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An Interview with Hannah Calkin

Hannah Calkin, a recent graduate of the Creative Writing Program here at UMF and author of the book of poems, Pomegranate Odyssey, was selected for a brief interview this past weekend. She has been published several times on The River as well as in the River’s print counterpart, The Sandy River Review. It was my pleasure to get a chance to speak with her, even if it was virtually, over the weekends

Hannah Binder: How would you describe your experience within the Creative Writing program here at UMF? Why did you choose it in the first place?

Hannah Calkin: For me, the Creative Writing program at UMF was an overwhelmingly positive experience all across the board. It wasn’t simply writing, It was a leap into understanding literature and evaluating how your work and your classmates’ work functioned as art. I found myself eager to be challenged and to work hard, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the professors. They really do go above and beyond to get strong work out of you. Back when I was looking for colleges, I was primarily interested in pursuing a theater degree, but writing had been a passion of mine since I learned to read and it was always in the back of my mind while I was auditioning for BFA Acting programs in Boston and New York. When I visited UMF, I completely fell in love with the campus and creative environment, but sitting in an observing an actual class sealed the deal for me. Although intimidating at first, the workshop setting turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the program and essential to the writing experience. I couldn’t be happier that I chose this path.

H.B.: What was your inspiration behind writing Pomegranate Odyssey?

H.C.: The easiest part of writing it was figuring out the general theme, which was constructing contemporary poems inspired by classic fairy tales and mythology. These topics have been a source of awe and interest for me since I was a child and could barely write a sentence. It was exhilarating to form this idea, because I felt like I was tapping back into my “roots” as a writer. Simply put, I was inspired by what I loved and what I truly wanted to write, I never had a hard time with an initial concept, but adding more depth to it created plenty of bumps and struggles along the way. I was writing about fairy tales and mythology, so what? How did I make it unique to my own voice? When I started writing more and more poems, the theme of the feminine archetype emerged, so I just rolled with it. Luckily, it turned out to be compatible with my original idea, and they fit quite harmoniously with each other in the end.

H.B.: Have you always considered yourself a poet? If not, when did you make the transition?

H.C.: Definitely not. Here’s a story that I’m actually quite embarrassed about. During my first semester at UMF, I took an Introduction to Creative Writing class along with all the other first-year majors where we got a chance to explore poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and screenwriting. My weakest piece was by far my poem. I still remember what it was about, and I even remember some individual lines. I most certainly remember the reaction during workshop, and I agree 100% with all the critical feedback. Because of this little necessary blunder, I didn’t muster up the courage to take an actual poetry class until a year and a half later, but I sure am glad I did.

H.B.: When and how did you know that you wanted to be a poet?

H.C.: It was during the spring semester of my junior year. By that point, I had gone through quite a bit of trial and error in terms of finding my voice. I learned pretty quickly that I wasn’t a fiction writer, even though that’s what I thought I was going to be when I first entered the program at UMF. I realized I couldn’t say all I wanted to say with just one poem. In the Advanced Poetry class I was taking, we read quite a few poetry books, and it honestly opened up a whole new way of reading poetry for me. I loved the idea of weaving a narrative and including a “story-telling” voice to the poems. I felt like I was getting close to finding my voice, and I wanted to try something new, which began my almost year-long journey of writing Pomegranate Odyssey.

H.B.: Do you have any mentors or role models that have helped you that you would like to recognize, in or outside of UMF?

H.C.: Every professor I had at UMF was unique and talented in his or her own way and I learned so much from all of them. That being said, I’d like to give a special shout-out and express my utmost gratitude to Shana Youngdahl, Jeff Thomson, and Daniel Gunn.

H.B.: What are some of the obstacles you have overcome to publish your book?

H.C.: First and foremost, I had to complete the book. That took quite a bit of time between conceptualizing, writing, editing, compiling, and making a publishing “plan.” There were many times that I just wanted to be “finished” with it, but I knew that more work needed to be done in order for it to have the best luck out in the publishing world. Even now, I know there are still plenty of necessary revisions to make before it gets published.

H.B.: How has your experience been with your publisher?

H.C.: Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Just under two months ago, I heard back with a positive response from Unsolicited Press (check out their website), a small press located in Portland, Oregon. It’s not due to release until August of 2019, but the editors have already given me a schedule and a list of tasks I should do to promote the book. They really care about the success of their authors. As a first-time author, I’d highly suggest that other new and emerging authors do their research on publishers. Check out their past books and visit their social media pages. Make sure they’re going to be as passionate about your book as you are. I am fortunate to have been accepted by a press like this, and I am so excited to continue working with them in the next year.



The River

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