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Q&A with Poetry Contributor Hannah Craig

Hannah Craig is a writer, printmaker, and IT professional living in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the author This History That Just Happened (Parlor Press, 2017). She was the winner of the 2017 Crab Creek Review Poetry Prize, 2015 New Measure Poetry award, the 2016 Mississippi Review Prize. Her work has appeared in publications including Smartish Pace, North American Review, Fence, Mississippi Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Her poem "Fable for a New World Order" will appear in the Spring 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, April 1, for special savings and discounts. 

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Was it difficult to find an entry point for this poem?

I love the way that poems come into being and how, sometimes, it seems like there’s not even an entry path at all. There are days when I can sit down and write a poem top-to-bottom and see it in a linear way, as being fully received/realized. But there are also days where I'm writing and suddenly I remember a piece of something else, somewhere, or I realize what I've written is just a fragment of a poem that hasn't even been imagined yet. For this poem, the top half is actually from an earlier poem that I was writing about a memory from when I was very small of watching my father tie his shoes and load a gun in preparation to go out in the cornfields to try to shoot a tomcat that was killing all the farm kittens. But that poem, no matter how many times I tried to write it, kept running to the maudlin.

Once I took that initial image apart from all the personal backhistory and the weight of this kind of linear chronology, it seemed to open up for me. There was something about the bullet/sausage line that struck me as a kind of fairy-tale moment, a kind of transfiguration. The resulting draft was very impersonal, though—just some descriptive writing. It didn't really "say" anything. Earlier this year, I reworked it again and folded back into it some personal texture (my parents are in there, in some form or another) and some of the things that I have been thinking about recently (gun violence, violence towards children).

I actually think that I was able to say a lot about the very things I wanted to originally talk about—the proximity of violence to even the most ordinary actions that we take, how circular violence is and how it moves from one person to another, and, of course, how it visits itself particularly upon children. All of that to say, I don’t think the entry was difficult, but it certainly wasn’t linear!

Can you tell us about your point-of-view choice? Did you experiment with any other POVs when writing this poem?

When I was working on the story from my childhood, it was definitely a first-person perspective. It changed to the more universal gaze and third-person perspective as it was reworked. Eventually, I think that direct address to the "you" just organically appeared in the poem. I tend to use that a lot, to be honest—I guess I like poems that seem to speak to/with someone, to be in a dialogue of sorts, even if we only see one side of that conversation physically drawn out on the page. There’s this piece from Martin Buber’s “I And Thou” that I often think of: “Whoever says You does not have something for his object...where You is said there is no something. You has no borders. Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing. But he stands in relation.” I guess I feel this kind of thinking really pulled at the POV in this poem until it came to where it is now.

Is this poem part of a series? 

It is! Last winter, just after I got back from AWP and my book came out, I was deep in that post-election, post-book, post-AWP funk. My friend Bill, who is a wonderful poet, reached out to see if I was interested in writing a poem every-other-day in April. We usually do this a couple of times each year, just to change things up. I didn't plan a theme, but one appeared throughout the month. The poems would launch off from some classical fairy-tale imagery or plot, and wind through more biographical elements along with thoughts about current events, mostly about gender and violence and how hard it is to be the villain in your own story, how you need to rewrite your own story, constantly, in ways that make you more likable or sympathetic. I think this particular poem, "Fable for a New World Order," was sort of the jumping-off point for that series.

How was the experience of publishing your first book different than you thought it might be?

I think, as many first-time book authors are, I was very naive about the process. Sometimes the process of “getting” a book published can seem a little bit like a one-way street. You send out your manuscript to several presses/contests and once you get a bite on the line, it feels like you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. I think I know a lot more about how much of a two-way street the process is, now, and how important it is to select a press that publishes work that you like, that engages with the poetry community and communicates about its vision, mission, and the work that it believes in.