Hastings Hensel

Control Burn (Iron Horse Literary Review, 2011)

What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?

Most of the poems in Control Burn take place in my reconstructed childhood — the kind of narrative poems, like Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room” or Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist,” that include a primary scene and some sort of epiphany. I still like to read poems like this, and I occasionally write them, but my new work has (at least, I hope) matured in some aspects. My poems seem to be quieter now — more lyrical than narrative, if such distinctions really exist, and I’m a little more skeptical of epiphanies.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

This is an important question. There was no collaboration whatsoever. When the chapbook came out, I felt like the cover was a bit overdramatic — here was this big flame for the title, Control Burn. At a book reception once, my college posterized the cover, and as we mingled with cocktails, one person remarked, “Oooh, that one looks racy.” I wish, in retrospect, that I had fought back against this image. But I was younger then and much more eager to get something (anything) out.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

I usually take the chapbook with me to readings and give them away or sell them for, at most, five bucks. There is a link on my website to buy the book, but lately I’ve told people to “wait for the next one” and, jokingly, that “this will be a collector’s item.” It’s really that I’ve grown weary, as one does, of the old poems. (cf. Donald Justice’s great “Early Poems,” which begins: “How fashionably sad those early poems are!” and ends, “—Now the long silence. Now the beginning again.”)

Where is the ideal place to read your chapbook? What type of place for reading might antagonize your chapbook?

Great question. I’m convinced that there is an ideal place to read my chapbook. Beside a campfire with a bottle of bourbon. That sounds a bit cliché, so let me try to combat the cliché with more specificity. Beside a campfire with a bottle of Jack Daniels in Pisgah National Forest, somewhere near Thompson’s Creek. If one reads these poems with fervor in such a setting, I have done my life’s work and can die less unhappy.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a full-length collection that only includes four or five poems from Control Burn. I’ve been submitting it (without success) to first book contests, but I’m now considering publishing 25 pages of it as a chapbook. However, this time I want to find a publisher that will really approach the chapbook as an art object. (Why, might you ask, would I want to publish another chapbook, when my last experience wasn’t great? Because the poems in these 25 pages — tentatively entitled Winter Inlet – speak to each other in such a way that make them more of a unified whole than the current incarnation of my full-length collection. That is the beauty of the small form, and of the chapbook.)

What is your writing practice of process?

I write in the mornings when the world—and ideas—are taking shape. The rest of the day I take lots of notes.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

There is a sadness to this question, partly because I am about to offer advice that I myself did not heed. And it is this: Publish your chapbook with a press whose chapbooks you admire—not just in content, but in style. Don’t be afraid to push back against certain editorial decisions. And proofread the galleys closely.

What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?

Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?

True or False: The chapbook is to the full-length collection as the EP is to the LP. Discuss.

Very true.

Have you ever written a fan letter to a writer?

Yes. This is actually a good question. I sent my chapbook, back when I still loved it like a child that hadn’t yet disappointed me, to the authors Ron Rash and Franklin Burroughs. Both wrote back very nice letters, I’m happy to report.

If your chapbook wasn’t a chapbook – if it was in some other form – what would it be?

My chapbook would be an old photo album you find when cleaning out the attic after your last parent has died.

Have you found in your writing of poems that they are separate from you – that they have their own lives and desires – or that they are extensions of you without “selves” apart from your own notion of “self” and your imagination?

Buddhism 101: There is no self.

Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?

Was it Yeats who said that politics and poetry only share the letters “P” and “O”?


Hastings Hensel is the author of the chapbook Control Burn, which won Iron Horse Literary Review’s 2011 Single Author Contest. His poems appear in The Greensboro Review, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Cave Wall, 32 Poems, and elsewhere. He teaches at Coastal Carolina University and lives in Murrells Inlet, SC.






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