Wednesday, October 05, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Angela Hume



Angela Hume lives in Oakland. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Melos (Projective Industries, 2015), The Middle (Omnidawn, 2013) and Second Story of Your Body (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2011). Her first full-length book of poetry is Middle Time (Omnidawn, 2016). You can learn more about Angela at http://angelamhume.tumblr.com/.

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Brenda Iijima’s Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs published my first chapbook, Second Story of Your Body (2011). I wrote to Brenda out of the blue because I knew she had published Evelyn Reilly, whose work I loved. At the time I didn’t know Brenda at all. It was quite bold of me. I remember the night the chapbooks arrived in the mail. Brenda creates original artwork for her covers and surprises her authors with them. Seeing the physical books for the first time was magical. I opened the box to find gorgeous, mysterious book objects that were mine and not mine at once. It was one of the best gifts I’d ever received.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually came to fiction first. Before I could write, I would dictate stories to my mother and then illustrate the pages of my “books.” Lines of verse didn’t come until puberty, when the world stopped making narrative sense to me. I didn’t understand my feelings and desires—my depressive episodes, my feeling of being absolutely alone, my painful attachments to women. I needed a form much more tormented. It was then that I started writing verse.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My process is a slow one. I write in fragments. I assemble them into series. I revise unrelentingly, for as long as possible, even after work has been published. I live alongside my poems. 

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
For me poetry often begins with an image and a feeling, often in the natural world. I’m a hopeless Romantic. Poetry also often begins with a constellation of concepts and/or questions, usually informed by both my reading and current life experience. Recently my relationship with someone I loved very much fell apart. So lately I’ve been writing through feelings of loss, confusion, and grief. I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness, i.e., having what you desire, and disappointment, i.e., frustration or non-fulfillment of desire. Sarah Ahmed’s book The Promise of Happiness, which confronts heterocentric ideologies of “happiness,” is giving me a lot to think and write about.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings can feel like acts of self-flagellation—standing up in front of a crowd, looking around and noticing who did or didn’t show up, forcing feeling to confess itself to itself as performance. Readings can leave me with feelings of self-doubt, unlikability, and overexposure. For people with social anxiety, they’re like diving into an ice-cold lake on an already unseasonably cool day. They hurt. They wake you up. They make you feel alive in the only body you have.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I’ve been doing a lot of work at the intersection of queer theory and environmental philosophy and activism. I talk about it in this interview at Weird Sister and in this one at The Conversant. I’ve also been reading up on intersectionality theory, which comes out of 1980s black feminism and has been important to some of the poets whom I admire most. Intersectionality looks at how ideas about and politics of race, gender, sexuality, and class interact with each other and, consequently, privilege some people while multiply burdening others. It articulates how interactions between these ideas and politics create structural inequalities. So for example, if you are a queer woman of color, you may experience homophobia, sexism, and racism. But what often goes unacknowledged is how homophobia, sexism, and racism together produce an experience of oppression that is much more complicated than just the sum of the three. This is what Kimberlé Crenshaw first named the intersectional experience. (See her article “Demarginalizing the Intersection.”)

Intersectionality continues to be developed as an approach, and has a lot to offer radical political theories being developed by feminists, queer and critical race theorists, and environmental justice advocates. The insights of intersectionality are helping me think in my critical writing about the problem of the unequal distribution of environmental risk among women, LGBTQ people, and people of color.    

