Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Corin B. Arenas

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Corin B Arenas Out of Time

Corin B. Arenas

is an audiophile and ghostwriter based in the Philippines. Her poems have been published in The Achieve ofThe Mastery: Volume II Filipino Verse and Poetry from mid ‘90s-2016 (2018), Tremble: The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize Anthology (2016), The Silliman Journal (2013), and The Philippines Graphic Magazine (2010). She released her last chapbook “Out of Time in December 2019.

Corin studied in Miriam College and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. She attended the 18th IYAS National Writers Workshop in 2018, and the 52nd Silliman University National Writers Workshop in 2013 as a fellow for poetry. She completed an MA in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

Mute Ode” on YouTube

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Many things can inspire me to write poetry. These could be anything from a haunting memory, rock music, paintings, and places, all the way to my daily commutes, love (or lack thereof), or my cat. My impulse to write is driven by my desire to write poems that make me (and hopefully, my reader) feel alive. Many things can deaden our sense of humanity these days. Poems are a reminder of the best (and worst) aspects of our selves.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Like many people, my first introduction to poetry was in school. However, I don’t think I really learned enough about poetry until I stepped into college. I believe most of us start with the notion that poetry always needs to rhyme and have meter. While learning these formal aspects is a good start (I would argue very essential), the early years of my education hardly taught me anything about the value of poetry.

Basically, back then, reading old poetry seemed like a tedious chore. I used to ask myself, why would I read things that sound deep but do not make sense (at least at first)? In hindsight, it did not help that I wasn’t such an enthusiastic reader. As embarrassing it is to admit, reading used to bore me. I was more interested in visual art.

I only started to appreciate contemporary free verse poetry in college. A literature professor introduced our class to poems by Mary Oliver, Lisel Mueller, Eric Gamalinda, Robert Hass, and Mark Strand. Since then, I remember constantly seeking to read good poetry.

I guess you could say reading poems made me more receptive to the nuances of the world. It helped me navigate through emotions and ideas that I found too complex to grasp or articulate. It made me give things a closer look, or withhold judgment. The more I read good poetry, the more I learn about myself (there are many things people would rather not confront directly) and the world beyond me. Inevitably, these experiences encouraged me to study poetry-writing.

3. How aware are you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I think being new (in any field) makes anyone feel like an outsider. Some older poets may exude such dominating presence without even trying. Meanwhile, there are others who really go the extra mile to make their presence felt. In any case, I think the more important question is how this dominating presence can help or impede younger writers and the entire writing community. Ideally, I personally think their presence should inspire the production of good literature.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

To be honest, I do not write poetry daily. I only have several ideas throughout the week that carry the potential to become poems. That said, I am far from prolific.

However, I would like to say work keeps me from completely neglecting writing as a discipline. I write for a living—the daily grind challenges me to confront all sorts of ideas on the page. It’s a world apart from writing literary pieces, but I don’t treat this process any different. Writing is writing, whether it’s a health article, magazine feature, poem, or novel. We must do the work to bring any piece to life.

5. What motivates you to write?

Keeping my inner life alive is a good motivator. Writing poetry allows me to process my thoughts and have satisfying realizations. It’s my way of trying to disconnect from the noise of the modern world.

Writing allows me to escape, have a safe inner space, and let’s me come back a bit more grounded. I believe this offers a kind of therapy from issues I cannot look at directly in the real world.

Through writing, I try to find a poetic voice that captures how I deal with deeply personal concerns, such as loneliness and grief, impermanence, and not having enough time. I am also motivated when I have a deep urgency to communicate an idea that I find almost impossible to explain. I think of it as a tool to keep entropy at bay. I try to write when I feel the need to process things that move or disturb me.

6. What is your work ethic?

I try to do the best I can with the time I have. That said, I usually take a long time to write a poem. Some pieces take years, and I understand I cannot force them to end. I think the writing process bids us to constantly negotiate our formal choices and how this reinforces or obscures meaning. There are times a poem is immediately clear to me. But most of the time, the writing process itself helps me figure out what it is I am giving voice to on the page. I only really write what I know. But I do so with the hope that I will learn more things beyond myself.

