Interview with Poet KJ Hannah Greenberg

Recently, Assistant Editor, Leslie Effron, caught up with KJ Hannah Greenberg, a regularly featured poet on Zingara Poetry Review, for an interview.

KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs.

Thereafter, she’s been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than thirty of her books published, and has served as an editor for several literary journals.

Read Leslie’s interview  immediately following this poem from Rudiments, Greenberg’s latest collection:

Corporate Life in a Goldfish Bowl
 
“Life,” a simple word, four letters, more complex than

Longer wonders; “conflate,” “promote,” and “purchase,”
Disguises possibilities working beyond corporate tang,
Inherent in the raw unfurling of so many days’ sagacity,
Activated by conversations in which others can’t engage.

Dear cohorts forward generous, eschatological sentiments,
When gold and brown cloth treasures, bookcases’ brimming
With varicolored sleeping bags, fabric backpacks, attitude,
Sidle unorthodoxly behind wooden signs, against fences,
Ride silken threads, otherwise dance among weekly sales.

Secrets despise boundaries, go radically albedo when shushed,
Seek out billboards, megaphones, access to SEO search engines,
Inner city graffiti, slingshot telemarketing, sundry pretty ponies,
Until dry cleaning solvent, white vinegar, and borax get utilized
To remove the dust, sweat, dung of some prized grandiloquence.

Supervisors eventually stay awake late enough to return votes,
Recalling how their managerial reactions, all egregious choices,
Plus, their colleagues’ belief that peers are capable of bunkum
(Children act childish), gets compromised as publicized data
Concerned with juxtaposing innocent referents, urbane jetsam.

Important institutions and individuals yield minor estimations,
Of sociopsychology resulting in maladroit communication events.
Symbolic, linguistic, aretaic, plus normative conceptualizations,
Nonmaterial cultural bits remain linguistically consequential
(Boardroom decisions yet provide silage to all unempowered.)

* * *

Congratulations on the new book launch! Rudiments is based on relationships, both with ourselves and with others. What are some specific instances that inspired the work in this collection?

Thanks! Since my writing is an extension of me, it reflects lived events as well as fictional ones. Per Rudiments, as well as per the rest of my body of work, sometimes, my work is populated by “would have” moments, sometimes, by hyperbole, and sometimes, albeit infrequently, by actual experiences. Mostly, I fashion poetry from my imagination; in actuality, I’m a staid grandma.

I think readers would be most interested in learning what part of the collection process you find most enjoyable? most laborious? most challenging?

I think I like the entire process. Writing is like lifting weights; begin slowly, don’t overdo, yet push yourself to your maximum, whether that maximum is language, nuance, i.e. layers of meaning, poems’ shape, whatever. At the gym, I take pleasure with every set of reps completed, and, later, with the cumulative changes that result from such efforts. Likewise, I take pleasure with every poem individually formed, and, later, with the cumulative effect that is a published assemblage

When working on poems, do you tend to follow one subject throughout several poems at a time? Or do you write each poem as its own entity? For example, when you were working on the collection for Rudiments, were you only writing poems based on relationships, or were you working on others as well?

 Basically, I batch work. I cook similarly and I paint tacit canvases (but not digital ones) similarly. Namely, I rough out ideas/ sentiments for a few works at a time, and then, time permitting, complete them. Rewriting, as ever, takes the most time and skill. Consequently, while I generate material for multiple pieces at a time, I rewrite only one poem at a time.

Once a poem is competed, I offer it and a cousin or two for publication. After a poem is published as an individual work, it becomes “available” for one of my collections. Rudiments is my twelfth published collection of poetry. I have a few more collections in the wings. I’m hoping one will be published next year.

Have you had to face many setbacks with publishing a book during a pandemic?

Some of my titles that had been scheduled for early 2020 have been pushed back to late 2020. As per my publishing calendar, in general,  I’ve had books accepted anywhere from a week to a decade after they had been submitted. Publication time usually averages half of a year to a year after a contract is signed.

Do you prefer to work at home? If so, how do you establish a routine to stay focused on writing?

Yes. My daily routine depends on deadlines. Some projects, such as proofing galleys can take a week or two of dedicated work. Other projects, such as writing individual poems, can take days. The crux being that many, many rewrites (ordinarily several dozen) are usually needed to make any piece publishable, regardless of its genre (I also have novels, short story collections, and essay collections that are published; more than thirty books, overall.)

Do you have any favorite contemporary poets?

Not really. When I was an English professor, I taught classic poets. As a young mom, I liked contemporary writers. These days, my taste is eclectic.

Writing poetry can be viewed as a form of journaling, and therapeutic. Do you feel this way when you write?

Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. My reasons for crafting poems vary. Maybe, I have a strong feeling to express. Maybe, I have a vignette that I want to depict. Maybe, I have a form of wordplay in which I want to engage. Maybe, I’ve promised an editor a piece or a set of pieces. Other intentions, too, fuel my creations.

What are some must-haves when you’re writing while traveling or outside of your home?

Paper and pen. Occasionally, I use something else. For instance, while I was an undergraduate, I wrote some of the lyrics for a musical of mine, which was produced, on school cafeteria napkins during a dinner.

Whereas I ordinarily compose using software, I hate being electronically bound during vacation. Hence, I keep paper available for scribbling notes and then save the development of those kernels for when I return home.

What are some tips you can give fellow poets when they’re facing writer’s block?

Writer’s block is a griffin—it doesn’t (gasp) exist. Like learning to code, learning to play the oboe, or like learning any other skill set, writing requires discipline. Discipline means following a process as well as means engaging a schedule.

In the decades during which I’ve taught writing to university students or to workshop participants, I’ve discovered that many folks try to skip essential steps. One can no more make a stir-fry without cooking the aromatics low and slow and then cooking the proteins high and fast than one can bypass the idea generation stage, the arrangement  stage, or, much later, the seemingly tedious, but entirely necessary rewriting stage (yes, rewriting is the heart of sound writing—I’ll repeatedly harp on this topic.)

When the writing process is followed, there is no writer’s block. Rather, there is an abundance of usable materials. Students of mine who have embraced this necessary rigor have gone on to have their work published. Some of my students even earn (part of) their income via writing. Contrariwise, students of mine who have insisted on skipping parts of the writing process have wound up frustrated and have produced only unpublishable work.

Speaking of which, interested writers can contact me for private (or group) tutorials. I teach across genres and I teach the elements of literature. I am a well-published writer, an editor for several journals, a former professor, and a nominee for multiple Pushcart and PEN awards. Working with me is empowering but demanding. My availability depends on my publishing schedule.

Leslie Effron is a graduate of the Converse College Low-Residency MFA program. She served as the poetry editor for Salisbury University’s literary magazine, The Scarab from 2011-2013, and her poems have appeared in the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. She also gained her Certification of Interior Design from The Interior Design Institute, San Francisco, California in 2015. Originally from Maryland, Leslie found her love for the south and currently lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee where she enjoys pursuing her passion for both writing and interior design, exploring the trails of the nearby mountains, and spending time with friends and family.

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