THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up your book, what three words immediately come to mind?
The title comes from one of the poems, "The Wrack Line," but it's also a recurring image in the book. A wrack line is the jagged line of detritus - mostly seaweed, broken marsh grasses, shells, algae, and/or driftwood - that runs along a beach after the tide goes out. It's a wonderful metaphor to me for many things. The cover image is actually a very big close-up of a small pool of water on the beach on Absecon Island, NJ, and the edges of it that were cluttered with broken bits of dried reeds, probably a type of marsh grass, which often wash up there. It's not really a wrack line, but it kind of looks like the edge of one, and is such a strong image in its own right, my editor pushed for that one over the photos I had of real wrack lines or the beach. I took the shot one day after a mild storm. My parents live on that island (I grew up there) and I visit it often. It's more home to me than where I currently live. I'm not sure what three words sum up the book - maybe: storms, love, and passage.
What were you trying to achieve with your book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create? Who lives in it?
I didn't have a plan or world I wanted to create. The poems evolved over a number of years. I started out writing about Hurricane Sandy and what it did to NJ, but other interests took over. The college where I teach gave me a one semester sabbatical, so I bought a cheap, used mini-van and drove around the country, sleeping in the back of the van or in a tent, trying to write about the places and people I met. In the end, I supposed mostly I was trying to write in the poems about people and places I visited here and abroad - but other things interposed themselves, too, like social concerns and family stuff. But then, those are about people, too.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
I have the good luck to belong to a group of people - mostly colleagues from where I teach - who meet once a month to discuss our writing. We critique each others' work. Their advice helps me revise. But I also continuously revise my work - I revise my poems probably close to 50 or more times, on average. Some of the ones in this book I worked on for years.
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
This was the hardest part. I'm still not sure I'm satisfied with the order. I never really know how to do that. I re-ordered it about every day for a month, then left it alone and went back to it several months later, again every day for another month. Finally, I left it alone, and came back to it several months later, spread it all out on the floor, and saw it the way it is now. But part of me would like to go back and re-order it again. I tried to arrange it thematically. The sections are all a bit different, even in technique, so they were easy, but arranging the poems within the sections was tough.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
Passion, strong, moving imagery, and precise, interesting diction.
What’s one of the more crucial poems in the book for you? (Or what’s your favorite poem?) Why? How did the poem come to be? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book, or somewhere else in the process?
"Surrender" is probably my favorite poem. It was published in Rattle, and is the one that people seem to respond to the most strongly. Getting published in Rattle felt like a huge accomplishment. I'd been published in a few big magazines before that, and a lot of small ones, but this one not only paid money ($25) for a poem, but was online and reached a huge audience - much larger even than Confrontation or the Paterson Review. It gave me the confidence I needed to keep writing and sending my poems out. The poem was a reaction to the killings of African- American men - particularly Trayvon Martin and Freddy Gray - and the protests in St. Louis and Baltimore.
Tell us something about the most difficult thing you encountered in this book’s journey. And/or the most wonderful?
The most difficult was trying to get it published. I sent it out to about 80 or more publishers and contests. It placed as runner-up in a couple of contests, but never won anything. I kept revising the poems and the order of them every time I sent it out. Finally, I decided to go back to the press that published my first book, Fleeing Back. They were very enthusiastic and supportive, so I decided FutureCycle Press should be its home. All those rejections helped inspire me to keep revising it - some even offered suggestions, which was helpful. In the end, I think the timing was right when I took it to FutureCycle - by then I had revised it as much as I could, I think, so it was more complete than when I started sending it out.
If you had to convince someone walking by you in the park to read your book right then and there, what would you say?
Maybe something like, "Check out this book of accessible, powerful, passionate poems!" I'm terrible at self-promotion.