I have a lot of work on the drawing board. I try to hold off submitting poems that are not yet close to what I envision. Having a definitive deadline helps, of course. Otherwise, I know I suffer from over-editing, or even the complete opposite of trying to improve. There are no shortcuts.

I draw inspiration from other writers’ creative journey. And like many writer’s, sometimes I fall into the trap of comparing myself with others. However, at the end of the day, I know I have to be satisfied with my own work. For the most part, I learned that no amount of affirmation from other writers can help me if 1) I do not do the work, 2) and if I cannot stand by my work.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I think most of the writers I read when I was younger (Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, etc.) influenced me to become introspective and cultivate a world of my own. They taught me to examine my thoughts and take time to ponder emotions and ideas. At the beginning, I think I was merely copying their style or how they wrote. But eventually, I learned to navigate through my own ideas and to develop my own voice without feeling like I need to sound like other older poets.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

One of the poets I admire is teacher and activist Carolyn Forché. I think I am drawn to her work because they possess a sense of urgency. I also appreciate the fact that she takes years, even decades, to publish a new book. It makes me think she prioritizes living over writing, while actually trying to publish good literature. Another poet I admire is Ilya Kaminsky. Like Forché, he does not rush to publish a new book. When I read his work, I immediately sense his poems speak to the people of the time. I tend to admire writers who produce lived poems.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I write because it is a solitary activity. I take pleasure in my solitude and I like the idea of autonomy. It is an art form that does not need collaboration. Writing only requires your mind, a pen and paper, or your computer. It is inexpensive to create unlike a film or a painting. But as with all art, it is time-consuming.

However, reading to inform your craft can be an expensive habit. If you feel the need to keep on buying books, you should start securing a stable day job. But I bypass this by borrowing books from the library or from friends. There are also many ways to obtain book PDFs online now which is not as costly.

Finally, I realized I am not as good with visual art. But I guess I can still try.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “how do you become a writer?

I guess I’ll just say read good books and keep on writing. It’s going to take time, so enjoy the ride. If it really matters, nothing will deter you. Just don’t forget to live.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have at the moment.

I released my last chapbook titled “Out of Time” in December 2019. I plan to make it part of a full length poetry collection in the future. My projects explore themes of time (or lack thereof), displacement, love, and grief.

Some of my poems come in narrative meditations which are set in post-war Philippines and the present time. I do not know when I can finish this collection, but having this project motivates me to keep going.

.two squirrels.

sonja benskin mesher

no one about

the whole way down the back road.

two squirrels so i talk to them, and the tiny

dunnock bird

 

he said they are  brown

down

in the dirt and this is so

 

they often are as  are we

all

 

good place to be in earth

to plant and grow while

 

small birds look for food

**

the story continues

**

 

now you know that the bird has died

and her wish was to preserve it somehow

 

that was yesterday

 

she had balanced it on a cotton reel, you know the old wooden ones with red thread.

this balancing thing

started years ago

in childhood, a game. later life a habit, a meditation.

she watched others, the artists balancing stones

copied , then balanced all sorts, soaps. boxes, anything really.

perhaps it is a control thing she supposed as she balanced…

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“Word Skin” and other poems by Órla Fay

Excellent words

Poethead

The Fish

after Elizabeth Bishop

Fragile as a rainbow,
silvery, iridescent she cannot be caught.
Some say she is the mother of the salmon run
and some say she goes with them
only to remember,
afraid that one day she could forget
the stream of consciousness she came from.
 
