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Lauren Hilger
Lauren Hilger is the author of Lady Be Good (CCM, 2016) and Morality Play (Poetry NW Editions, 2022). She serves as a poetry editor for No Tokens.
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A Conversation with Poetry Co-Editor Hannah Beresford Lauren Hilger: What is your earliest memory of working with NT poems? Hannah Beresford: My first submission period with NT, I printed all of the submissions. It was so extra. T Kira literally said, “This is so extra.” What experience I had of an editorial nature was in workshops, and I’d only been in workshops where we distributed hard copies and marked them up by hand. I didn’t know how to get in that mode, to really sink into a poem, through a computer screen. I still feel that way, but am learning restraint. I am often surprised by how much being an editor–getting behind the scenes of submittable–does not buffer me from the anxiety of submitting, even despite my better judgment. There is so much work we love and have to pass on. Every journal says that, but it really is true! And yet, when those rejects come in my inbox, I lose that context–I feel small again. Does being an editor help you field the trials of being a poet? And if so, help, tell me how! LH: Hah! I have a perverse love for the admin of submitting. I try to maintain the same amount of submissions out at any time. I'm always shocked to receive a personal note or nice rejection, though. It's the moment that breaks (with a human chord) the robotic process I want it to be. LH: How do you feel about the old adage that one has to read the lit mag before submitting? HB: Sure! In a yes or no sense. Is it a venue for my work, or maybe not so much? If you’re unsure, what have you to lose (unless they charge submission fees)? But, I wouldn’t advise writing toward an aesthetic with a particular venue in mind. LH: I’m wondering, how do you recognize in your own reading that you are gravitating toward a poem? HB: This is usually a sensory response. My reading or mind’s eye is saturated by a color. That leaves the most lasting impression on me. Then, I experience the poem and its color in a tactile or corporeal way. The metronomic organs have a lot to do with how I experience creative work. Breath, heart rate. And secondarily, the reactive organs. A poem that stays in my mind hasn’t transcended for me. I had a student who would yell “goosies!” when she loved a poem in workshop. We talk about that a lot—whatever you call it. Goosebumps, most often. I don’t know what it is from a scientific standpoint, but when I feel that, I think it’s a response without an outlet. Maybe because it’s a response to something imaginary, or maybe because it’s a response that feels indeterminable, unresolvable. Empathy is unresolvable. Anxiety, fear, desire. Poetry is corporeal, at its genesis, poetry is an art form of and through the body. We experience it mostly on the page now. Maybe I like a poem that... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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In writing poetry, I’ve found that occupying three different positions is important: cold editor, kind tutor, and just a writer. In looking at my poems as a cold editor, I’m impartial, ruthless, determined. Cold editor is necessary at the end but not before. That role can’t be assumed too soon. Before then, if I’m writing but stuck, holding back, or can’t get where I want by my current methods, I require the kind tutor, and have to act as one to myself and my writing. The kind tutor role offers opportunity through games; yes it's still me looking at the same drafts but changing perspective points out different routes, and doesn’t take it so seriously. When I think about doing the crossword, for instance, it never feels like my brain’s time-off so much as part of my brain resting, perhaps, while another tests itself. Trying games with your drafts or to generate writing is a way to see if something unexpected can open up. Braiding what you know with what you don’t. In play, a lot will be addressed. As such, today, I offer five votes for games: 1. Lower the stakes: If you’ve taken a class with me you’ve heard this. Beyond being my thesis as a teacher, I take this stance toward poems. I don’t think pressure allows me to write my best work. If I intend to write something meaningful or “good” the stakes can feel immobilizing. