Interview With Jennifer Rane Hancock

Picture of Jennifer Rane HancockAuthor: Jennifer Rane Hancock

First can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do for fun? What experiences are the most memorable to you? How do you like to spend your weekends?

I’m a university professor, so during the school year I spend weekends grading and reading. But I love to cook, and in the summer I hike and hunt edible mushrooms when they’re in season. When I travel to big cities (NYC for Spring Break this year!) it’s all about food and contemporary art.

Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

Tremendously. When I started I was in love with sound, form, language. Those things haven’t changed, but I now feel more drawn to writing poems as a way of puzzling through the obsessions of my own life. I think usually it goes the other way—people begin writing for themselves, and end up thinking more about communicating with their readers. I’m becoming more lyric, less narrative, more cryptic, more personal.

What poets do you continually go back to?

Keats. Wallace Stevens. Adrienne Rich. Mark Doty. Dorothy Barresi. Elizabeth Bishop.

I noticed that you lead a monthly poetry group at the Mesa County Public Library. What inspired you to become involved with the poetry group? Could you explain a bit more about what the monthly poetry group is and what your involvement means?

I was asked to take over the group when a colleague retired. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of my life right now, to be honest. The people who are part of the group come together for two hours once a month to just enjoy poetry and learn and write. It’s supportive, but we challenge each other. They’re just wonderful people. It feels like playing hooky from school lol. We have a theme or poet for each month—older more canonical poets, or brand new ones that no one has heard of. Or we focus on a craft element (like metaphor or line breaks). Finding your poetry people in any community is necessary.

What part of the writing process do you enjoy most: writing, revising or sharing of a poem?

I think my favorite part of the process is the initial feeling out of the space. It’s like walking on ground you’re unsure of, watching where you place your foot. Not unlike hiking in the woods looking for mushrooms. It’s discovery. Of course, if you’ve done your job, the sharing of the finished poem should be a similar experience, for the reader. So that’s wonderful too, of course. My least favorite part is the point in revision at which you might realize that poem isn’t ready to be written yet. Wrong path.

You have a book, Between Hurricanes, published from Lithic Press earlier this year. What inspired the title of the book?

Many of the poems in the collection have hurricanes or other impending disasters at their core. The apocalypse. Alien invasion. World War III. I’m fascinated by our fascination with the fear of disasters, less than the disaster itself. We thrive on it, are addicted to that adrenaline rush. When in reality, the true disasters—the loss of someone you love, a failed marriage—happen in the space between.

Can you remember exactly what sparked the fire for this collection?

The poems are actually from a fairly broad span of time (about 15 years) in terms of when they were written. But the spark is the Bob Dylan song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”… the narrator simply showing up at your door and saying “You must leave NOW”. Things are changing. Your life will never be the same. You’re changing. I was listening to it over and over again one weekend and it clarified to me what these poems are about.

What are the worst and best parts of having your book published?

The worst is seeing a poem you aren’t really in love with in print. The best has been, in my case, working with a small, independent publisher who is personally invested in making a beautiful book, an art object out of poems. Danny Rosen and Kyle Harvey make gorgeous books, out of love. Seeing my poems transform in that way has been an astonishing gift.

How many times did you revise this collection before you decided that it was done?

Oh my god! Too many, according to Danny! I completely re-ordered it like a week before they were intending to send it to the printer. But I’m so happy with the order now.

Did anything unexpected happen from having Between Hurricanes published?

I guess I just never expected the support from friends and family who don’t read poetry. They actually read the book, and commented, and asked questions. I’ve lived for so long in a fairly narrow world of academia and people who self-select as lovers of poetry. I felt odd for that, from the time I was in high school. But to have friends I haven’t spoken with in 25 years, in Australia, find me because they saw my book, read it, and tell me what moved them in the poems, has been another amazing gift.

Where do you see yourself and your work in 5 years? 

I hope to have another collection out. I’m applying to be a Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference this year, and I have no idea what opportunities that will bring if it happens. But regardless, I’ll have found new poets to love, new ways of expressing the inexpressible.

 

Jennifer Rane Hancock earned her MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, and her PhD in Creative Writing from Oklahoma State University. Her poems have appeared in journals including Spoon River Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, Antioch Review,and Puerto del Sol. Her first collection, Between Hurricanes, was published by Lithic Press in 2015. She is Assistant Professor of  English at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she lives with her husband, fiction writer TJ Gerlach, and their two cats.