It’s not enough to say that she got lost
or that she found herself lost
and yet she did find herself when she was lost,
out in the wilderness of the vast ocean
panicked and spluttering in the shock of its depth
(this the same woman who had walked along the pier
daring the engorged waves to sweep her away.
My God, I had thought remembering the vision
of The French Lieutenant’s Woman)
 
Stunned by the wideness of the world
she stayed in it for years, alabaster in the moonlight,
perfectly still in the starlight,
unnoticed with briny…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Phoebe Wagner

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

The Body You're In Phoebe Wagner

Phoebe Wagner

is a poet and theatre-maker from London. She studied at Rose Bruford College on the European Theatre Arts course. She is part of Barbican Young Poets and Living House Theatre. Her debut pamphlet ‘The Body You’re In’ is out now with Bad Betty Press. Her work explores the fierceness of vulnerability and the politics in the personal.

Links:
www.phoebewagner.com
twitter.com/phoebewagnerr

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

The first thing was that being a poet allowed me to notice things and explore them in this world where it didn’t have to all be linear or make sense. There was a power and ownership of my own voice that by writing it down I felt I was taking. I think that feeling of power also came from the process of performing – that these words were for the audience to take what they need from. I was going to poetry nights like BoxedIn and Chill Pill in London and came away emotional and feeling like I was finding community.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I was lucky enough to be in a workshop run by Deanna Rodger at college on performance poetry. I remember putting my name down thinking ‘What is that?’. She got us to explore the space and then from that put words on outlines of our bodies and then choose one of those words to write about. Before I read the GSCE AQA English anthology and felt like I didn’t understand it and therefore the whole of poetry. Deanna proved me wrong: in poetry I could feel what was around me and pull it apart and work it out in my writing.

I wrote my first poem about my Abuela (Spanish for Grandma) who was forgetting everything. I just remember the feeling of coming home to my Mum and having written that poem – it was like a focus and a cleansing and an excitement all at once. More than anything I think it was I knew I would write poems from then on. I would spend hours on Youtube watching Youtube videos of spoken word poets in the US and UK like Alyssia Harris from The Strivers Row, Kate Tempest, Raymond Antrobus, Dean Atta, Sean Mahoney and so many more. It allowed me to open a new part of my brain and my emotional capacity sat in front of those poets online and at gigs. I still well up hearing people perform and saying their own words on stage. There’s a power in that act of trying to articulate something that feels invisible. But then I always feel like I’m being re-introduced to poetry with every poet I encounter.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Thinking about it, starting out, I didn’t think a lot of people were poets. The AQA Anthology almost didn’t register any inspiration at all. It was when I started going to gigs that I saw the older poets that were gigging and realised they were paving the way. Poets like Selena Godden and Mr G who were performing before spoken word was this cool thing. The poets that were in the AQA Anthology were the old dead white people that had set the rules that the current poetry community were breaking.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

As I work part time as a teaching assistant at a Special Educational Needs school I don’t get to write everyday because the work can be very emotionally and physically exhausting. You are still a writer even when you’re not writing because you need time to find more ink. I think it is important to have a practice or things to help you get started writing and to edit but to herald the time frame of ‘daily’ as a target to hit hasn’t always worked for me. It’s made me feel anxious where I don’t need to be. It plays into that capitalist idea that more things is better. Even when we discuss our favourite poets we won’t necessarily agree, so to even pinpoint what ‘better’ is not solid, but fluid.
I have done things like NaPoWriMo which has worked for me and may write multiple days in a row but this is not the marker of my artistry. I think what I focus on in my practice is to find ways to access what I am surrounded by and what is inside of me. I like to utilise the city spaces, I will write on the bus or tube to and from work and free write rather than try and craft something perfect on the first write. I will use forms of texts I write or talk to myself into my voice notes and use that to create a poem. Or call that thing you’re not
sure of its poetryness a poem. I think that is powerful, when you can say that is a poem. That is poetic and I don’t have to explain. I think writing doesn’t always happen when pen is hitting the paper and I work to redefine what writing is.

I like to use my body to find poems too – I find moving unlocks something in my brain that stops me from being an editor. Having come from a physical theatre training and loving practices like contact improvisation and yoga and done lots of dance as a kid, there’s a language of the body that works together with words that is part of poetics. Just watch a poet read or perform and there body is there making you feel something before they even open their mouth.

