An Interview with Tianna G. Hansen. Author of Undone, Still Whole published by APEP Publications.

 

 

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Tell us a little about your new book and the inspiration behind it?

My new book, “Undone, Still Whole”, from APEP Publications, (https://www.apeppublications.com/product/undone-still-whole/) chronicles my journey to recovery and healing from trauma, guided by divine feminine figures along the way. It is a very personal body of work, discussing both my mental illness which I have had my entire life, as well as my PTSD and trauma triggers from sexual abuse. It explores what it means to feel like you are a broken being, finding the strength and resilience to carry on and to discover wholeness again. I was very inspired by witchcraft throughout as well as Greek mythology goddesses as symbols of strength and overcoming. The book (https://www.creativetianna.com/undone-still-whole) evokes Persephone, goddess of the Underworld, who embraces the darkness; Artemis, hunting trauma and triggers to relish their destruction; Calypso, feeling passion like the waves of an ocean growing, allowing one to consume and be consumed; Hecate, Three-Headed Goddess of Witches, who evokes the idea of crossing over, a silent witness to pain and suffering. This collection asks “what am I?” A woman undone, but still whole, a body that has been battered by the hands of time, by men and abusers. A woman not broken but who does not feel whole – this collection attempts to make sense of that feeling, of living in the aftermath of trauma, embracing womanhood and the moon as a muse for being whole in every phase of life.

What experiences or people have had a significant impact on your writing?

Since my book deals with many of the traumatic experiences in my life, they are a significant influence, but I also took a lot of inspiration from what I have learned. I wouldn’t change a thing if I could about my past, because it has all helped me become the person I am today. The people who have been part of those experiences have obviously had an impact on me, but this book is largely about overcoming the burden of feeling like anyone can have such an effect on me. It’s about discovering self-love and acceptance just as much as finding a way to heal from my past.

Since you started to write how do you feel you have changed, and your writing developed?

When I first started to write, I was a little timid to incorporate anything so blatantly personal in my writing, but I just read an interview with the writer Maggie Smith who I admire very much and she described the feeling perfectly: “I think sometimes it’s easier to write a hard truth than to speak it.” I have always felt worried about what my family or friends will think when they read my honest work, and that’s something I am (still) growing out of. But my family and close friends have been so receptive to this book, it has been inspiring. My writing has taken on a strength of its own. Once I finally passed that boundary within myself and started to allow the words to come as they needed to, I discovered my voice. It began with writing creative nonfiction essays about my mental illness and trauma, which then inspired me to write poetry. I have developed a strength in finding my unique voice, allowing it to speak without feeling I must keep it inside. After I released the need to be careful with what I write, I found my writing grew into a new entity, took on its own form. My writing has always come from a deep emotional focus for me and as an empath, I am never out of emotions to fuel this. I love to challenge and push myself, though, and to see where else I can take my writing. It’s a growth in itself to feel this freedom with my writing, and see where it takes me. I feel my voice grow stronger each time I allow myself to write with this open and honest outlook, and I know I will continue to change and grow as time goes on.

Which period of your life do you write about most often?

I have found myself writing from all periods of my life, but with “Undone, Still Whole” I focused on the present, on trying to work my way out of the traumatic influence of the past, and how I am still in the long process of healing today. Most of the poems in the collection are focused on this present state of being and there are many raw emotions behind each piece. I’ve noticed I also like to write about a period of my life where I felt a deep innocence, especially after surviving so much trauma. I’m no longer afraid to go to the very dark and negative periods of my life, either, where I often felt I was drowning or like I would never make it out alive.

What did you edit out of your book?

There was one poem meant to be the “ending note” of the book, which I scratched. Looking back, I’m not 100% sure why I did. It was a happy, positive poem about my life with my husband now. A love poem, which is somewhat rare for me to write. But as I was working on the edits of the book, it stuck out as a sore thumb to me. Not that I didn’t want any love poems or to have the positive note of how I am living now – focusing on the good, simple moments – but the rest of the poems deal intensely with the emotions I am working to overcome on a daily basis, a reclamation of my soul and self, as well as my passions and my body. As a sexual trauma survivor, I often struggle to engage myself in sex and in wanting that passion again. I think that poem may have fit in there, but I also wanted the piece to exist on its own. It was such a cozy poem about living in happiness and as I was editing my book, it felt like I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that these things are connected. I wanted each poem included in the book to focus on my singular experiences, rather than those joined with anyone else. To show that I do not need anyone else to discover or define my happiness. It is really a book about claiming this on my own, bringing out the strength in my womanhood.

