We sat down with our authors so that we could share a little bit about how they connect to the chapbooks they’ve written for us, and to their writing in general. Here’s our interview with Hanan Hazime about her upcoming chapbook, Aorta.
When did you start writing?
I emerged from my mother’s womb with a fancy quill in my hand and have been writing ever since! That would have been quite a miracle, wouldn’t it? To be honest, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t writing or at least creating some form of art. As a child I loved telling outrageous stories and playing pretend. I would dream up all sorts of fantastical narratives and then I would collect makeshift costumes using items in my family’s closets, assign characters to my little brother and younger cousins and make everyone act out my stories. It was lots of fun! So, I was creating stories from a very young but I only really started writing poetry in high school. Up until then poetry was just something that Dead British Men wrote with strange rhymes and iambic pentameter. Margaret Atwood’s “The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart” was the first contemporary free verse poem I ever read and I was just completely blown away by it. That was a defining moment for me because it was the first time I thought “wow, I want to write poetry too.”
What inspired you to write Aorta?
As an English undergrad, I studied bpNichol’s Selected Organs which is a collection of fragmented autobiographical pieces concentrating on different parts of the body, and I was absolutely fascinated by it. At the same time, I was also double majoring in biology and all these great scientific terms and concepts kept popping up in my textbooks. To keep myself entertained during boring lectures, I would often scribble some free verse in the margins about cyanobacteria or drosophila or whatever it was that the professor was droning on about. So, drawing inspiration from bpNichol’s work and from my science courses, I thought it would be fun to explore various parts of the human anatomy through the lens of poetry. I’m planning to go through the whole human body. My next collection will most likely be about the human brain, but I’m also interested in exploring inconspicuous body parts like the clavicle or the spleen.
Who have been your biggest inspirations, as a writer?
Ahh! This question is so difficult to answer. I’m an avid reader and I love literature so my list of inspirational authors is quite long. If we are limiting it to poets, then I’d say one of my biggest inspirations is Sylvia Plath. I’ve also been heavily influenced by the works of Nizar Qabbani, Khalil Gibran, Keats, Yeats, Wordsworth, Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, E.E Cummings, Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Adrienne Rich, Robert Kroetsch, Mohja Kahf… the list is endless, really.
Is there a writing project that you’re planning on tackling next?
Yes! I am working on a young adult novel. The novel will explore the physical reality as well as the psychological conflictions and introspections of a young Lebanese-Canadian Muslimah as she struggles to discover her authentic self amidst the restrictive cultural and societal barriers and labels imposed upon her. The novel will shed light on the intersectionality of mental illness: how it affects and is affected by race, gender, culture, sexuality, and religion. The novel will also delve into issues of identity; such as what does it mean to be Canadian? How can a first-generation Arab-Canadian embrace a Western lifestyle without compromising her Eastern roots and cultural traditions? How can a Canadian with a hyphenated identity decolonize herself and fight institutionalized oppression while still enjoying a “normal” teenaged life?
Is there something you’re trying to accomplish, as a writer?
In “The Defense of Poesy”, the Elizabethan poet Philip Sidney argues that the aim of poetry is to teach, delight, and move. I agree wholeheartedly with that, and I am hoping that my writing will be entertaining and engaging, but I’m also hoping that it will push people to think critically and look at things from a different perspective. I don’t necessarily want my writing to be didactic but I do want readers to come away from my work with lots to think about. I believe that literature has the power to change the world, and if my writing can inspire someone to be a bit more loving or more understanding of their fellow humans then I’ve accomplished a great deal.
How would you describe your writing process?
Chaotic. Fun. Mad. Full of passion, tears, anxiety, swearing, jammed keyboards, broken pens, doodles in notebooks, 4:00am breakdowns, and tea. Lots of tea that is forgotten, and then must be reheated. Only to be forgotten again.
What’s your favourite thing about your own writing?
I love how it blurs genres, breaks rules, experiments with form and style, and isn’t afraid to slash through binaries.
Where do you situate yourself as an author and with your work?
I would like to simply be known as Canadian writer but I think that CanLit tends to lump racialized writers into an “Other” or “Exotic” category. We aren’t seen as being purely Canadian but as a hyphenated identity. Yes, it’s true that I am Lebanese-Canadian and Muslim-Canadian but that shouldn’t mean that my writing belongs on a shelf that is separate from mainstream Canadian literature.
In Aorta, you focus a lot on breaking the heart out of its cliché and forced imagery. How did you approach this?
Throughout my time in school, I avoided clichés like they were the plague. I was so afraid of writing something that wasn’t 100% original. Then, one day I came across the theory of intertextuality and my fear of clichés vanished into thin air (and see, that is a cliché right there). Basically, the theory is that all texts are on some level intertextual and every story tells a story that has already been told. The key then wasn’t in what story you told but in how you told that story. Humans have been writing about the heart for centuries and all those clichéd images about heartbreak and falling in love are there for a reason. It’s because essentially whether you’re a writing about a broken heart in the 17th century or in the 21st century, whether you’re male or female or nonbinary, that feeling of heart ache is exactly the same. So, what I tried to do was imagine new ways to describe those feelings of pleasure and pain.
How does the heart find its way into your poetry?
Wordsworth claims that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. I would certainly say that is very true for me. While the process of writing poetry can at times be a conceptual or intellectual exercise, it is usually deeply embedded in the emotional realm. Is it cliché to say that when I’m writing poetry I’m writing from the heart? Most of my poetry starts out as a steam of consciousness— an outpour of feelings on to the page. The heart as a figurative representation of emotion is usually present in all my poems. In “aorta” I bring the heart to the forefront and explicitly explore its various meanings and manifestations.
In Aorta, you turn an anatomical heart diagram into poetry. How did this come about?
The motto of the Bachelor’s of Arts and Science program I was a part of during undergrad was a quote by Da Vinci that said:“Study the science of art. Study the art of science”. And we did just that. Often people would ask me what are you studying and I’d say English and Biology, and they would look taken aback and then say something along the lines of “what are you going to do with that” or “wow, those programs are so unrelated.” I’m not entirely sure why but it really weirded people out that I was equally engaged in both the arts and the sciences. Having that interdisciplinary education though really helped me to see art in the most unexpected places. That poem literally came about because I was looking at an anatomical heart diagram and I thought what if instead of these anatomical labels the heart was labelled with metaphorical phrases. Linguistically, it was fun to play around with the words. Language is arbitrary and there’s no reason why ligamentum arteriosum can’t be reimagined as ligamentum adventuresome – unless of course you’re writing an anatomy exam.
That’s all for this interview; thanks for reading! If you want to read more about Hanan and Aorta, check out our chapbooks page! If you’re interested in attending one of our upcoming launch events, check out our facebook page for more info!