Interview: Dane Hamann
Dane Hamann works as an editor for a textbook publisher in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, where he also serves as the poetry editor of TriQuarterly.
Sutra Press: Where did you grow up? Does environment and place play an essential role within your writing?
Dane Hamann: I grew up mainly in the Chicagoland area as well as in and around the Twin Cities. I spent some formative summers in Denver, but I feel the most at home in the Great Lakes region. I’ve been fortunate to grow up with opportunities to explore and become attuned with cities and neighborhoods as well as forest preserves and other wild places. Recently, I’ve been thinking about these environments and mapping them through my writing (and to a lesser extent art). It’s really interesting to consider how we make space in our natural and built environments for not only our physical presence but also our cognitive presence.
SP: You’re the Poetry Editor for TriQuarterly. How has this influenced your work?
DH: It’s been such a privilege to serve as the poetry editor for TriQuarterly for the past several years. I’m forever indebted to the faculty advisor and director for asking me to submit a letter of interest after I had earned my MFA. Not only has my time at TriQuarterly been an influential learning experience, it has also kept me involved in a literary world that I’ve just begun to explore. Poetry was sort of a sudden thing for me. I started at a different MFA program, where I planned to focus on creative nonfiction. It sounds cliché but when I was asked to write my first poem in the introductory class for first-year MFA students, everything just clicked. After the semester was over, I left that program (which I loved, incidentally), moved back to Illinois for a job at a publishing company, spent a few months polishing the few poems I had written, and applied to Northwestern’s program for poetry. I credit my professors and fellow students at Northwestern for expanding my reading list, but the diversity of voices, styles, and experiences I’m exposed to at TriQuarterly is incredibly vast. We receive so much great work, and each submission provides insight into the craft of writing poetry. I think editing for TriQuarterly has really helped my own work grow and mature. I believe that there’s tremendous value in editing, or at least reading submissions, for a literary magazine for every writer, regardless of experience or level of writing success.
SP: What inspired you to write this chapbook, Q&A?
DH: This chapbook evolved from an idea I had during my graduate school days. I don’t remember what exactly inspired it, but I planned on writing a chapbook of faux-interviews with a bunch of my most beloved poetry collections. That version of the chapbook was going to include centos that used individual words, rather than full or partial lines, from these collections to explore my interpretation of the poems within or their influence on me. The three centos in the current Q&A are the most realized pieces of that project. It takes me a long time to finish a project, so it sat while I picked up other ideas and continued to write. By the time I was ready to return to the project, I had many other poems that seemed to be offshoots of the questions that I was asking in those three centos. A dialogue had developed in the intervening years that I wasn’t even aware of until I sat down and went through my files of drafts. That was a lovely feeling of discovery (and relief that those years of work were proving valuable).
SP: What inspired you to use the dichotomous theme of questions-and-answers?
DH: I think one of the wonderful things about poetry is that a reader can carefully consider a poem word-by-word to come to an interpretation of the poem or they can simply let their brain run wild as they read. When I read poetry outside of editing for TriQuarterly, I tend to let my brain run wild. Often, this plays out in a question-and-answer format about specific words, images, stanzas, or whole poems. For me, this is a way to really dig into the examination of a work as well as my own understanding of it. At some point during this wild thought process, even the questions and answers turn into poetry. When I learned to pull back a little and apply that same question-and-answer format to my own work, my writing felt elemental and natural. I think this may be common in the writing and editing process for many poets, but it intrigued me so much that for this project I stayed there and developed poems around it.
SP: The imagery of water flows throughout Q&A. Why is this? Does water hold a certain significance for you?
DH: I’ve only recently recognized the significance and use of water imagery in my work. I’ve always been enamored with flowing water and now I see that one of the reasons for this is because the movement of water shapes both the natural and built environment. To live in the Great Lakes region is to see this writ large. This is the environment in which I’ve lived, worked, and explored for most of my life now, so it’s proven to be foundational to my writing. Of course, there’s also obvious poetry in the tumble of streams and waterfalls as well as in the expanse and depth of oceans.
SP: Can you tell us about your writing process? Do you practice any personal or creative rituals?
DH: I prefer to write in the morning or during the day, whenever there’s daylight. Of course, that schedule doesn’t always work out, so I mostly try to write whenever I can or when I have the mental energy after editing technical textbooks during the workday. The only ritual that I practice consistently is to have at least one book of poetry sitting with me at my desk while I write. If I get stuck or slow down as I’m writing, I’ll take a break to read from the book until I’m ready again to write. Sometimes all it takes is half of a line and I’m immediately back at the keyboard; sometimes it’ll be a couple days later and I’ve read half of the book before I’m ready to begin again. I also keep a flat, almost perfectly circular basalt stone from Lake Superior nearby on my desk to hold from time to time, but that’s not strictly designated to the writing process.
SP:: Was there a religious or spiritual background to your life? How has this transformed? How has it influenced your writing?
DH: For most of my adult life, I’ve been trying to find joy and meaning in simple human things. Like eating a ripe pear or the feeling of passing from sunlight into tree shade while out on a run. I think maybe there’s something spiritual in that. My family attended church somewhat casually when I was growing up, but I never really felt comfortable with that form of worship. My search for a connection with a sense of the divine takes the form of engagement with and contemplation of the natural world. Because I write about both the natural and built environments, I think a lot of my poems are attempts at reconciling the reality that much of space in which I live is a confluence of these two environments.
SP: What’s your golden thread?
DH: Art, especially the literary and visual, sutures me together.
SP: What’s your labyrinth?
DH: Well, since I said that I’m trying to map my natural and built environments, I suppose that would be a fairly literal answer. But I think time is also a labyrinth for me, one that I’m constantly trying to navigate.
SP: What are you working on now?
DH: I’ve been invigorated by reading the poetry from a lot of talented writers who are working with sonnets at the moment, like Terrance Hayes and Katie Ford. At this point in my writing, I’ve found that a fixed form or poetic style provides enough structure to help me get something down on the page. So, I’m working on some sonnets right now—a collection tentatively called Thinclad—that are maps of the places where the mind goes when the body is under great physical exertion, like when running a race or training for one. In many ways, these sonnets are a continuation of the exploration of the space for our physical and cognitive presence in the natural and built environments that shaped Q&A.