5. What motivates you to write?

People. Images. Memories. Feelings. Mainly people. All the same things as the others who write. It’s never from the same space and I think the search for the reason you wrote something is what motivates me to keep writing. That I will never fully figure it out but it will feel less messy even in its chaos.

6. What is your work ethic?

Still trying to work that out.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I’m not sure, but I know they leave feelings and they are my roots. They’ve nourished me but I’m not sure which branch it has helped grow.

I read the Harry Potter books when I was 4 up until I was 10, every night. I think those books had a huge impact on how I see the world but I can’t pinpoint how.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

There are so many that make art and have inspired me I will be here for years but I can go by what I just finished reading. ‘Motherhood’ by Sheila Heti is structured by the flipping of coins to answer as yes and no to her questions and this becomes a structure and a conversation she has that leads her through the book. It explores how women grapple with the notion of having children, what it meant for our mothers, what it can mean for us and it questions why we live. Really philosophical but some passages had me crying and laughing and folding down pages and underlining.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Because it can happen anywhere at anytime and it is magical to turn the invisible or subjective into an object or an experience.

10.What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Write. Have you written words before? Have you said things before? Then you are one!  You do you. Do it how you want. Don’t do what people tell you to, just listen to them and see what sticks. Get frustrated at not knowing what to do or what you’re doing or how to do it. That is productive. Talk to people, tell them what you don’t understand and they might know something or say something that you’ll remember when you’re frustrated. Go for a walk. Look at the ceiling or the sky or the people or smell your kitchen. What do you see? HOW DO YOU FEEL?  Stop making sense. Ask questions about what you’re reading to other people.
Ask someone to read what you’ve written and tell you what questions they want to ask it. Find other writers and learn how they start writing.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

In the process of trying to do a show somewhere, something devised and about fast fashion. It’s really early days.

I’m a Barbican Young Poet so am working on something for the anthology and showcase that will come our next year. Just generally applying for things but I am so proud of my pamphlet and am in wonder and how it’s living out there in the world.

12. What inspired you to write “The Body You’re In”?

I applied to Bad Betty Press’ anthology ’The Dizziness of Freedom’ in 2018 (an incredible anthology you must read. now.) and they approached me to say that I didn’t get into the anthology but asked if I wanted to publish a pamphlet. I then began looking over the work I was writing at the time and chose the work that was moving me. When I’m putting together a body of work I think that’s the inspiration I start with, looking at what I wanted to deepen. A lot of those poems looked at womanhood and identity. I was inspired throughout the process by people from working in an SEN school, to going on holiday with my Mum, getting therapy, a show I saw at the Edinburgh fringe, the problematic things people said about being bi, things people I barely knew said on Facebook, panic, feeling emotionally prodded and crammed into my own body sometimes. The poets that helped my edit ’The Body You’re In’ inspired me: Jake and Amy that run Bad Betty had a way of looking at my work where they pointed at what they believed in and that pushed me to follow my gut which I think guides more connected writing. Gabriel Akamo, a poet I really admire, helped me look at the poems I had from a distance, we thought about what I thought each poem was in a word. He inspired me by encouraging me to step back and look at my poems as broad strokes. Also reading inspired me. Some of my favourite writing at the time was ‘Odes’ by Sharon Olds, ‘Playtime’ by Andrew McMillan, ‘If They Come For Us’ by Fatimah Asghar, ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ by Danez Smith, ’The Argonauts’ by Maggie Nelson, ’The Perseverance’ by Raymond Antrobus and ‘In These Days of Prohibition’ by Caroline Bird. Also the other authors being published through Bad Betty Press: Gboyega Odubanjo’s ‘While I Yet Live’ and Antonia Jade King’s ’She Too Is A Sailor’.

13. Why were “ ‘Odes’ by Sharon Olds, ‘Playtime’ by Andrew McMillan, ‘If They Come For Us’ by Fatimah Asghar, ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ by Danez Smith, ’The Argonauts’ by Maggie Nelson, ’The Perseverance’ by Raymond Antrobus and ‘In These Days of Prohibition’ by Caroline Bird. Also the other authors being published through Bad Betty Press: Gboyega Odubanjo’s ‘While I Yet Live’ and Antonia Jade King’s ’She Too Is A Sailor’ “ some of your favourite writing at the time?

