Content warning: This interview contains discussion on topics including rape and trauma.
Hannah Slind is the author of the WRHC award winning poem “reliance”—while she attends the University of Utah, the state in which she grew up, her international ties include her birthplace in England and her Canadian parents. Her poem “reliance” impressed Scribendi staff and the WRHC alike for its sophisticated and complex explorations of not only content, but form. The poem’s intertextual references, experimental formal elements, and lack of easy answers combine to create a compelling work which gives readers an exciting chance to find personal meaning for themselves.
Tell me a little bit about the background of this piece! Your first line is situated in a specific time: “This winter, I was Persephone.” Was there something going on in your life that fed into its creation? In my own reading and writing, I often feel like poetry is an act for externalizing the things we’ve got stuck inside of us. What does making poetry mean to you?
This poem is a pretty personal piece to me. Two winters ago, I was raped. The following term, I took a creative writing class and wrote this poem– it flowed out of me like lava! I think it was waiting to be written. Because I was using a really painful, intimate memory for my poem, the act of writing became very cathartic. About half a year after my rape, I took a class about the work of Gertrude Stein, and realized that my work, totally unintentionally, was influenced enormously, both in form and content, by Stein.
You mention a love for Gertude Stein (I love her too!)—what other poets would you list among your favorites or your biggest inspirations? Any work you’re reading now, or that you would particularly recommend for readers, modern or classic?
My favorite poets include e.e. cummings, Lucille Clifton, Hannah Gamble, Harryette Mullen, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, Wendell Berry… Also Alexi Pappas, a poet and an Olympic marathon runner, is a great role model for me, my poetry, and my life.
All-time most cherished poems include “Icarus” by Edward Fields, “Ode to the Common Housefly” by Andrew Kozma, “Life is Beautiful” by Dorianne Laux, “Very Large Moth” by Craig Arnold– can you tell I love insects?– “homage to my hips” by Lucille Clifton, “The God Who Loves You”, by Carl Dennis, “The Journey” by James Fenton… The list goes on, I’ll stop here for the sake of the reader!
One of the writers I enjoy the very most is David Foster Wallace. He’s problematic in myriad ways, but still, I recommend his writing because of his insight and humor. He makes what I consider ‘Great Art.’ Infinite Jest is long but so worth it (I promise I’m not trying to flex)! Other writing I recommend includes God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Taipei by Tao Lin, Paradise by Toni Morrison, and I’m sure plenty of others than I am forgetting at this precise moment.
reliance pulls a lot of its imagery from ancient Greek symbology and figures—obviously, Persephone is a major player. I think that it’s interesting, in an even more general sense, that your piece proves these images are still so powerful and relevant today. Why do you think these particular archetypes and images last while others fade?
I used Persephone because her suffering was not so different to my own. I drew comparisons between myself and her, and also saw solace in her. If this story of the resilience of Persephone has stuck around in our culture for such a long time, clearly her struggles resonate with us. Stories of pain and persistence tend to fascinate us, I think, which is why we still want to read about them.
The formal elements of this poem are a huge part of what makes it so compelling. I feel like sections that read more like prose poetry juxtapose very starkly with the sections grounded in repetition and the transformation of sound and spelling. For me, it keeps me constantly awake and aware of movement and transition. What were you considering, or hoping others might consider, when constructing the poem this way?
The form of the poem reflects the nature of the trauma; “reliance” is obviously very scattered, almost incoherent in parts. I used the form to distinguish difference voices: the ‘he” in the poem has an organized prose section, and the “I” speaks only in splattered phrases. I intended for this to reflect the mental state of the assailant versus the victim. The assailant is not upset by the experience, and maintains his rationality. He might not even be aware that he did rape someone. The victim, on the other hand, is tormented, struggles to form complete thoughts in the face of what is really a horrible experience. The garbled form also mimics my perception of pain and healing. These processes are hard work, and definitely not straightforward… so why should my poem about pain and healing be straightforward?
You spend the bulk of the poem calling upon various figures, many out of myth, in ways that feel to me almost desirous, or clearly in search of their help—“O/to be Oedipus,” “O/Persephone,/O Shepherdess/lend me your voice.” There’s an interesting shift in the last stanza—“and yet/Persephone is only a picture/…she can’t or she won’t help” What do you think symbols, like these figures, can or cannot do for people?
I used Persephone, because I see her as such a strong woman, who bears an unbearable situation. I did not reference Oedipus because I admire him. My line “O / to be Oedipus / and lose only your eyes” reflects my feelings at the time of writing this poem that oftentimes women, in literature as well as life, are suffering much, much more than their male counterparts.
“Il miglior fabbro” is a line from the Wasteland, and from Dante before Eliot. Ezra Pound translated “Il miglior fabbro” as “the better craftsman”, which I use sarcastically. When I say “O let me tell you / il miglior fabbro, who must know so boldly !” I denounce people who pry, who want to know the details of the assault (not even specifically mine). They somehow want mastery over the story that is not theirs.
Lastly, the ending. Although I mentioned earlier that Persephone is a source of solace, it was too simplistic, too trite to come to the conclusion that everything will turn out in the end because I have ~hope~. It’s hard to imagine, let alone write, the fairy-tale ending for rape. So, the poem ends maybe with hopelessness, or maybe the realization that Persephone is not the key to deliverance.
You also mention bringing in Dante, Stein, and Pound alongside these classical figures. What does drawing on earlier texts and other artists/poets mean to you?
I think the classical and contemporary references in my piece hold equal weight and esteem in my mind. For example, Sophocles and Eliot are both equally available in my literary consciousness, so I think both are worthy of and desirable to reference.
Aside from the specific interview questions—are there any messages that you’re hoping to get across to audiences, whether they regard the poem, poetry, or anything else at all?
Obviously, all of this analysis is my projection onto a text that is not wholly mine anymore. When other people read your work, they bring their own set of assumptions and interpretations with them that may be equally valid within the parameters of the text. I am not trying to tell anyone the right answers to this poem. They aren’t mine to tell.