We're honored to feature new poetry by alyssa hanna in in Issue Two of Orson's Review. Issue Two of Orson's Review will be released on March 19th, 2019.
We're also very fortunate for the time alyssa took to sit down and chat with us about her journey as a poet.
*The following interview involves Orson's Publishing (OP) and alyssa hanna (AH).
OP: How did your journey with the written word begin?
AH: i think i fell in love with writing when i was in third grade. i went to this tiny little school and my class had 12 kids in it. our teacher took advantage of this and gave us all of the special attention she possibly could, and designed us each an end of year project. each of us were given goals throughout the year, the theme being detective work, and to achieve the rank of "ace detective" we had to do this big project. it was quite genius, as we all made the rank of ace detective due to her catering to each of our strengths, but she made it feel so natural and not at all like we were just handed an A so no one would be left out. my project was to write a story and illustrate it. at the time i was disappointed that she didn't give me a singing thing, but the minute i started writing that story, i didn't stop. i wrote that story, which, of course, was very cliche and short and clearly engineered by a 9 year old, but it was apparently impressive for my age. so every spare moment that i had i constantly wrote. the margins of all of my school books were littered with story graphs, illustrations of characters, maps of fantasy realms, runes for a new language. in eighth grade i moved towards poetry and joined an online forum in which i was constantly roasted for being an emo child, but i took every critique and used it to make me a stronger writer. i grew a thick skin in terms of my art, i learned how to separate myself from my poems, that just because my poems were being roasted didn't necessarily mean they were roasting my feelings.
OP: Is being a poet your primary occupation?
AH: that would be what the kids call "living the dream" i think! no, i go to rich people's houses and service their aquariums. before that i was a manager at petco, before that i worked at a daycare and at the bronx zoo, and my first real job was assistant manager at petsmart. the only things i've ever been paid to do are take care of kids and take care of animals.
OP: What about these poems are you most proud?
AH: i think what makes these two poems strong is the specificity of the images, yet not so specific as to alienate an audience. mentioning "phoebe and piper and prue" in "danielle" is very specific, but it's a pop culture image that almost everyone can identify as the sisters from the hit tv show "charmed". i think i'm also proud of "danielle" because i was able to write it without crying and was able to separate myself enough to write something decent, haha. although if my sister does end up reading this i have a feeling there will be a message in my DMs. i guess that's one of the scary things about confessional poetry.
OP: Tell us about your writing process. Do you approach all pieces of writing in the same way?
AH: my process is very... strange. generally i just get words or phrases in my head, most often while i'm driving to some rich person's house or if my PTSD gets triggered or any other extremely inconvenient time, then i write them down. at the end of the day, i type that line out and then i try to run away with it. however, when working on my (unpublished) collection, wild psalms, a collection of ecological poetry, i did a LOT of research, taking a billion and a half notes from wikipedia and then deciding which species to write from the perspective of. but the phrases popping into my head still sort of stands. i then go to sleep, wake up in the morning, go to work, and then i reread it while i'm waiting for my boss to finish his smoke break. i figure out what needs to be tweaked, and once i think all the parts that need to catch are catching, i just throw it out into the void and submit it. lately i have peers i can ask for an opinion, but in the time between i graduated college and became active on Poetry Twitter i didn't have that luxury.
i can't say i approach all pieces of writing in the same way since every piece is different. i think i get bored very easily though, so i churn out pieces pretty quickly once the allure of a shiny new one wears off. usually within a week or so.
OP: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that impacted your writing?
AH: oh lord, i wanted to be everything. i wanted to be all of the following at one point or at the same point: a veterinarian, a broadway singer, a linguist, an egyptologist, a zookeeper, a herpetologist, the next steve irwin, a big name poetry editor, an english teacher, a history teacher, a poet that would Make Poetry Great Again and make people care about it again... there's more but i can't quite remember. i do a lot of animal poems and metaphors, specifically reptile ones, and i do make a lot of religious and historical references in my pieces as well, so i guess all of that studying as a kid comes out in my work.
OP: Tell us about the biggest sacrifice you’ve made while pursuing writing.
AH: honestly i just suffer for my art due to the fact that i have three different mental illnesses and sometimes writing exacerbates the negative feelings associated with them. (and yes, three. i'm so hashtag blessed!)
OP: How many books do you read in a year?
AH: not enough. it's embarrassing how little i read and i am doing my best to change that!
OP: Do you attend poetry readings? If so, tell us about the best one you’ve ever attended -- what made it so good?
AH: i did in college because they were part of my class, and now i host them at my house! but i think the two best ones were when we had saeed jones and then, on a separate occasion, roger reeves, come read at my college as a part of a series. jones is so funny, personable, and approachable, and his poems had such a beautifully quiet speaker, but the poems were so loud and piercing. and reeves, oh my god, i was holding back tears when he read the title poem from his collection "king me". as a white passing person, i have never, and will never, experience the disgusting racism black people have to deal with day in and day out. i already knew that, but something about reeves' pieces really broke me. he gave us the story about how he was running a track and a white man followed him for miles, just shouting the N word at him. what stunned me most was that every black person in attendance merely nodded, and it was able to open up a much needed dialogue about race, privilege, and the literary scene. as a side note, saeed jones has a few AMAZING pieces in his collection "when the only light is fire" about the same subject and i urge you all to purchase both jones' and reeves' collections and support writers of color.
OP: What do you want most out of your literary community?
AH: honestly, i wish there was less white supremacy, less elitism, and more transparency. one of the things that i love about the poetry community, though, is that even though there is some competition, everyone is generally supportive. when i lost a manuscript competition, yes, i was disappointed, but i was so excited, and still am, to see the collection that won. and it seems that most of those who weren't a finalist or a winner were excited as well, because if you aren't the best poet out there, it means the art is alive and well, and there is always something to strive for.
OP: Do you believe that an MFA is crucial to success as a writer today?
AH: it really can go either way. it certainly helps in terms of careers and connections, but i know plenty of people who have MFAs that are not the best at writing and people who don't that could be the next sylvia plath. requiring an MFA, if they are going to remain as expensive as they are, just ensures that those without the same financial resources don't have access to the opportunities that an MFA affords.
OP: What do you cross your fingers for as a writer?
AH: i have been a finalist, i have been shortlisted, i have been a pushcart nominee, but i have never been a winner. i want to win, even if it's just once. but each time i get an acceptance to a magazine, i do a little dance and get myself something especially tasty to eat. but i think my biggest goals are to have more than one full length collection published with a press that sells in barnes and noble and for a stranger to get my poetry tattooed on them. yeah, reach for the stars, right?
OP: Where do you see your journey with the written word going?
AH: i could be in a coma and my hand would still be searching for a pen. i don't know what my life holds, but the one certainty i have is that i will be writing until i am dead. if it could extend beyond just appearing in magazines and move on to being nationally recognized, i would die happy.
alyssa hanna graduated from Purchase College in May 2016 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in History. Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in Reed Magazine, The Naugatuck River Review, Barren Magazine, Rust + Moth, BARNHOUSE, Pidgeonholes, and others. She was also nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize and was a finalist in the 2017 James Wright Poetry Competition. alyssa is an aquarium technician in Westchester and lives with her fish and special needs lizards. follow her @alyssawaking on twitter, instagram, ko-fi, and patreon.
Be sure to check out alyssa’s latest poetry in Issue Two of Orson’s Review.