seriously though, she is a good kid. She is beautiful and much more talented and intelligent than she believes. She is also the creative type, and has written three articles for the teenage page of our newspaper. She’s also pretty handy with a camera.
She belongs to badminton club at our local sport center. Also, she has recently started running and has pretty good form.
Additionally, she likes to cook (we’re all “foodies” in this house) and took part in a regional cooking contest last year, where she earned a silver and came home with a bunch of nice prizes. She also enjoys riding on the motorcycle with Stefan and hanging with her friends.
I’m proud of her and know that one day she is going to do something awesome to make me even prouder.
MARIE ELENA: Talented in every way her mother is. That’s awesome.
And now finally (and you know this one is coming): If we could know only one thing about you, what would you choose to share with us?
LINDA: I have no clue. I always say, “I’m just a regular girl in a crazy world.” I try my best, but sometimes make mistakes. I have my successes and failures like everyone else. I’ve tried to think of something exciting that you might not already know about me. Nothing important comes to mind, but I did once help transport a huge python from one enclosure to the next (I was closer to the tail-end of the 15-person chain). Will that bit of information do? If not, I could tell you about the time I went bungee jumping from the Eiffel Tower but, of course, that story would be a lie.
MARIE ELENA: Linda, I’ve enjoyed this interview so much! Your humor and personality make you a joy to interview. Thank you for taking the time to do this.
Let’s end on this note: the second poem you wished to share, and the exciting news about it!
LINDA: A second poem that immediately came to mind was The Spinning of Wool. I went through a period where I was drawn to the theme of death and dying. In Praise of the Cosmetologist (published by Curio Poetry), Death (finalist in Poetic Aside’s April PAD Challenge 2012), Villanelle for Paul (4th Place in the Burning the Midnight Oil Poetry contest 2012), Hide and Seek (Microw), Daisies after the Storm (Jellyfish Whispers), Badak Api, and The Spinning of Wool were all written during this time. However, The Spinning of Wool is special to me. It was written right after I learned of the passing of a friend. It will be published later this month in the print journal The Poetic Pinup Revue under the title A Choir of Angels. Harlean Carpenter, the editor at PPR, was kind enough to send my tear sheet a bit early so that I may share it with you. Isn’t it beautiful?
The Spinning of Wool (by Linda Hofke)
The last time the earth swallowed me whole
was the day a choir of angels flew,
singing their welcome song for you
as they gently lifted your eternal soul
from its earthly home to that celestial pole
where you, my old friend, begin life anew.
I remain with fond memories to carry me through,
to hold on to times shared, to help console,
but mostly, I am reminded what a fragile thread
life is, how we fail to recognize that time spins
the wool continuously, always growing thinner,
ready to snap at any given moment, the dead
then wrapped in pure heavenly skins,
no longer of earthly being, no longer sinner.
MARIE ELENA: Yes, it is beautiful, as is your poem. Congratulations, Linda! Now, be careful with that lead foot of yours as you head back to Germany.
Danke, und kommen wieder! (“Thank you, and come again!”)
Don’t be too impressed. I googled it. 😉
If you’d like to keep up with Linda, be sure to visit her blog at Lind-guistics.