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
For me, to be a poet is a way of looking at the world. That's actually the scary part - I think poets see the world deeply, with a kind of clarity that makes us feel the pain around us, as well as our own. We see through BS to the heart of someone or something - or we try to. We can see deep meaning in small details, and try to make sense of the world through our art. Empathy is important - without empathy, a poet simply can't imagine poems. But empathy can be painful, and sometimes it's difficult to foster, especially for someone we know is a terrible person. What gives me the most pleasure in writing poems is the joy of working with language and creating something that's hopefully beautiful and moving. There's an ethical responsibility in being a poet because poetry can change the way people look at the world or themselves - that's part of the goal, anyway. That's both scary and one of the pleasures of writing.
I’ve heard poets say they’re writing the same story over and over in their poems. Is that true for you? If not, what obsessions or concerns reoccur in your work?
I wouldn't say I'm writing the same story - in this book, there are a number of stories woven through it. But I do have obsessions that recur. The image of the wrack line is still appearing even in new poems. The ocean, the beach, nature - those are my obsessions. Lately, grief and death have become the reoccurring concern in my work. My brother (to whom the book is dedicated) went missing and is presumed dead in a scuba accident somewhere in the waters off of Bonaire, and I've been working my way through grief in my new poems. His death brought back a lot of the pain of my sister's death, over twenty years ago, and all that seems to be mixing in with grief about what is happening to our world now. My writing seems to be going in a different direction in my new work because of all that. In this book, though, loss, the ocean, family, and the world all work their way through the poems, too, though not as darkly as they seem to be in what I'm writing now.
Do you think poets have a responsibility as artists to respond to what’s happening in the world, and put that message out there? Does your work address social issues?
Yes, yes, and yes! Traditionally and historically, artists have always been at the vanguard of change. Art moves people to change in ways nothing else can inspire.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
I think everything I read helps me; reading sharpens our ability to use language, but it also broadens our minds and inspires me, anyway, with ideas sometimes for topics or even with a sound or image, or even form.
What are you working on now?
Poems about grief and loss: my brother and sister's deaths, my parents' ascent into old age and ill health, all the terrible troubles following our election and the catastrophes climate change is beginning to unfurl on us.
Favorite places and times of day or night to work?
Early mornings and late evenings.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I'm in the middle of reading the poetry book, Afterland, by Mai Der Vang. These are amazing, powerful poems! Everyone should read this book. I just finished The Language of Moisture and Light by Le Hinton. These are also wonderful poems everyone should read.)I'm also currently reading the nonfiction book, Nomadland... but Jessica Bruder. This is an important book about an important social change happening across the country.
Without stopping to think, write a list of five poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least write in permanent marker on your clothing, to take with you at all times.
Basho, Yehuda Amichai, Adrienne Rich, Joy Harjo, Nikki Giovanni
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
Q. Why is poetry important?
A. It teaches us empathy and helps us discover new ways of looking at the world or other people or cultures. It gives us beauty, passion, and even hope in a world that's rapidly losing all of those things. It feeds our hearts/souls - whatever you want to call the vital being inside of us. I don't think I'd want to live in a world without poetry. It would be an even crueler, more heartless world than it is now.
Purchase The Wrack Line.
About Patricia Hanahoe-Dosch:
My educational background includes an MFA from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and I’m currently a full Professor of English at Harrisburg Area Community College, Lancaster campus. My poems have been published in Rattle, The Paterson Literary Review, as well as Atticus Review, War, Art and Literature, Confrontation, The Red River Review, San Pedro River Review, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Red Ochre Lit, Nervous Breakdown, Quantum Poetry Magazine, Abalone Moon, Apt, and Switched-on Gutenberg, among many others. My poem, “A 21st Century Hurricane: An Assay” was nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. Articles of mine have appeared in Travel Belles, On a Junket, and Wholistic Living News. My story,“Sighting Bia,” was selected as a finalist for A Room of Her Own Foundation's 2012 Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction. My story, “Serendip” was published in In Posse Review, a short story, "Hearts," was recently published in The Peacock Journal.
Visit her online at: pathanahoedosch.blogspot.com.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.