Converse College MFA alumna, Lisa Hase-Jackson, chats with us about her writing process, collaboration and her debut collection (a 17 year writing project).
Jackson will be in Spartanburg this summer on Thursday, June 6 for the 10th Anniversary Alumni event at Ciclops Cidery and Brewery and on campus at 7:30 p.m. to read with alumnae Sonja Condit and Gwen Holt. Both of these events are part of the MFA program’s Summer/Fall Residency.
Converse MFA: Tell us a little about your book and the process of writing it. How long have your worked on the collection? When and where can we find it?
Hase-Jackson: The writing process is fascinating, isn’t it, and so crucial for a practicing writer. I mean, everything in life is related to process for all of life is distillable material – fodder for poetry or whatever else comes out on the page. I try not to view process as a static activity but as an ever-expanding practice that flexes in response to whatever writing, and life, demands. My own writing process has evolved over the years. While working toward my BA, and then my MA, my writing was mostly concerned with keeping up with the demands of school and my creativity was somewhat prescribed and kept within the parameters of educational requirements. The years between graduating with an MA and starting an MFA program were mostly spent figuring out what kinds of practices worked best for producing work I felt good about. I wrote prolifically, though not always consistently, and a lot of that writing was, well, crap, which is not to say that it wasn’t useful. I actually still mine journals and drafts written during that time for lines and images that I can now develop because I finally know what I was trying to get at.
In terms of a routine, I usually write in the mornings and sometimes late at night. Often, I write longhand but sometimes find the quickness of typing on a computer more fitting or more satisfying. Though I try not to push myself when overwhelmed, tired, or grieving, I also know that I will feel better if I show up to the page as consistently as I can, if even only for a few minutes. This might mean returning to the page several times a day or it might mean once a week, or even once a month. It’s also important for me to realize that periods of not producing work can be just as productive as working daily since these fallow times allow for rest and the germination of new ideas and self-discovery. I believe a strong writing practice must also include a lot of reading, preferably in myriad genres, sending out work for publication as often as tolerable, and being surrounded with a community of writers who can provide feedback, guidance, and support.
The poems in Flint and Fire were written (and revised) between 2001 and 2018, which is a period of time that includes a divorce, lots of relocating, and plenty of fallow time. The poems included are mostly inspired by my experiences and interaction with the many places I have lived and my interpersonal relationships with family. Twenty-four or so were previously published in literary journals, though a few published poems did not find their way into the collection at all.
The title, lifted from one of the poems within the collection, is inspired by images of the Kansas Flint Hills during prescribed burnings, a spectacle that I always looked forward to when I lived in Kansas but missed one season when I was away on spring break.
Flint & Fire will be published in March by The Word Works, just in time for this year’s AWP conference in Portland, which begins March 27th. It will be available through their website, as well as at live readings.
Converse MFA: Can you talk a little about how a sense of place informs your writing? Is place what inspires you as a writer?
Hase-Jackson: Whether consciously or not, we are constantly taking stock of our surroundings and are likewise influenced by them. Gravity and temperature, for example, continuously affect us, just as does light, sound, and the millions of atoms that we perpetually exchange with the world around us. All of this contributes to our mood, our perceptions, and even our physiological state of being. We do not exist outside of place, and neither does poetry.
Writing about place helps me to connect with reality, and often to self. I think it’s difficult to immediately relate to other people, especially when new to town, but connecting to an environment, even when it’s very unfamiliar, is much more direct. I can get to know a geography or a building through first-hand experience and a little research, which is less the case with people. I have also noticed that arriving in a new place provides different perspectives on places I’ve lived before so that even while living among the stunning mesas and mountains of New Mexico I came to admire the subtle beauty of the Kansas prairie, and just as living now among Cyprus swamps, wetlands, and the Atlantic coast that comprise Charleston, my appreciation for the stark and ever-changing color palette of the dessert is deepened. I am always excited by vocabulary, too, and becoming familiar with new terms and the topography they symbolize helps me gain a sense of belonging. Invariably these terms make their way into my poetry. So, yes, I do find quite a lot of inspiration in “place.”
