“Give yourself permission to write what you want to read.”
Nothing Here Is Wild, Everything Is Open (Southword Editions, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Chapbooks are not that common here in the UK, but I spent a lot of time over the years doing workshops in the US and in American writing groups online, so I got to know the concept. Although mine is a chapbook of poetry, I have been primarily a short story writer and am new to poetry. I think I first came across chapbooks through the excellent Rose Metal Press chapbook contest, and from reviewing some of the winners for the online journal I set up, The Short Review, such as The Sky Is a Well and Other Shorts by Claudia Smith. The idea is taking hold here now, and a recent favourite is Dave Swann’s Stronger Faster Shorter, published by Flash: The International Short Story Magazine. There have been some beautiful little books of stories that I’ve loved, I’m not sure they qualify as chapbooks! In terms of poetry chapbooks – which are generally called “pamphlets” over here – Frances and Martine by Hilda Sheehan, published by Dancing Girl Press, and The Misplaced House by Josephone Corcoran, published by Tall Lighthouse, are some of the recent books I’ve loved.
What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
I love brevity, whether in poetry or prose. And oddness, a way of looking at the world that isn’t entirely realist, that is highly imaginative, often funny, dark and poignant.
What’s your chapbook about?
I don’t know the answer to that, and that’s a question I realised I wouldn’t try an answer after my first short story collection was published in 2008. It’s not up to me to say, it’s up to the reader! There are 22 poems, many of which are inspired by science, but that’s not to say they are about science. To me, the mark of a good piece of writing is that it will mean something to a reader, resonate with them, and that may very well be something completely different to different readers.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest poem is one of the first I ever wrote, “Dreams of a Tea Seller,” and I remember the street corner in central London that sparked the idea, seeing, in quick succession, a shop selling teas and a building site! However, I had no thought of a chapbook, none of the poems were written with the idea in mind that they might one day be collected together. I was just attempting to write poetry, to understand the move from prose, the differences and the similarities, to see what this new form could give me.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
The chapbook won 2nd prize in the Fool For Poetry chapbook contest, run by the Munster Literature Centre in Cork. I had entered a number of chapbook/ pamphlet contests, each time with a slightly different set of poems, arranged differently. I tried to see how each poem could speak to the one that came after and before it. After I got the amazing news that I won 2nd prize, which came with publication, I took another look and decided to do a bit of rearranging, starting with a poem that has some humour, and ending with a poem that I think sums up the feel of the book, and links in to the title. But readers read in any order they want! The first part of the title, Nothing Here Is Wild, is also the title of the final poem, and I added Everything Is Open, which I felt I needed, the tension between everything and nothing, between wildness and openess. I love titles, they are very important to me, and I seem to know when I’ve hit the right one.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I suggested the cover image myself, it is a piece of art I bought from a local artist, Eileen White, a year ago, before I knew about the chapbook contest prize. I love it because it has hints of science about it, and irreverence, with the circles burned into it. The publisher designed the cover around it and I love it!
What are you working on now?
I’m in my final year of a practice-based PhD in Creative Writing, which means that the main part of my research is a book-length creative work. My book is a hybrid work made of parts – prose, poetry, non-fiction, and various combinations of all those – that is inspired by particle physics and will, I hope, work as a whole. It is the greatest experiment I have ever undertaken and I am really enjoying it! I don’t know if it will find a publisher, by my literary agent is looking forward to reading it.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Read. Read everything. I have learned, and continue to learn, through everything I read. Read things you don’t think you’ll enjoy. Don’t worry about your own writing being influenced – it will and it should! Then write, give yourself permission to write what you want to read, without worrying about who else might see it.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?
I do recommend the Fool For Poetry chapbook contest, if you are writing poetry. And I love the format of the chapbook, it does something slightly different from a larger book, it has a lightness, in weight and in intent, you can take it all in as a reader, and, as a writer, it’s a delightful, magical thing to have out in the world! Now that my chapbook has had some lovely responses, I can see it as a sort of wondrous calling card, giving readers a hint of my writing, hopefully inspiring them to seek out more!
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What does the word “permission” mean to you in terms of your writing?
What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?
Get in Trouble, stories by Kelly Link. I really don’t want it to be over!
Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?
Adrienne Rich (I already have), Sharon Olds, Grace Paley, Richard Brautigan (poetic license there), Rumi, Jo Bell, Michael Donaghy, the author of the Song of Songs (in Hebrew), Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson
How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?
Writing poetry, it turns out, is something I do aloud; only when I’ve gone through a few drafts in that way do I write it down. I love that, although hard to do with other people around! Prose requires my hands to be moving, on the page or the keyboard. I’m quite fascinated by that. I also generally do something else while I am working on a short story – play online Scrabble, tweet – because I like to distract my logical brain while I am conjuring a story. With poetry I need silence, no distractions.
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
And What if We Were All Allowed to Disappear. (It might be too long!)
Who is your intended audience? What kind of person do you imagine writing to?
I never do imagine writing to anyone at all and still, four books later – and with one more in the works – I am grateful that anyone reads, and more importantly, connects with my work. It seems rather miraculous.
What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?
That there’s no one way to write, that everyone does it differently, that within myself I have different methods, and that that’s okay.
Tania Hershman is the author of a poetry chapbook, Nothing Here Is Wild, Everything Is Open (Southword, 2016), and two short story collections: My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008) and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion (Bloomsbury, Dec 2014). Tania is curator of ShortStops, a site celebrating short story activity across the UK & Ireland, a Royal Literary Fund fellow at Bristol University and is working on a hybrid prose/poetry book inspired by particle physics for her PhD in Creative Writing.
Once, early on in my development,
some boy took me to the roof
to see Orion’s Belt, the Pleiades.
I listened, looked politely where he
pointed, but already then I knew – though
he had left the door ajar, and I
was not yet fully-formed – that this
had nothing to do with stars,
the tug of gravity.