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if I've played this game before, it works. If I say to myself “this is an experiment; none of this will be seen; it doesn't matter; anything you do here is a win” I feel I can write more bravely. If I get there in the end, I don’t mind that I have to trick myself. Here, give this one a try: set a timer for two minutes and give yourself this constraint – try to write monosyllabically. It may be bad but that’s fine. Only up from here. You may find new ways to say what you mean. And I love low, brute words. We have the rest of our life for high Latinate multisyllabic choices. I like that this game forces us to regress verbally. Try it and get back to me. [Keats on light and shade] 2. Adding light to shade. A game: set a timer. For five minutes you have to address an individual, could be anyone, but write to them as if you are in the best mood possible. As if you’re feeling incredibly positive. What if you gave yourself this constraint every day for a week? Sometimes I feel like only what’s broken my heart is worthy of my words, so this exercise reminds me I can still write in a way that fights that. Even if you try to write only the good, the shade (what hurts) is still present, so see how much light you can get in. 3. Throw it away. Nothing’s that precious. No one has... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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[a conversation with short story writer and playwright, Abuchi Modilim] LH: I’ve been thinking about reverence and how to define it for myself. What makes you reverent of some writers (beyond just admiring their work?) AM: I think reverence should be a personal thing. I revere writers who support emerging writers. I revere writers with great personalities too but the former is what I find most interesting. LH: The writers I revere most, I feel like are excavating me from something very dull that keeps me from really seeing. Sometimes that dullness is just getting wrapped up in the day – a lot ushers past me unobserved. If I give myself ten minutes to read a hero, I notice how much I’m ignoring! [Esiaba Irobi] AM: "How much I'm ignoring." It is the phrase. No writer is completely free of this. When I’m not writing, I go back to E. C. Osondu and Wole Soyinka. I like how E.C. Osondu writes. Effortlessly. His writing screams freedom. I read Chigozie Obioma, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Okey Ndibe, Chika Unigwe, Esiaba Irobi, I can't exhaust the names. But undoubtedly, I have read E. C. Osondu more. Wole Soyinka's play 'The Lion And The Jewel' taught me the craft of playwriting. His characters are real. The originality of his poetic dialogue is incomparable. Who are the writers you go back to? [Lauren, with her copy] LH: Right now we’re back with Pizarnik, Tranströmer, and Zbigniew Herbert. Do you think you write for the kind of reader you are? [Pizarnik's books are treasures] AM: I write what I would love to read. And I don't have specific readers in mind when I am writing. Writing a good story or play is my foremost obligation when I sit to write. I focus on the form, and not intention. You write for your kind of readers? LH: I think I’m writing with the idea of telling a secret, whoever is receiving that is beyond me. What do you find mysterious or unknowable about your own work? Does that change per genre you’re working in? AM: This question reminded me about the writing workshop facilitated by J.K Anowe at the University of Nigeria. He had asked us to study our writing to find out the spectacular thing about it that we don't know. It was that day that I discovered that I often have a weird character in my writing. I was surprised. I was never aware until after that workshop. And this does not change per genre. You would see this character in my short stories and plays. LH: Do you tend to consider your audience as your contemporaries, or do you think about the future? AM: First, I consider my contemporaries. I also think about how my work would carry on into the future but I don't let it bother me. Great works would live after the writer is gone. It is not the writer who decides that. The works of William Shakespeare who died in... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
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Today I offer a meditation on the 2000s cultural power icon: Lancôme’s Juicy Tube. A generation's foray to makeup. Let’s consider together an object that stands as a symbol, an antique, a kind of doorway. [From every conceivable angle, it was just lip gloss.] In high school, a friend bestowed upon me two gifts, a Juicy Tube in the color “clear sheer” alongside the MAC single pan eyeshadow “pink haze.” I took this as a gift that said, “here you'll need these.” A license of another kind. Upon acquiring I wondered, actually, what was the Juicy Tube’s reason to be? It seemed just what it was, a juicy tube. But it required a new category; it wasn’t chapstick or lipstick, those were two things I could wrap my head around. [The precursor] It was a lacquer I found mysterious. For one, it lost all pigment once applied. For two, when would you need it? Surely not when you’d pull for chapstick. In addition, the Juicy Tube cost 16 US