Kimiko Hahn

“[The chapbook] is a form that hides in plain sight. It’s an outlaw, outlier, petite et sweet.”

Hahn coversResplendent Slug (Ghostbird Press, 2016)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

My favorite is whatever I have just gotten my hands on–which, at the moment, is Death Centos by Diana Arterian (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013)–why haven’t I noticed this at the Chapbook Fest!

Influences? I loved hearing that the early publications of long poems were chapbook-ish: the mimeographed production of Ginsberg’s  Howl and the City Lights Pocket Poetry edition of Williams’s Kore. (Not sure these are considered chapbooks, or cousins of.)

I use Dorothea Lasky’s Poetry Is Not A Project in some classes. I agree with the premise although not necessarily with her argument. Excellent for generating discussion.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

That I am relatively new to the shelf–? (Although I did buy one when I was an undergrad at Iowa: Marvin Bell’s Woo Havoc. 1974?)

What’s your chapbook about?

Resplendent Slug is a sequence of poems written after looking through a children’s book on animals that glow in the dark.

If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

Cryptic Chamber (Epiphany Editions, 2014): a long poem, including erasures/  borrowed material on the chamber nautilus.

Boxes with Respect: Millay and Moore (Center for Book Arts, 2011): odd little prose poems that spin off phrases from these two poets. The book itself is letter-press and hand-crafted and so beautiful I could just weep.

Ragged Evidence (Coconut Books, 2010): my versions of the zuihitsu and tanka forms.  Subject spirals around women, girls, sewing. Insects, too.

A Field Guide to the Intractable (Small Anchor Press, 2009): a journal-style zuihitsu about a trip where monarch caterpillars are discovered.

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?

They were all written around the same time. I used the book and little bits of text to trigger the poems, to take off.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?

If I have a theme or subject or organizing principle, I can keep messing around until I find something I like. Sequences, long poems, and zuihitsu are good for generating material.  Are the questions then, how much to keep? how long to keep going? … I don’t actually start out to write a chapbook. More, I’ll look at possible collections that hold together.  Some of these will not appear in books because they are stylistically odd. These are of special interest, re-collected into a chap.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

In this case, intuitive. I often spread pages out on the floor, old school.

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

90% of my covers have not been surprises.

What are you working on now?

I would like to see some other sequences and long poems in chapbooks–it is so satisfying!

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Toss out the map.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Find some cohesion, whether subject like Adam Day’s Badger, Apocrypha or Rosmarie Waldrop’s Third Person Singular; or theme, like Nicole Sealey’s The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named.

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

Are you now inspired to become a chap publisher?

What music do you listen to as you work and write?

No music unless I’m in a coffee shop-then of course it’s random.

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?

Jennifer Clement’s Basquiat’s Widow.

If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?

Third grade. My only favorite year of school. I was very happy: we learned cursive, my friend Barbara sat next to me, we were Brownies, we had a young teacher who had gotten married over the summer, I rode my bike to school, Barbara and I brought our Trolls to school and made homes for them in the gnarly roots of hickory trees, we ate hickory nuts during recess, I got a poem published in The Chatter. I can just visualize the afternoon sun’s sharp sunlight across our desks. (I did not like memorizing times tables.)

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

I am not sure if anything is truly separate from politics …. Certainly I don’t view the politics of my poems as separate from a delivery system, so to speak.  It is true that my chapbook poems tend to be more eccentric.

We all have to make choices about who we read in our limited free time. Many of us have demanding jobs, a house to keep up, a family to keep happy, a dog to walk. How do you decide which poets (or other writers) you want to read or should read, and how do you begin to understand what your own work might offer to benefit the literary landscape in the context of what else has been done?

I tend to reread a lot more than I read new work.  I’m a fanatic of Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries. Anything by Gerald Stern, Louise Glück, Charles Wright, Charles Simic, Yusef Komunyakaa, and on. I do try to keep up with what my students are reading or what I imagine they should be reading (Claudia Rankine, Rajiv Mohabir, Daneen Wardrop’s Cyclorama).

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?

Donne

Dickinson

Stevens

Glück

Richard Wright’s haiku

Bishop

some modern Tanka poet

Murasaki Shikibu

Princess Shikishi

Ono no Komachi

Why the chapbook? What made it the right format for your work?

It is a form that hides in plain sight. It’s an outlaw, outlier, petite et sweet.

As I mentioned, I feel free to take the screwiest pieces I have and re-vision them into chapbooks.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

I wish I had had the chance when I was a teenager to take taiko, Japanese drumming. I love the shared ferocity in a group performance.

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?

I used to write in coffee shops–to get away from gaping domestic chores. What I wrote then was discursive and I miss that.

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

I hope eccentric. I hope that it is one where the reader’s body is engaged.

Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

The poems written during this time were often about, in a slant-kind of way, surveillance.  I’ll leave it at that.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

There is one based on found lines. I guess that’s misfit-ish.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

I ran out of things in that children’s book.

What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?

I wanted to title my last book The Clipping Morgue but no one liked it.  I wrote a poem with that title just to have it in what became Brain Fever.

What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?

Jealousy, envy, and betrayal.

I can create islands of work instead of “worlds.” Yes, elevate and amplify—but also allow the emotional room to explore areas I have not yet tried. Simple example: how has jealousy altered over the decades?

Well, I guess here is my question: can one “compose” a chapbook? (I guess so.)  In what way/s?

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions?

It is essential to hear the poems, at the very least to see if the cadence becomes “bumpy.”

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I am totally beholden to the science writers at The New York Times. I don’t know where I would be without them. In general, though, I am a bit of a magpie and always on the look out for “shiny things.” My husband writes historical true crime and his bookshelf is packed with amazing nonfiction: Premature Burial and How to Prevent It.  (That became a poem called “Like Lavrinia.”)

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Marianne Moore

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

Scientists?

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

To memorize poetry.  I was only assigned to do so in fifth grade, so I am talking about Wordsworth’s “The Daffodils”–not to complain.  But I wish I had memorized Dickinson.  That would be my words of wisdom: memorize Dickinson.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

I often start with rich and/ or oddball language such as “eggcorn”–which I haven’t used yet!

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Kimiko Hahn, author of nine books, finds that disparate sources have given way to her poetry—whether black lung disease in Volatile, Flaubert’s sex-tour in The Unbearable Heart, an exhumation in The Artist’s Daughter, or classical Japanese forms in The Narrow Road to the Interior. Fields of science prompted her latest collections Toxic Flora and Brain Fever. And a forthcoming chapbook is Erasing ‘Honor’(Phantom Books, 2016). Hahn’s most recent award was a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she is a distinguished professor in the MFA Program in Creative Writing & Literary Translation at Queens College, City University of New York. She was just elected President of the Poetry Society of America.

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Hahn poems

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