Converse MFA: Who are you reading? What books might we find on your bedside table right now?
Hase-Jackson: I am rereading When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson to prepare for an Ecofeminism course I am co-teaching for the Honors College at the College of Charleston next spring (2020), and I just finished reading Jennifer Chang’s two collections of poetry, The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark, in preparation for her upcoming visit and reading. This led me to read The Word Doesn’t End by Charles Simic, as Chang sites Simic as an influence.
Recently, I also pulled the Collected Poems of T.S. Elliot, 1909-1962 from the bookshelf to reread “Journey of the Magi” because the poem came up in one of my writer’s groups, so I wanted to reread it. In addition, I am perusing a charming 1930 edition of Representative Poems of Robert Burns with Carlyle’s Essay on Burns which I found on my mother’s bookshelf while clearing out her house. I am almost finished with Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which my son recommended, and I just started The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin, which I am reading purely for pleasure.
Converse MFA: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Hase-Jackson: It’s not often that a day goes by I am not involved with the writing life, whether attending a reading, facilitating a writers group, writing a book review, editing Zingara Poetry Review, talking with other writers, or jotting down notes for a poem or essay. I do find it very helpful to step away from the writing life and engage in a little creative cross-training. Lately, knitting has been instrumental in helping me maintain perspective as well as process grief over my mother’s recent passing. Perhaps predictably, I enjoy spending time outdoors and often go on hikes and bird walks or ride my bike on the city’s bike trails. Hunting for shells on the beach is another favorite, though just walking around my neighborhood can provide a great respite when needed. I’ve also been playing around with acrylic paints and have undertaken a collaborative project with my daughter, who is a visual artist and biologist.
Converse MFA: You completed your MFA in poetry at Converse College. Can you talk a little bit about why you pursued the MFA and how your time in the Converse program impacted you as a poet?
Hase-Jackson: I wanted to be part of a formal program that would help me mature as a writer and develop my aesthetic. I chose Converse because of its faculty and the size of the workshops, and because I wanted to work with knowledgeable practicing writers passionate about their craft. I had a lot of raw material – drafts and ideas – when I entered that program and hoped specifically that a low-res program would help me create the kind of personal discipline and practice I needed to revise and organize my work into a cohesive collection and to gain confidence enough to send that collection out into the world. Clearly, my time at Converse has provided all of this and more.
Converse MFA: Finally, are you doing any readings or presentations to promote the new book? If so, where might readers find you?
Hase-Jackson: I am thrilled to say that I will be reading at an offsite location during AWP in Portland in March, with other authors with The Word Works, so I guess that is the official “launch” for Flint & Fire. I will be reading for The Writer’s Place in Kansas City on April 19th and at the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence Kansas as part of the Big Tent Series on April 25th. I will also be at Converse on June 6th to read as part of the alumni series. I am looking into a venue for a Charleston book launch, perhaps in late April or early May, and have a few leads on readings in Greenville and Raleigh.
Poem from Collection (First published in Fall Lines):
My new husband pulls the hood of his sweatshirt
over his head and jokes—in that inappropriate way men
think is so funny—that I should come looking for him
if he doesn’t return from checking the mail.
My heart jumps that short space between my chest
and throat, but I don’t laugh because it’s dark
outside and all of our neighbors are white.
I worry every minute of the five he is gone,
recite the Serenity Prayer like a perpetual mantra
until he comes back through the front door, keys
in hand, dragging a little of the night’s cool air with him.
In the pile of mail, a few sealed envelopes
from utility companies, a church flier, sheets
of glossy coupons—the kind you can’t recycle.
The evening passes as so many do: dinner,
reading in bed, goodnight kisses. When morning
comes and my husband leaves for work, I watch
him drive out of the cul-de-sac. The sound
of the engine fades into sunrise, and I go to the closet
where he hangs the clothes he doesn’t fold, pull down
every single hoodie he owns, even the Adidas we bought
in Korea, and shred them all to unwearable strips.