dollars, expensive then and now especially compared to the Lip Smackers that preceded them in our collective consciousness. Lip Smackers offered scents (flavors?) like vanilla frosting, blue raspberry, and a shocking pink cotton candy, appealing to children. [Another loved object] In fact, my prized possession had hitherto been a gumball machine made to dispense jelly beans. Like Lip Smackers, jelly beans were a collection you consumed, kind of plastic, colorful, also sold at the mall. Juicy Tube marketed with no such no food flavoring. It had the aesthetic of an ice cube. [I wasn’t kidding.] “The glistening hi-shine of Juicy Tubes,” my friend offers, when I ask what topic she’d like for me to write about as a guest author on the Best American Poetry blog. “Loved Juicy Tubes. Nothing like ‘em.” All to say, the Juicy Tube linked being a kid to something I didn’t yet recognize. “Thelyphthoric” is a term I try to think through in my second book Morality Play (out soon from Poetry Northwest!) I certainly do not believe it’s as simple as “fashion magazines and pop stars were corrupting young girls!” but there was something sinister in the open-mouthed ads. Something cold, intimidating. I remember applying my Juicy Tube meticulously in algebra until my teacher slammed his palm on the table and shouted “HILGER” to make me stop. Is this the only memory I have of math that year? Of course I was mortified but, truly, I didn’t think of it as putting on makeup during class. I didn’t think of it as anything yet. It was the novelty of something new and strange. High school can usher in an era of heightened insecurity, a lot of tears, a lot of struggling. For your author it certainly did. Maybe the Juicy Tube represented something so vapid and icy and untouchably beautiful that I could access that too. Adult in my mind, I carried around a real beauty brand in the pocket of my long, long jeans.... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
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As I write to you, in the year 2022, we don’t have to memorize much: GPS leads the way, phone numbers are saved, and devices alert us of birthdays. Say what you will about attention spans, how we are faster and less focused than any other era in history, how we value what’s brief and easy, ever and anon. You still have choices! You can try to memorize a poem today. Reading your poems aloud is a powerful editing tool – trying to memorize, I’ve found, is even stronger. You get to ask yourself, what lines are not worth learning by heart? What’s gotta go? I’m no actor used to memorizing scripts, and I know there are as many ways to read a poem as there are infinite individual learning styles, but I’ll share what’s worked for me! Record yourself. Having a recording playing through headphones is my favorite way to learn a set for a reading. I also want to pay attention to my speech patterns and accent. Sure, in listening to yourself, you can realize the way you say “egg” or “coffee” is insufferable but trying to work through that, to actually hear what you sound like can be useful. And examining your voice paired with the poem helps certain lines stick. Writing it out by hand and in your handwriting. I think of this act as bringing the poem to another place and hopefully deepening the poem-shaped rut in the brain. Seeing the lines in your hand takes them out of a font used for daily communication, a font you might subconsciously associate with details meant only to be taken in short term. Moods. As I’m writing this, a friend texts me his poem, line after line, as he is practicing retrieving it without peeking. Relaxed, at ease, talking to friends – that’s where your brain exists at times, and you’ll want to bring the poem to that mental space too. Having experienced knowing that poem there in that mindset, not just a stressed study mode, can help you access it later on. Print! If I can offer any practical advice, just have a printed back up with you. None’s the wiser if you glance down. Truly no one will care or notice. Or bring your book, should you have one! [waiting for a train with poems] Listen. I spent my youth taking out poetry recordings housed by NJ’s Park Ridge library and the greater Bergen County system of libraries. These were (ahem) CDs, and I always was working on one commuting by train. That connection felt profound from go: hearing poets make bad jokes between poems, mess up their lines, take their time drawing out words, listening to where they stay quiet, their silence, felt like the most precious time spent. And today, as then, I’m grateful for others who offer their work to me as a performance. I always feel humbled and moved by it. [this was a giant case for three CDs] Learn other... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
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May 6, 2022