I think all of these books mainly because I was looking at form and all these books were really playful and radiated from their forms. Their writing felt harrowing and relevant and honest which kept me remembering and going back to poems. I think because I was also exploring gender and sexuality a lot in my writing these books became a fuel for my writing and helped me delve deeper. I think Gboyega and Antonia’s books were also an inspiration for showing me what publishing through Bad Betty can do. They were so brave and honest and their writing felt so razor sharp I couldn’t stop going back to their writing and thinking they have done this so now what can I do?

. a bird .

sonja benskin mesher

hope you got out into the fields
saw the wild things grow

i met with a friend yesterday
mentioned you briefly over

there on tug hill. said that
we chat about fuel, the animals

that you are a veteran
he suggested that if

you are our generation
that woulld be vietnam

and how beautiful it is
now despite all that

damage

we should look after things
better. i wrote a thing a while

back. it filled my head with
pictures. a guy from the U.S.
recorded it and folks said

good things
no bashing at all

asked me to read it
and it broke me every time

i think i shall continue
the story somehow

it is about a bird

36899275_10156618985421177_6273411760057745408_n

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The Topology of My Face – James Nulick

IceFloe Press

I was born with a wide, indigenous nose. I had it lopped off, thinned out, whitened, when I was twenty-one. My biological mother, a Mexican-American woman who was twenty-six when she gave me up for adoption in 1970, had the same wide nose, the same nose her father had. At the time I had my nose removed and reseated, Europeanized, I had not yet met my mother. That would come a year later.

***

I met my biological mother for the first time when I was twenty-two, and marveled at how alike we looked. Almond eyes, thin build, and a wide, meaty, ski jump nose combining Mexico and Germany, as if all the hope of Norteño were a concentrated bulb on my face. My biological father, whom I also met for the first time when I was twenty-two, is responsible for the ski slope turn of my nose. Combined with…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Bel Schenk

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Bel Schenk

Bel Schenk

has published three books of poetry – Every Time You Close Your Eyes (Wakefield Press, 2014), Ambulances & Dreamers (Wakefield Press, 2008), and Urban Squeeze (Ginninderra Press, 2003), and has had fiction and poetry published in various journals both in Australia and overseas. She lives in Melbourne with her partner Rachel and daughter Lola and works at Welcoming Australia, a non profit organisation that cultivates a culture of welcome and belonging.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

A little bit of everything I suppose. When I was young it was rainbows and lollipops. Later it was secret crushes (almost always disguised) and adolescent heartbreak.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

My year five teacher Mrs Jenkins who was one of those inspiring older ladies who had a genuine love for words. She also taught the recorder, which I never took much to, so it was definitely all about the words for me. She published my poem in the school magazine – it was about drinking hot chocolate by the fire in winter. I remember her enthusiasm well and I believe that I needed validation at that time (and probably still do).

  1. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

When I first started reading my work in Adelaide I was terrified of those older, published poets who exuded confidence. Some wonderful young writers and I started a poetry group – this was in the early 2000s and we performed all around the place, but I still had this thought that we were young and hadn’t really made a mark in the publishing world and for me back then that seemed to be the mark of success. It’s only when I look back critically that I can see how good we were and how having fun and being nervous can bring such an energy to a performance and how performance can be the thing that captures it. Not all poems need to be published in a traditional print format.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t really have one at the moment – snippets of time when I’m not at other day job and my daughter is at school. I admire the people who make themselves write, but sadly I’ve never been one of them. My books came out in 2003, 2008 and 2014 – it takes me about 5 years to finish a collection of poems.

