I met Hannah Stephenson several years ago in Columbus, Ohio. We connected over our poetry and stayed connected as she moved into that wider world of art and a global understanding of the artistic process. If you click on the title of this blog, you'll go to Hanna's blog. Scroll down, click on her links, enjoy the artwork she uses as a springboard, listen to her sing (!) and watch the amazing video with the venetian blinds. I was just stunned with admiration.
Here is a short interview with Hannah. I know you'll enjoy meeting her and reading her work....
Q: Hannah, give us a little background about you: your education, your work, maybe a favorite book.
A: As proclaimed by my business card, I’m a poet, writer, and instructor. I teach English at two universities, and freelance edit. But actually, I identify as an artist--I thrive when making things and being creative.
I live in Columbus, Ohio with my husband and our cats. We’ve recently moved back (I’m a native Columbusite) after living on the West Coast for the last for four years (first in the gorgeous Vancouver, BC, and then in LA). I got my Master’s here at OSU in English, specializing in 20th Century poetry (shout out to the terrific poet Jeredith Merrin--I was lucky enough to have her as my advisor. Hi Jeredith, and thank you!).
Q: In your blog The Storialist, you often write poems with an image as a springboard. Does this type of poetry have a name? How did you find yourself drawn to this as a form?
A: Many of us are familiar with ekphrastic poems, which are pieces based on works of art. I am so inspired by art and museums (actually, the poetry manuscript that I’ve been sending out is called Guided Tours). I was originally only writing about images by The Sartorialist (Scott Schuman, a very talented and innovative photographer--in his daily blog, he posts pictures of style that he finds inspiring). Currently, I link to all kinds of art--I’m always looking at artist’s sites and exhibits anyway, so it feels natural for me to do something (write poems) more structured with my looking. Regardless of genre, I think artists share so much--in many of my poems, I feel that I’m engaging in conversation with the artist who created the image I’ve selected.
Q: When did you start thinking of yourself as a poet? What was the <<aha!>> moment for you?
A: Since I was little, I loved the idea of writing in notebooks, and I was a voracious reader. But at maybe 13 and 14, I was writing a lot, and exploring my own taste in music (I started listening to Ani Difranco, which is a very enlightening experience for a 14-year-old--my Dad bought me one of her albums for my 14th birthday--thanks, Dad!). As a senior in high school, I took an independent study with a fantastic English teacher (Joe Hecker) in poetry--we read a contemporary poetry anthology--we started with John Berryman, I think, and it blew my mind. I am so thankful to Mr. Hecker for taking my interest in poetry so seriously--I also worked on the first literary magazine at the high school with Mr. Hecker, serving as Editor. I think that this experience also helped me learn that it was a positive thing to share writing with other people--with friends, with family, and with instructors.
Q: Who are some of your poetical influences?
A: My favorite poem is Robert Creeley’s “The Language,” but some other poets I love are Wallace Stevens, Robert Hass, Jane Hirshfield, Bob Hicok, Elizabeth Bishop, and Randall Jarrell. More recently, I’ve loved collections from Zachary Schomburg , Catherine Graham , Adam Sol , and Amy Gerstler.
But in terms of writers, I am so inspired by Rebecca Solnit and Anik See--by their curiosity about everything around them. I also love the crazy worlds of George Saunders and Aimee Bender.
I borrow inspiration from language all over: commercials, signs, typos, songs, conversation.
Q: Talk to us about the process of your blog. I know you often link to other blogs with either images or poems—talk to us older folk about the processes you go through to connect with so much beauty/information. How does the internet inform your worldview?
A: Boy, the internet. For me, my blog makes explicit what happens in my brain when I look at a piece of art. I read a lot of online publications that mention art, and following art/design blogs that feature new sites and designers frequently (some of these sites include Design for Mankind, Art Hound, Booooooom! , My Love for You Is a Stampede of Horses , and The Jealous Curator).
Mostly, though, I “find” artists by looking through the links that artists share on their sites. I have a lot of patience with sifting through links! I also sometimes begin a search by visiting the website of a gallery I love, and looking at what artists they feature or represent.
Very often I have emailed back and forth with artists that I write about--it is so wonderful to connect with them, and hear a bit about their process and perspective.
Regarding writing blogs--it has been so helpful to me (as a writer and reader and human) to “meet” other writers through their blogs. I wanted to share some favorite blogs that I would recommend if you are interested in reading the work of some brilliant, positive, and supportive writers.
Tracey Cleantis: La Belette Rouge
Terresa Wellborn: The Chocolate Chip Waffle
Dave Bonta: Via Negativa