An Interview with Trish Hopkinson conducted by C. Derick Varn
Do you find that you conceive of your works in terms of coherent collections or
mostly as discreet poems?
I’d like to say they are coherent collections, but they are almost always discreet poems, sometimes a few or a short series with a theme. I truly am waiting for the next “project” to strike me, because I’d love one, but projects or collections for me are sort of like nicknames… you don’t give yourself a nickname, it has to represent itself or be assigned to you.
Reading through your collection Footnotes, I couldn’t help but speculate if you found your poetic conceit and then found other work to from which launch your poems for the collection or if you mostly completed the poems before you found the concept of the collection?
Footnote happened all by itself without me planning anything. I’ve always enjoyed writing found poetry and response poetry–I think from the sheer appreciation I have for other writing, art, and music. I teach a community workshop every year with the Utah Humanities Book Festival and as I was preparing the first workshop on response poetry, I realized I had not just some, but many response poems. It was then the concept for Footnote came into existence. I’m super grateful to Lithic Press for not only publishing it, but for their incredible layout and cover design. They were so generous to work with. I hope to publish with them again in the future.
You do a lot of work promoting other poets in around Salt Lake City, Provo, and other places around the valley. What prompted you to do this work beyond a love for poetry?
Poetry simply does not get enough attention. It’s there anytime someone needs it, but the general public often doesn’t recognize how frequently they read, enjoy, or come across poetry. It’s important Utahn’s know they are amidst living, practicing poets. We have so much to contribute in personal experience, unique voice, and in common sorrow as well as pleasure. There’s nothing like a good metaphor to help one feel understood and less alone.
What poem in Footnotes was inspired by something you really didn’t expect and what surprised you about the process?
“Strange Verses” was a complete surprise. It’s a found/remixed poem from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I originally embarked on writing the poem for a specific themed submission call from Nonbinary Review and applied an OULIPO poetry technique called “snowball.” I found words in the text and then sorted them by the count of letters in each word and then listed them from shortest word to longest word to form poems. I found the poems were much more interesting in reverse order–from longest word to shortest word. I then found that by putting four of them in columns next to each other, something new and unexpected took form. Essentially, the poem can be read any which way, from left to right, from right to left, diagonally, zigzagged, etc. The result was much more than I ever expected from what should be a simple form concept. Those OULIPO folks were definitely on to some amazing writing practices!
In a recent reading, I heard you read from work that seemed more intimate and personal in origin about the recovery of your son. Has writing about something more immediately traumatic been more difficult to write about?
Absolutely. I know a poem is good when I’m exhausted after writing the first draft. The poems about my son’s near-death accident certainly were all like that. It took me a couple of years to even begin writing them. Revisiting the trauma of those events was devastating, but worth the investment, since the outcome was his recovery, I also relived that relief and celebration of the person he is today. Even now, when I read those poems at a reading and my family attends, it brings us closer together, tears and all.
What poets have you been reading lately that you feel are not read enough and what attracts you to them?
I’d say anything and everything that Lithic Press publishes. Their editors have a very keen eye and while I’m honored to be among them, I can’t walk into their shop without marveling and purchasing several copies. Specifically, do not miss Sam Roxas-Chua, Neeli Cherkovski, Kierstin Bridger, Jennifer Rane Hancock, and one of my very favorites Adam Houle. Danny Rosen knows what he likes and selects incredible work and publishes beautiful books. Shout out to his designer, who is also a fine poet and musician, Kyle Harvey.
What work do you think brings you the most joy right now?
The work that brings me the most joy at the moment is supporting the poetry community. As the Literary Arts program coordinator for the Utah Arts Festival this year every waking moment outside my day job was consumed with making this year the very best for literary arts. Now that it’s over, I’m very much enjoying spending time on my poetry blog. Writing will come soon… I have an idea for a poem about the young owl that visits my yard kicking around in my head… I will likely write that poem soon.