  1. What motivates you to write?

I think the answer has changed over the years – when I first started to write seriously, I think I was motivated by the rush of success which is not an easy thing to admit. I mean, it should have been about the urge to get the words on paper and that came through more and more as I experienced life. I recall running home so I wouldn’t lose a line of a poem, or an idea of structure. I’m writing prose now, so that’s a different motivation – firstly I wanted to see if I could do it (I don’t know the answer) and secondly, I wanted to make a point about male entitlement particularly through football.

  1. What is your work ethic?

Loose. Look, it’s not ideal. Writing is still very much a privilege that I do when I have spare time or inspiration.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

At Uni I was the kid with the beret with a poetry collection in my bag – Anne Carson, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes (the clichés). Mostly Adrienne Rich. She taught me to be true to my feelings which is just about the most corny thing I’ve ever said.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

In prose I admire the way Ian McEwan writes detail. I’ve read Saturday three times and could read it tomorrow if I made the time. It’s set over one day, but the way he details feelings and back story was a revelation for me. I would die proud if I wrote a character half as good as Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Possibly not surprising that I am drawn to poetic writers of prose.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I truly enjoy the process most of the time. The editing is harder – knowing what to cut and what to expand and why.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Write, write and write some more. experiment with different styles. I used to be the Artistic Director of Express Media and you could tell the people who wanted to be writers without actually writing. When you’re ready, share widely, whether that’s at open mic events, through socials, or by sending out to journals and don’t be put off by the inevitable rejection. But you can only become a writer if you write.

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Just one which is the prose I mentioned before. It’s been in many ways, an enjoyable journey and refreshing to get into a certain level of detail which I can’t get to in poetry. I haven’t written a poem in a few years. It will be interesting to see how my technique has changed when I get back into it.

12. Your images are very cinematic and very noir cinema. How has cinema influenced your poetry?

In Every Time You Close Your Eyes I approached each poem as a scene and because it’s a narrative verse novel, those individual scenes made up the central story. Apart from the obvious movies – Superman and Summer of Sam, (both movies that influenced the non-fiction characters in the story – Superman and David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam) I was influenced by Magnolia, particularly the narrator’s voice in the opening monologue. During the writing of all of my books I saw a heck of a lot of movies, something that I don’t do a lot of now because simply there are not as many that I want to see. It’s interesting that you mention noir cinema – now that I think of it, I wanted that menacing aspect to the story and I hope the mood creates a feeling of noir.  There’s not much colour, especially in Part 1, so I see it in black and white.

13. Why did you decide on a verse novel, rather than a prose?

I was fascinated by the verse novel as a form and the opportunities it gave  for experimentation. I’m sure that level of experimentation could be done through prose but I felt more comfortable and confident to write poetry.

 

 

 

 

Four Poems, a Prose Poem and Two Images by Joanna Lilley

Excellent post.

IceFloe Press

Flowers of Nunavut

On broad, bare river rocks, a tourist bends to tug plush purple saxifrage from its shallow roots. Huge above its tiny leaves, the first flower of tundra holds a soft dry pea, an aftertaste of sweet extinction. Sometimes the leaf tips carry crystals as desert flowers do. Down by the shattered sea, a woman sells necklaces of three dark, gleaming fox claws threaded on a cord. Upstairs at the museum, in a black and white photograph, a girl holds an arctic fox around the waist, her tolerant pet. Inside a cabinet, two soapstone bears play the same accordion. Outside, the tourist stands to listen to the broken ice on Koojesse Inlet. She turns three-sixty: she still can’t believe there aren’t any trees. She steps over pipes to return to the hotel. At home, pipes are underground, cars roll smoothly over sanitary apparatus deeply plumbed. At home, she…

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Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Hannah VanderHart

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

hannahs+cover+for+website

Hannah VanderHart

lives and teaches in Durham, NC. She has poetry and reviews published and forthcoming in Kenyon Review, The American Poetry Review, The Adroit Journal, Rhino Poetry, Poetry Northwest and elsewhere. Her first full-length collection, What Pecan Light, is forthcoming from Bull City Press summer this year, and she is the Reviews Editor at EcoTheo Review. More at: hannahvanderhart.com

