Rachel Nix: Hannah, it was absolutely wonderful to have you on staff with us for the Up Yours! issue. This was the first time Raquel and I have been able to work so closely—at the same table, in fact—with our guest editor; I’m sure I can speak for her when I say it’s been the best experience for us. What was it like on your end? How was it being behind the scenes in culling together an issue bit by bit?
Hannah Hamilton: Being behind the scenes mostly felt like staring at your exquisite tree nymph faces and drinking a lot of coffee with brown sugar in it. It has actually been really fucking helpful to be on the other side of the table. Going through so many submissions and attempting to pare them down from different angles really helps when thinking about what to do with your own work—where to send it, how it could fit for a submission call. I would recommend guest editing to anybody. It’s definitely a labor of love. Also, I really and absolutely loved watching you two read things—both of you have distinct tastes and it’s a little magical and a little mystifying to watch how two brilliant beautiful minds process poetry and prose.
RN: Anger, which is the focal point of our issue, is typically viewed as a negative thing. I’d argue against that notion and in favor of its importance; something tells me you would, too. So, what’s your take? What does anger give us?
HH: I think expressing anger is a healthy reaction to abusive power structures, exploitation, and marginalization. There’s this awful idea that pervades every part of our lives that insist we endure silently, absorb any offense that impacts us, and suffer silently. That’s a terrible way to live. Instead, anger has the ability to invite acts and conversations of honesty and resistance against harmful institutions and relationships. There’s an article by bell hooks entitled “The Politics of Radical Black Subjectivity” that suggests the idea that anger is not merely an emotion, but a force that creates space for passion, creation, and defiance. “In that vacant space after one has resisted there is still the necessity to become—to make oneself anew.” Defiance chafes, it irritates, it disrupts—these are also things that love does, which is to say that anger comes from a place of self-love in order to activate healing, recovery, and a reclaiming of dominion over the body and the spirit.
RN: This goes back to the previous question in a way in that it nudges my theory that anger can be stunning: you write with an incredible balance of tenderness and rage; your work is what made me want to track you down years ago and earn your friendship. Frankly, Hannah, I’m in love with your temper. Can we sweet-talk you into sharing one of your poems with us?
HH: Words Dance published my poem, ”The Rape of Persephone”, which I consider pretty damn angry. It’s about, in part, the fear instilled by a violence that sometimes assumes the face of lust and sometimes just looks like what it is—a hatred for the vulnerable as well as a need to subjugate vulnerability that stems from an insecurity of self.
Fragmented bodies come in all shapes and sizes; some of them are processing a monstrous world and some of them contribute to the monstrosity of the world. I’ve been working on a series of poetry that I simply call “the god poems.” They’re scathing and they throw rocks and they express disgust and they shower perpetrators of violence in blame. They make no attempt at finding silver linings, which can be a mechanism of avoidance—where false optimism tries to enforce narratives of silence and self-loathing onto us. They are what they are, I guess. Here’s an excerpt from one of them:
if god is everywhere, perpetually, all at once, that must be
why you deprive yourself of sleep. it is earliest morning,
not deepest night, when it is darkest and safest
and he is absent from your messy apartment.
he is plaguing some newer sweeter confection. you
are all wrung out. your bedroom at five am is
your adiamorphic reprieve. your bed is welcoming
because no one stands at its edge, thumbing
your knee beneath the covers.
RN: I’ve picked up on diverse versions of clarity that have embedded themselves in your voice, particularly in your writing. Would I be off the mark to assume there’s a lot of inspiration in having grown up in a home that’s as Southern as it is Persian?
HH: Growing up straddling a eerily similar but somehow terribly different pair of cultures has soldered me into a shape I’m still trying to figure out. Southern culture is in many ways in intimate dialogue with Persian culture—the lush heat of passion and love of food, the lush heat of dark and superstitious eyes, endurance, and sun. Even with all that beauty, a childhood like that makes anger a hard emotion to handle and express. Persian culture wants you to suck it up, put it in a box, flow like unresisting water through every hardship because the idea of talking about it or dealing with it outwardly is very “feelings times” and “very American.” In the same token, Southern culture is also deeply interested in leaving things unsaid and learning to make due with what you have, which often times isn’t much. Clarity in such lovely but stifling influences is hard to find and dearly fought for—because you have, always, two wonderfully accented voices in your head telling you to prepare for the worst and to absorb it because there’s nothing else you can do. Clarity means figuring out you can accept those voices but understand they aren’t always telling you the truth. That there is such a thing as a personal truth that doesn’t diminish Southern or Persian roots, but it does insist they clear the air of their heady perfume as you assert your own voice.
RN: I don’t exactly want to return you to your previous existence (even though I know where you live and you can never escape me), but I suppose I must since this grand alliance is sort of over. Tell us what you’ll be up to now that Raquel and I aren’t nudging you for your thoughts on growling literature.
HH: Well, I’ll be assistant editor from now on so we’re pretty much shackled together forever. There will be family dinners. Your attendance is mandatory.
(Raquel Thorne: Skipping family dinners is a fireable offense.)