A Virtual Interview with Michelle Hartman

Poets Michelle Hartman and Ann Howells  will be the featured readers on Thursday, March 9, 2017 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX).

Background

Michelle Hartman is the editor of Red River Review and author of three collections of poetry: Disenchanted And Disgruntled (Lamar University Press, 2013), Irony and Irreverence (Lamar University Press, 2015), and, in 2017, The Lost Journal of My Second Trip to Purgatory (Old Seventy Creek Press). Her work has been featured in the Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas, and appears in such journals as Slipstream, Plainsongs, Carve, Crannog, Poetry Quarterly, The Pedestal Magazine, Raleigh Review, San Pedro River Review, Concho River Review and RiverSedge.

The Interview

CH: When did you first become interested in writing? What is your first memory of writing?

MH: As soon as I learned to read. Books became my salvation early on and I wanted to be a part of that fantasy. Book reports for school. It was the only homework I didn’t have to be forced to do.

CH: How did you become drawn to poetry? When did you begin to identify yourself as a writer? As a poet?

MH: I originally started with creative non-fiction and fiction. But I really sucked at it. I met Ann Howells at a workshop and she suggested working with poetry, to refine my use of words and voice. When I discovered poetry was no longer dead white guys, and what you could do with it, I was hooked for life. I didn’t identify as a writer until my first real publication.

CH: What was your path to becoming a published poet? As a poet outside of the academy, how have you nurtured yourself and grown your craft?

MH: Well, like everyone else I started with journals getting into more and more and better titles. Workshopping with the Dallas Poets Community, we also help each other with submission info; who’s new, or what kind of stuff they take. Most of my friends are writers, artists and professors. I’m always asking questions and learning. I read incessantly.

CH: Your background in political science and law makes itself evident as subject matter in some of your poetry (I am in particular thinking of the poems of Irony and Irreverence). How would you describe the influence of that background on your work?

MH: Poetry is a fantastic vehicle in that you have a tiny window; in which you have to grab the attention, set up the situation, then lead the person to the point you want to make. I call it the 4g’s of writing: get in, get down, get back, and get away. We live in the land of 15 seconds. We Tweet and Snapchat. If you want to make a point it needs to be fast, easy, and funny. Almost as sharp and quick as a political cartoon, it can go places where the big book or dissertation cannot. Also as a paralegal, I’ve seen slices of life that most have not.

CH: Your poetry is known for its humor, and I certainly find that element in your work. But sometimes the humor is in service of opening the reader to difficult subjects—for instance, the first stanza of “suicide note” (in Disenchanged and Disgruntled). Please tell us a little about the humor in your work.

MH: I learned to be funny early in life. If you could make mother laugh, you had substantially better chances to avoid a beat down. Same influences caused my humor to be very black in nature. The British would say dry and classy but I’m thinking more Sahara and white trash. Using humor, you can get away with more. Take Stephen Colbert. If he just opened each night with a straight list of all the things Trump does wrong, he wouldn’t last a month. But he makes it funny and Bam! Ratings out the wazoo! Humor is that little bit of sugar Mary Poppins use to sing about making the medicine go down. As far as “Suicide” I’ve always laughed at Death. I find its place in our society is hysterical.

CH: Lamar University Press published your first two collections, Disenchanted and Disgruntled and Irony and Irreverence. How did you go about finding a publisher for these books?

MH: Wow, you caught me on this one. I actually was rocking along with journal publications and happy as a fat tick on a big dog when out of the blue this guy contacts me on LinkedIn. Says, I see you are a poet do you have a book? Well, I was gonna say no, but I talked to Ann and she said you have plenty enough poems. Sure enough there was about 84 in the first book and most of those had been published. Lamar was just starting their press and wanted to find writers without going through the slush pile experience. So I’m really an example of how social media is playing a bigger part in the writing life now. The second books came about at the Langdon Review weekend reading. I had the room rolling and afterwards Jerry Craven of Lamar came up to me and said, do you have a book of those funny poems?

CH: Tell us a little about your most recent book, The Lost Journal of my Second Trip to Purgatory. How does it relate to your previous work? Over what period were these poems written?

MH: It is probably impossible for Lost Journal to be any more different than my first two books. But they were great training grounds for that type of writing. Some of the poems in this book appear in earlier works. I’d been dancing around this topic for years. But a few years ago I got very ill and was stuck at home in a really low period. No time like the present as they say and I really didn’t think I could get any lower so I let it all out. It took about two months to write all of the book and organize it. Took three years to get it published.

CH: You’re currently publishing collections at a pace of one every two years. What is your writing practice like?

MH: Again this is probably not what you want to hear. I binge write. I once wrote an entire chapbook when the cable went out! But in my head, it is constant. That second voice commenting and describing. I have a chapbook coming out this April based on the works of Edward Hopper. I wrote it in one week.

CH: In addition to being a poet, you’ve also long been an editor of Red River Review. How has your experience as an editor shaped your work?

MH: It makes me want to be a better submitter so another editor is not cussing my name in absentia. But usually it makes me feel very inadequate. All my reading makes me say why can’t I do that.

CH: Who are some poets whose work has influenced yours? What is the last book of poetry that your read?

MH: Alan Berecka, Tony Hoagland, Travis Blair, Alan Gann, Ann Howells, Wilfred Owens, Siegfried Sassoon, A.E. Housman, and T. S. Eliot. Last read was a manuscript by Travis Blair, based on his life in Hollywood.

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