AN INTERVIEW WITH HANNAH KROONBLAWD
What was your first piece of writing that you were really proud of and satisfied to have written? Why?
Funny enough, I think the first time I had a real sense of pride over a piece of writing was the essay portion of the AP Literature exam I took during my senior year of high school. The question had something to do with foil characters, and I wrote something Pride and Prejudice-related, but it was more the puzzle-piece nature of that kind of test that caused me to not only write the way I did, but also to actually like what I had written. Having a limited amount of time to get to the heart of an essay (and a high stakes essay at that, or at least it seemed so to my seventeen-year-old self!), being able to choose my own examples, making connections for some unknown reader . . . It’s little wonder now that I’ve found myself on the poetic side of things!
Tell us about your writing practice. Do you follow a specific routine? Do you have a favorite place or setting to write?
I like the idea of routine, but I’m afraid I’m rather bad at it! Much of my writing gets done on the couch, in the middle of the afternoon, maybe with a murder-mystery TV show running in the background, maybe with a cup of tea on the coffee table. But sometimes it’s early morning at a coffee shop, or close to dinnertime in my windowless English department office. Location and medium vary, but what does remain constant is what happens once I get going, which requires a bit of planning—I am very much a “write a poem all at once” kind of writer, so I need at least an hour if I’m going to get a draft onto the page. I also need internet access or enough reference books to compensate for lack thereof, as I also tend towards rabbit holes and strange allusions that I hide within my work. And a thesaurus. Always a thesaurus.
Is there a single image that lingers in your writing (or in your mind while you write)—one that you keep returning to?
Lately there has been a lot of burning—fires, flames, heat, light. Much of what I’ve been writing recently is taken up with destruction, the ways in which we are always cycling through loss towards hope and then loss again. Early on in graduate school I was writing about personal loss—the death of my sister, leaving one place for another, moving from childhood into adulthood; now my work is tending away from myself, encompassing history and landscape, futures yet unknown but already seeming lost to humanity. Fire seems to be emblematic of that kind of grief, but also that some things can come out of the fire unscathed, refined.
Your poem “Lake Superior” was featured in Waters Deep: A Great Lakes Poetry Anthology (vol. 1). In what ways has place or the environment influenced your writing?
I’ve always been drawn to place, probably due to a fairly transient childhood and young adulthood. I’ve moved from the Midwest to China to the West Coast. I’m in the Midwest again, but there are so many different homes wrapped up inside of my work. “Lake Superior” is a reflection of my childhood in northern Wisconsin and vacations along the North Shore of Minnesota, stories told about Great Lakes shipwrecks, Gordon Lightfoot singing about the Edmund Fitzgerald. The untamed aspect of nature, its unpredictability, its beauty—those are all reflective of humanity as well, and my poems are often drawing connections between the two. Right now I’m writing much more apocalyptically, wondering about what humanity has done to the world and what the aftermath might bring. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading books and Wikipedia articles about the Anthropocene.
Where is your favorite place or body of water?
My favorite body of water is the Pacific Ocean, in all of its shoreline forms: how it breaks along the Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, nestles inside the tide pools of the Oregon coastline, its clarity just off the Visayas in the Philippines, the reflection of the Hong Kong skyline shimmering in Victoria Harbor. It’s hard for me to choose a single favorite place, but I love arriving in a new place somewhere for the very first time.
In what ways has personal experience figured in to your own writing? Has it become more or less autobiographical over time?
Less personal now than it once was. Or maybe personal in a different kind of way, as the way that I understand my relationship with and responsibility towards the larger world has changed. Emotion and experience are still woven into my work, but the questions I ask are different. When I was writing through personal loss, those questions were often “Why did I respond this way?” or “What if my life looked different than it does?” But now the questions have shifted towards “What possibilities does the future hold for us?” or “What does our history tell us about ourselves?” Note the shift in pronouns—I’m working more collectively now than I once did, which has opened up my poems as well.
You serve as the assistant poetry editor for Spoon River Poetry Review (SRPR). How has your editorial work with SRPR influenced your own writing?
I’m so grateful for the editorial work that I’ve been able to do for SRPR, especially alongside Steve Halle, who is a wonderful editor and advocate for poets. Much of the work I do with the journal has to do with solicitation and organization—it seems as though I’m always on the search for poems that stand out, poems that I can’t help but share with others, poems that I can’t forget. This causes me to think about my own poems in a similar way—before I can think about submitting them for publication, I have to ask myself similar questions!
What books or writers have impacted your writing the most? How so?
Oh, so many. And a very wide range—those who know me best know that Sophocles’ tragedies are central to my work, but from Greek drama I might jump to the novels of Tolstoy or Eliot or Austen. That’s the “workings of the human mind” side of my writing. Religion and theology are ever-present in my work, so the Bible is near the top of the list, but also the I Ching and an almost unhealthy amount of medieval hagiography, at least for a Scandinavian-German Lutheran! Contemporary writers, too—recent poetry collections I’ve read and loved include Ada Limón’s The Carrying, Claire Wahmanholm’s Wilder, and Franny Choi’s Soft Science.
What writerly advice would you like to share with our readers?
The only thing that makes someone a writer is the act of writing. There is so much comfort in this! It isn’t where you’ve been published, whether or not you have a degree in creative writing, or whatever kind of writing seems to be in vogue. It’s writing itself. Pressure can be a good thing at times, but don’t let pressure to perform overwhelm what caused you to start writing—or continue writing—in the first place. As long as you are writing, you’re a writer! It’s as simple as that (though quite difficult to explain to your great-aunt at Thanksgiving dinner, I know).
Also: read. Read a lot. Don’t stop reading.
If you were venturing into the wilderness for a month, which three books would you bring?
Three books from my very tall to-be-read pile: Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, and Ling Ma’s Severance.
Hannah Kroonblawd is a PhD student in English Studies at Illinois State University, where she works in the Publications Unit and serves as assistant poetry editor for Spoon River Poetry Review. A graduate of the MFA program at Oregon State University, her recent work can be found in Washington Square Review, Blue Earth Review, Radar Poetry, and South Dakota Review, among others.