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1. What’s your favorite thing you have written?
This is a difficult question. I don’t generally think of anything I write in this way, or necessarily have a “favorite.” I’m hyper-analytical, so by the time a new poem has been through the necessary cycle of revision, I don’t have much use for it for a long while. Much later, I might re-read a poem and recall the original joyous spark, and the later resolution. I do find satisfaction in that re-discovery. But a favorite? I have no idea. I suppose in the future, when I’ve written even more poems and look back, I might discover a favorite. But I’m still early enough in my writing life, that I hope my favorite remains, at present, unwritten. Put another way: I’m a parent who loves all his children, and hopes to have many more.
2. What’s your favorite thing that someone else has written?
My answer to this changes over time. I guess I’m a bit of a serial monogamous when it comes to favorites by other writers. I will fall in love with one poem for awhile, and then discover (or re-discover) another that I’m completely enchanted by. My choice seems to evolve based on what’s going on in my life and what I’m struggling with in my own writing at the time. As examples, Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish,” Mark Doty’s “Charlie Howard’s Descent,” Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition,” and “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa have all been personal favorite poems. Currently, I’m very much enthralled with B.H. Fairchild’s “Beauty.”
3. What are you working on writing now?
After finishing my first book, I felt depleted poetically, and for several months found it difficult to write. The book is quite autobiographical, and centers around heavy, deeply personal topics. Recently, I heard the poet Kwame Dawes say that most first books are “books of identity,” introducing a poet to the world, and thus establish (perhaps, pigeonhole) them as “that” poet — “that” being whatever personal characteristic seems to pervade their initial work. I found this concept somewhat disturbing, given the themes I explore in my first book. I realized I wanted to write against that particular grain, at least, tonally, and I’m currently using less autobiography, experimenting with persona and more poems of place. But I don’t know where this will lead. I may find myself back, steeping in the same themes from a different perspective. If so, that will be okay. I respect that each poem knows better than I do what it ultimately wants to become.
4. What would you like people to know about being an Indie author?
I started writing poetry only a few years ago, and “Any Dumb Animal” is being published the year I turn 50. I’m getting a late start at this. So, what I would say to people is this: if writing is something you’ve longed to do but never made time for, it’s not too late. “Don’t,” as the saying goes, “die with your song still inside you.” The world needs your stories. Also, people should know it helps to have an understanding spouse. Writing is a jealous lover.
5. What does the writing process look like for you?
I have a regular practice of free-writing, almost every day, even if only five or six lines. I also keep an ever growing stack of books close at hand, and love reading new work by others. This inspires me, and I often hear first lines for my own new poems in my head after reading someone else’s work, in a type of oblique call and response. When this happens, I whip out my phone and jot down those lines. When I’m walking around in the world, my brain is also continually chattering lines into my conscious mind, then trying to daisy-chain them together. Most of them are boring. But occasionally, a gift arrives and again, I pull out the phone and use the voice-to-text feature to capture it. Same goes with images. When I decide it’s time to truly sit down and write, I often start with lines or images from my phone, copying them into my journal, and then writing whatever comes. Once something interesting takes shape, I run to my laptop and try to get what seemed engaging from my notebook into the computer. Then I put it away and typically come back in a few days to try to figure out what the poem is trying to say. What is this about? That’s my first step in revision. Days or weeks or months later, I begin the process of re-writing the poem, often again many times, preserving older versions, as I try to get the right words, as they say, in the best order. It’s usually at this point, if I still have interest in the poem, that I’ll send it to a trusted friend to get their reaction. Then I put the poem away again, so I can regain perspective before returning to “finish” it, usually days or weeks later.
6. Do you have a blog and what content do you post?
I don’t currently blog, per se, but do maintain a website (www.aehines.net) and a significant social media presence. I generally share poems and poets I have become enamored with, as I come across them, and short reviews of new books I admire. I love pointing out the magic in someone else’s language, and sharing particular lines that move me. There’s a dynamic literary conversation going on online among readers and other writers, and it’s inspiring to be a part of that dialogue.