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Writers can play any role they like. Writers are just people who do things in the world, and one of those things happens to be writing. I think that writers should aspire to be the things that I think all people should strive to be: passionate friends, lovers, activists, feminists, students, teachers, environmental stewards. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with my editor at Omnidawn Publishing, Gillian Hamel, is a dream. She’s an extremely perceptive, sensitive reader.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
You can’t make someone want you, let alone love you.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I write both poetry and literary criticism. The reading and writing I do around both are often in direct conversation. I don’t think it’s always true that being a critic and a theorist makes you a better poet. In fact it’s often not the case. But for me, developing as a reader of poetry and theory has been really important to my growth as a poet.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I get up, make coffee, eat cereal, and do a little writing—notes, journaling, e-mails, sometimes literary criticism, sometimes poetry. I do my best work in the late morning and early afternoon.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Rivers, forests, oceans.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Summer air through the metal mesh of a screen in Middle America.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All of the above! I love music by girls and queers with guitars, old art, and up-to-the-minute science news. Other “forms” that influence my work: sex, civil disobedience, interspecies encounters, cooking/eating, travel.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Here’s my chance to give shout-outs to some of my brilliant friends! I’ve been co-editing a cluster of articles on the topic of “queering ecopoetics” with the poet-scholar Samia Rahimtoola, who is very smart and savvy about environmental politics. Three wonderful writers, Laura Woltag, Jasmine Kitses, and Lily Brown, inspire me with their creative work and also have rescued me with their insight and intelligence, especially of late. As I’ve said elsewhere, Brenda Hillman is my sister-mother-mentor; the poet’s wisdom she offers me helps me achieve a greater sense of myself as both a poet and a human.

Writings perpetually important to both work and life? Some are Antigone and Electra by Sophocles. The poems of Emily Dickinson. The essays of Audre Lorde.   

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
So many things! Fortunately, I’m young, so I have time. I’d like to live in the country. Farm. Live in Barcelona, Berlin, New York City, and/or Oaxaca. Travel through Africa and Asia. Run a marathon in 3:40. Do a triathlon. Adopt a pup. Start painting again. Write a novel. Start a school, or a small press, or an EJ nonprofit. Maybe raise a kid. Teleport. Time travel. Grow very old and wise. Die and be reincarnated as a blue whale.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I haven’t ruled out going back to school to study environmental science or policy and planning.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’ve simply been doing it for as long as I can remember, with absolute abandon.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve been reading a handful of good books recently: Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, Summer Brennan’s The Oyster War, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, Hölderlin’s Hyperion. I’ve also been reading Angela Willey’s critical work on “biopossibility” and what she calls “queer feminist materialist science studies.” I thought the film The Lobster was great.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Recently in Point Reyes, I participated in a residency as an NEA fellow through the Mesa Refuge and the Point Reyes National Seashore Association (PRNSA) themed “Climate Change at the Western Edge.” It was transformative. I stayed and worked next to the Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project, an area on the south side of Tomales Bay that was diked in the 1940s to create pastureland. In 2007 PRNSA and the National Park Service removed the levees in order to allow tides and fresh water to flow naturally and turn the area back into a tidal marsh. This is an important restoration project for number of reasons. One is that wetlands serve as a natural buffer against flooding. So wetland restoration is one way we can help build resiliency into our coastlines as we look ahead to climate-related sea level rises.

Most of the monitoring reports on Giacomini Wetlands say habitats and species are evolving toward conditions in natural tidal marshes. That said, researchers warn that we can’t necessarily expect a linear model of change. Instead, restoration may follow a nonlinear trajectory with interruptions and “thresholds” along the way. So I started reading about what restoration ecologists call “threshold dynamics,” in which restoration is understood to be a highly contingent, nonlinear process, as opposed to a continuous, progressive one.

Thinking about ecology restoration in this way means adjusting the structure of our expectation and being open to factors that we cannot control. I find myself asking: what kind of environmental ethos, or environmental love, even, does this new way of thinking entail? A less comfortable and comforting love for sure—a less ends-oriented one. And so the poem I’ve been working on is a little bit about the particular case of the Giacomini Wetlands and restoration science, but also our current situation under the conditions of global climate change and all of the complex human emotions that we experience as a result—feelings of anticipation that our hopes will be satisfied, disappointment when we don’t get what we want, and grief about the loss of oikos, the Greek word from which “ecology” comes, meaning family and household.

In particular, I’ve been trying to write about what queer experiences of oikos—what for queers are often frustrated or thwarted experiences of family and home—can teach us about how to better recognize and love what we might think of as our increasingly non-normative natures and ecologies.


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