How many hours a day do you write?

I try to write for at least half an hour every day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but between juggling my day job and working on editing and running my small press, Rhythm & Bones, trying to find time to focus on my own writing can be difficult. I want to carve out more time in the near future. I try to at least write one or two poems a day and crave more of a structured writing routine.

In terms of receiving feedback for your writing who or what do you use for a sounding board?

 
I’m fortunate to have a strong community of writers behind me. I have a writing group and I recently joined up with a collective who are very supportive and wonderful. It’s so important as a writer to have a community, to have a group of people who are willing to read and give feedback on your writing and support you. For this book, it was vital to have my editor at APEP, Jeremy Gaulke, as a sounding board for each poem. He really helped me refine each piece of work and pull out of me what I wanted to express. Having a good, devoted editor can make all the difference, especially with such personal poems like the ones in “Undone, Still Whole” where I think I could get to a certain point and not really know how to voice what I wanted. It is all very raw emotion. I also love the support I’ve found through the literary community on Twitter, and I’ve made many friends who support me and the work I’m doing. It’s a lovely feeling.

What are the aspects of writing that you find challenging?

I find it challenging, as I mentioned, sometimes expressing my emotion in a concrete way. I have always loved strong imagery, but I also have a large focus on the emotive aspects of my writing. Finding a balance between the two can often be a challenge, but one that I enjoy. I also love to do research, and this was a large aspect for “Undone, Still Whole” as well, making sure I channelled each goddess correctly. It’s a challenge sometimes to mix the personal with something that is true for everyone, but I have a dear writing friend who always reminds me “the personal is universal”. I hold this now as a focus as I create.

Other than your writing, what else occupies your time?

When I’m not writing, I’m editing. As previously mentioned, I founded and work as editor-in-chief of my small press / lit mag, Rhythm & Bones Press (www.rhythmnbone.com). It is very rewarding work, focused on the idea of turning trauma into art and giving a platform to authors who have survived trauma they wish to portray to the world. I’ve run R&B for a year now, and we already have a large catalogue of stunning books which mean a lot to me. I’m excited to continue growing as the years go on and see where this takes me. I also work at a small community newspaper as my day job, and when I’m not working, I spend time outdoors, gardening, and enjoying the company of my husband and playing with my cat, Stella.


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Four Questions with James Diaz @diaz_james

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James Diaz

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Q: Tell us about you, and your writing (themes, influences etc.)

A: There’s a wonderful scene in the film Wonder Boys where Rip Torn stands at the podium to address a university crowd full of literature students and the first words that he says are “I am a writer,” in a professorial, masterful way, to which Tobey Maguire’s character (incidentally named James) roars out in laughter. I kinda feel that way. It’s a little silly to say “I am a writer,” in a overly assured manner. I’m a broken thing who somehow finds that words are a miraculous binding agent, linguistic glue for my soul. I grew up in a violent, drug and abuse ridden home. I remember when I was 13 finding a Rolling Stone magazine in which these prisoners who were serving life sentences had turned to poetry as a way to cope with their impossible situation. Their poems spoke to what I was feeling inside, also a prisoner to a harsh environment, I thought to myself (and I’ve probably never really stopped thinking this) maybe I can do this, perhaps this can help me to survive. And it did. I learned from these prisoner/poets that words can set a soul free, even if it’s all too painfully obvious that we are maybe never really free. Something in us, (in me) is broken. Words don’t fix it, but they cushion me against total darkness/oblivion.

My themes tend to center around trauma and dissociation. For me all words are coping mechanisms to begin with. Language is how we confront the void and chaos of a world without meaning, it’s how we contain our unknowing and anxiety of the unforgivably strange. Poetry, to me, is therapy in motion. I find psychotherapy is itself a shared poem between two people. Poetry starts when I see you as another strange me, as two lives intertwined and yet still separate. I speak- call out to “you” and you respond, this is a poem, a kindness. Therapy is about repairing the soul and I believe that’s what poetry is as well. A lot of what goes on in a consulting room is about shared enactment and creatively working with trauma’s, giving them new narratives over time. If that’s not poetry, I don’t know what is.