7. Where do you get inspiration?
I swing between romantic fascination with nature and our environment, to the exploration of human relationships through the faulty lens of memory and one’s personal history. My long-time friend and mentor, the poet Andrea Hollander, once observed that thematically, I seem to draw from two distinct wells: one, the intimate and deeply personal — topics that walk up to (or over) that line of self-revelation what makes one uncomfortable; and two, more universal topics often stemming from current events that spark both compassion and outrage in equal measure. The resulting poems often differ completely from what triggered them, but that’s how most of my poems find initial form. Like many others, I found myself writing a lot more so-called “political” poems between 2016 and 2020 because I woke every day in slight terror of what our government would be doing and who would be on the receiving end of that doing. Meanwhile, the environmental catastrophe unfolds at a faster clip every year. The pandemic descended. Queer people are still battling every day for their basic dignity, particularly Trans and BIPOC queer youth. It’s an embarrassment of sad riches to work with these topics as a writer. I do think this is one of the reasons I’m trying to write more love poems lately. And attempt more sonnets. One craves light to balance the dark. But, I also read a quote from Sarah Manguso recently that said: “The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.” I printed this and posted it above my writing desk. It’s an ambitious job description, and this also inspires me.
8. What about writing do you enjoy the most?
I get a dopamine rush when I see a particular image and my brain tries to translate that little bit of the world into words. I enjoy then walking through my day letting my attention move across one or two insistent lines sparked by that image. It’s like an obsessive compulsion, the need to play with words, and it thrills to later put them down on paper. This process, if one can call it a process, and the surprise of discovery — that moment when the poem reveals why, in fact, you are writing it — provides a consistent source of joy.
9. What is the most challenging part of writing for you?
Revision. I know writers who describe revision as their favorite part of writing. I am convinced their work is much better for this. I try to love it, revision. But I still find it work. And anxiety provoking: Did I write past the true ending? Miss a final turn that would have set this piece apart? Have I revised the original “spark” right out of the poem, leaving what might be well executed verse, now devoid of heart? No doubt, in revision is where the art of poetry lies. This anxiety may be a necessary part of the process, but so different for me than the initial joy of drafting. Revision is an exercise steeped in doubt. In his poem “At the Grave of Robert Lowell,” Henri Cole says: “I rewrite / to be read, though feel shame acknowledging it.” I can’t state it more clearly than this.
10. How have you grown as a writer?
In some regards, the answer to this question leaps form the prior answer in which I bemoaned the process of revision. For years, my poems lived mostly in my head, and along the way, I developed the bad habit of believing I had to know what the poem wanted to say before I started writing it. My mentor and teacher Andrea Hollander often said that a poet “should not sit down to write a poem, just sit down and write.” Dorianne Laux recently told me: “If you know what you want to say, that’s an essay, not a poem.” I can see now that my prior need “to know” before writing comes from a place of avoidance. It served as a useful procrastination for avoiding the uncertain act of writing. Something clicked in me and I’ve now come to respect in a way that approaches what one might call faith, that I should come to the page without any expectation. Faith that whatever comes, will in fact come, and that the images and lines I’ve stored up will be called upon to serve at just the right time. The impact of this shift in my thinking is hard to articulate. But one of the lovely side-effects has been that I struggle less with revision. It’s still hard work. But by letting the poem reveal its initial draft with less of my insistence on knowing in advance its likely end, there are many more opportunities to explore in future revisions. I find I can bring more of that playful, not-knowing spirit into the revision process when I haven’t first muscled the poem into what I think it should say. Ironically, my better poems, almost never ended up where I initially thought they would anyway, so what a waste of time and energy, all that procrastination. Is that growth? Well, it’s helping me generate a lot more new work lately. But in many ways, I remain a complete novice, stubborn, still learning and re-learning lessons teachers have offered me for years.