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.

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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.

 

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