My Influences have ranged over the years. As a young man I was, as you might imagine, obsessed with Rimbaud and Sylvia Plath. In my 20’s my influences were William S. Burroughs, Kathy Acker, J. G Ballard, Bukowski, Kerouac, Miguel Pinero and the nuyorican and language poets. My influences now tend to be pretty small: Jorie Graham, Alice Notley, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Eigen, Helene Cioxus, Toby Olson. I don’t read nearly as much new poetry as I should. But there are a few modern poets and writers who have impacted my work in one way or another and for very different reasons, Sarah Certa, Julene T. Weaver Brian Jabas Smith and Rachel Custer.

Q: What are some of the ways in which you promote your work, and do you find these add, or eat into, your time writing?

A: I don’t really have a steady submission regiment, partly because I run my own lit journal now which eats into a lot of my time. I am constantly writing, I’m just not sending my own work out as much as I used to. When I get a publication I’ll share it on social media, that’s pretty much the extent of it. I have a book coming out this year, so there are promotional things that I have to do for that, like attend readings. The last one was at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamburg, Brooklyn. It is nice to be able to share my work with people in the flesh and blood. I’m probably not the best public speaker but it’s important to be able to put your voice into your words, like breath into clay. That’s the vulnerable part, to show up with poems in hand and risk opening your world up to strangers.

Q: What projects are you working on at present?

A: I am so excited for the release of my debut book, This Someone I Call Stranger, which is being published by Indolent Books and the incredible Michael Broder. I am so grateful to him and the whole Indolent team, including Samantha Pious, who edited my book. I can hardly put it into words without sounding maudlin, but I am beyond grateful. And to Jessie Janeshek, Sarah Certa and Kym Tuvim who wrote such kind, beautiful blurbs for the back of my book.

I’ve been collaborating for the past year and a half with my friend Elisabeth Horan, a wonderful poet who I got to know through AHC. I’ve lost count of how many full poetry manuscripts we’ve written together by now, it’s at least close to 8 full lengths so far, and a smattering of chapbook manuscripts. We are looking for publishers but haven’t had any luck so far. The greater part of that process for me though is just writing with her. We draw the best out of each other. Again there is that thing about two poets calling out to one another. Our collaboration feels a lot like that, creatively processing our lives.

Other than that I am continuing to edit Anti-Heroin Chic. It’s hard to believe we are in our third year now. A lot has happened since it began, and I’ve learned and grown a lot through the process of being on the other side of things. Editing a journal can be grueling, but ultimately very rewarding. I am so humbled by the people who have shared their worlds and work with me.

Q: What does poetry mean to you?

A: Oh boy. How much time do you have? I could write 20 pages on this question alone, but I’ll try and keep it short.

Poetry, to me, means we’re not alone. Language opens the world up and builds bridges to one another. It’s true that no man or woman is an island, but I think that’s because of poetry, it connects us. This is what art does, it communicates the incommunicable, it’s a felt sensation, like that perfect song that brings you tears. It makes us vulnerable, hence ethical, if we’re exposed so too are others. Poetry, in that sense, is political. I say all the time that I firmly believe everyone is a poet, I’m not sure if people realize how serious I am about that.

We all have a story to tell, in other words we all have pain and trauma to process. We all have a need to call out to others, to be heard and to answer the call that comes back to us. That’s poetry. A shared experience of the sensible human world. Of our fragility, our brokenness. Many of us like to pretend we’re inviolabe, but we’re not. That’s both the pain and beauty of what it means to live. It hurts and it humbles us. A poem hurts and it humbles. It might not make us whole, but it will build us up in love, imperfectly holding us together.

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Website

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Anti-Heroin Chic

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In our era of irony, disposability, and impatience, the poems of This Someone I Call Stranger, James Diaz’s debut collection, reverberate with rare authenticity and lyrical pain. Threading through a past of blind forests and dark basements, empty cupboards, dirty needles, hospital floors, and bad men who won’t die, this book is a necessary example of duende for the twenty-first century. These poems will arrest you. They have hungry souls, and they ache without breaking. They will hang in your brain and settle in your bones, and they will also move you forward, bravely, toward uncertain light.

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