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

What inspired me to write—to really write: hungrily, every day, 7-10 poems a week—was taking a modernist poetry course in college (Eliot, Marianne Moore, Pound, H.D.), and hearing something very close to my own language in that poetry. I’d read a lot of older work (Emily Dickinson) up until this point, and didn’t realize there was poetry much closer to my spoken language and my time.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

The library, used book sales, and then college courses. I was home schooled by a mother with a microbiology degree, and though she was (and is) very fond of books, poetry was not a focus of my schooling or curriculum. It was an “other” to her.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

“Dominating” is not a word or a metaphor I would use. But I like “presence”! And it seems to matter what you modify “presence” with—maybe “supporting” would do. I remember uncovering joy in poetry very early—Carl Sandburg and e e cummings were some of the first poets whose (often) gentle and playful use of language caught my ear in high school. Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti even earlier. In college, Denise Levertov and the anthology “Upholding Mystery” were huge influences in opening the world of poetry up to me—but I hasten to add that there was never anxiety in these influences.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Whenever I can? Haha! I’m currently teaching high school and caring for two smallish children. There are many interruptions, and much to be done, and some days I feel like a caretaking service. Lately, I’ve written poetry during Saturday morning soccer practices, after my children go to bed, or even during a family movie on my phone. I have to sneak it in, and yes, I dream of a writing residence in the future.

5. What motivates you to write?

Ada Limon, in her recent episode on Commonplace Podcast, noted that the difference between life and your writing is that one is your life and one you need to live. That difference seems astoundingly essential. I have always kept a journal, probably since I was ten. But I either journal or I write poetry, never both—they come from the same place, for me.

6. What is your work ethic?

Protestant, Taurean. But I can laze with the best of them! I love to run and lift weights (and my children); I like to move. I am highly motivated by projects, and have an intense focus when it comes to research. My recent chapbook, Hands like Birds, I wrote over a long weekend.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

The simplest answer is: through being ethical, responsive people, attuned to themselves and their world. I think that’s the aspiration of all writers—or, at least, the ones I love. I think the other reply is that the earliest writers I connected with wrote about their real world—they are keen observers, their poetry present, brimming with objects and places. They also do not forget themselves.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Oh, an easy question! I’m joking. Molly Spencer, Jessica Stark, Shara Lessley, Carolina Ebeid, Jenny George, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Leah Silvieus, Kasey Jueds, Connie Voisine, Tyree Daye, to name only a few. Incredibly brilliant, sharp as cut-glass minds, each one of them. The most beautiful attention you’ve ever seen. A warmth and generosity to the world and others.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Because I love to read! I love the page. I love that a very small grouping of them can knock you backward, hold you up, carry you through your day or hour. It’s also community and connection of minds—I hear C.D. Wright, one of my deep favorites, in these words as I write them. Independence is a fantasy, and we only exist with and through others.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Part of the answer is certainly that I grew up in a home with parents that loved books, read books aloud to us, filled our house with books, and encouraged my journaling. But key, too, were the teachers and writers who took my work seriously, who told me: “You can do this!” Or: “Your work has something special in it.” You never forget those permissions and blessings on your writing. We should all give such affirmations.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

My main project right now is assembling/carving/sifting my second full-length collection, Larks. I feel as though if I had two weeks to go to a cabin in the mountains and be with this work, I could finish it. Currently, this manuscript has to live off an hour of time here and there in the evenings (“petunias live on what gets spilt,” wrote Les Murray). I’m also currently learning to cull my darlings, through the example of incredible poets around me, who show that every single poem does not need to be in a manuscript. Bless editors everywhere. Should I add what the collections about? My sisters, birds (real, mythic), harm and memory. It’s a very personal collection, even more than What Pecan Light (Bull City Press, 2020), which is about my family and one of our many American Souths. My new chapbook, Hands Like Birds (Ethel Zine Press, 2019), is actually twelve poems from Larks, based on the visual art of the seventeenth-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi. This chapbook has to do with making art as women, with baths and interruptions, and with violence to women.