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Lauren Hunter’s first book of poetry, HUMAN ACHIEVEMENTS, was published last year by Birds LLC. Hunter is the managing editor for the experimental translation press Telephone, as well as the co-founder/curator of Electric Pumas, an occasional reading series/web presence interested in promoting multimedia art by women. She lives in Durham, North Carolina
1. Why did you start writing poetry? Why do you still?
I started writing short stories when I was in second grade. A couple years later I started experimenting with poetry, and by 6th grade I had pretty much given up fiction, mainly because I realized I could never keep my characters alive for a full story (oops). I love the music and movement of poetry, and I still find this the best way to express my ideas. Plus, mostly everyone lives through my poems so I feel like I’ll stick with it.
2. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve gotten? The worst?
I’m fond of the tried and true: read everything/read every day. It was kind of already my life’s model, and I do believe that everything I read, and everything I absorb serves to make me better at my job, which is connecting with others through words.
The worst is probably also one of my favorites: write every day/write everything. It sounds like a really good idea, but for me, trying to follow this advice just creates more pressure and anxiety and lots of useless notes on my phone/computer. I know when I’m ready to write, and it seems okay to wait for that to happen. I’m still jealous of super prolific writers, but I’m finally coming to terms with not being one of them.
3. How did your new book come into being??
I read a poem by Halina Poswiatowska online and in it, she argues that writing poetry is daring; a Human Achievement. I was at the time really obsessed with the phrase “I’m only human,” because I mean, look at what humans have accomplished, look at what we are capable of—I was offended by the notion that we’d use our humanity as a source for weakness or as an excuse; instead shouldn’t we strive to be better, to do more? I was troubled by the self-loathing, or really, self-pity in the phrase, and started writing these poems that took up that mantle, but instead called self-pity an Achievement. And failure, and disappointment and anger, you know, all our worst parts, our tougher moments: Achievements. Human Achievements.
4. Is there a generative prompt, practice or ritual that you find particularly helpful, or that you would recommend to students, friends, or other poets?
The project I’m currently working on is a sort of diary/therapeutic exercise in which I give myself daily tarot readings and then write small prose poems based on one or all of the cards I’ve drawn. The whole poem is loosely tied to this idea of discovering one’s “life’s purpose,” or asking the kind of big questions that lead to outlining the shape of your life. Though I don’t keep it up as a daily habit anymore, I still find the tarot a rich source of inspiration, whether drawing a card for yourself or others, or simply reading the explanation of each card’s meaning, or responding to the images themselves—I think lots of writers use these for prompts because there are a lot of different ways to engage with them.