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Monday, June 11, 2018

Clinched: A Talk with Poet Susan Hankla

Pictures show Susan Hankla, Clinch River, the logo for Groundhog Poetry Press,
and R. H. W. Dillard--poet, writer, stellar teacher, leader of the whistle pigs,
and founder of Groundhog Poetry Press.

I am feeling downright happy about the interview with poet Susan Hankla that went up online this week. Susan and I worked hard on it, and we have received a generous response from social media to the interview, including 40+ shares or re-links of my facebook post, along with promises to buy the book and even a promise from a well-known writer to review!

If you haven't heard my bell-ringing and clamoring on this so far, please hear it now and take a look at our discussion. At the bottom of what I think of as an unusually interesting and revelatory interview, you will find some poems from the book.

Thanks to those of you who take a peek. I've wished for Susan to have a full-length book for a very long time and am pleased to support and recommend her poetry collection, Clinch River, available from Groundhog Poetry Press via SPD, or Small Press Distribution.

* * *

Introduction to the interview with some facts about Susan Hankla:

My review of Susan Hankla’s Clinch River in the October 2017 issue of The Hollins Critic begins like this: “I doubt that any other reviewer of Susan Hankla’s first full-length book, Clinch River, has had the great good luck of seeing her, a young woman, dance playfully with an enormous rattlesnake skin. Such is my sparkling luck.” I have known Susan Hankla for decades; she is one of those attractive, special people who spill over with an abundance of life, and it is a great pleasure to question her about her first full-length poetry collection, its poems bound tightly to her growing-up years and to a coal-mining region in the Appalachian South. As I wrote in the close of my review, the poems “tangle coming-of-age stories with hard times in coal country. They juxtapose the girl who cannot leave, clinched by poverty’s snares, with the girl who goes away and can return for the treasure, the gold that lies buried in her childhood: these poems, these golden apples. Take them!”

Clinch River comes to the world from poet R. H. W. Dillard’s Groundhog Poetry Press, a new small press in Roanoke, Virginia. Richard Dillard serves as publisher, editor, designer, compositor warehouse manager, and shipping director for the new poetry press, which is already shipping out its second “suite” of handsomely-designed paperback books. Distribution is through SPD, which already lists Hankla’s book as “recommended” and a poetry bestseller. Having made “not a snobbish decision but a purely practical one,” Richard Dillard is accepting Groundhog poets by invitation only. A well-known and much-admired writer and professor in the undergraduate and M.F.A.program at Hollins, he has no trouble filling his roster of poets.

A Hollins graduate with an M.F.A. from Brown, Susan Hankla previously published a chapbook with Burning Deck Press of Providence. She has appeared in Gargoyle, Beloit Fiction Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, Blue Mesa, Artemis, Hollins Critic, Open Places, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest and New Virginia Review. A resident of Richmond, Virginia, she has received a Virginia Commission grant in fiction and fellowships to the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Frost Place.

Now read the interview and poems!
Thank you to editor Jean Holzinger....


  1. This is more of a dialogue than an interview, but then you acknowledge this in the title. The trick is one we face in fiction: getting reported-speech narrative out of the mouth and mind of the narrator and converting it into speech or (preferably) action emanating from the narrator's playthings. Which leads to the desirability or otherwise of the narrator as a first-person singular pronoun; given what I know about your upbringing I would have seen this as a justifiable option. But there is no right or wrong in this, only differences of style.

    Given what you know about me you won't be a bit surprised to learn that as a magazine editor I favoured the I-option. There were, after all, occasions when I knew as much about a subject as the interviewee; strangely a knowledgeable questioner can be something of a comfort to a well-informed but inarticulate questionee. Not that Susan needed any help of this sort.

    Sorry, I've wandered. Here's something concrete. It may have been Susan's choice but the double line-spaces in the poem worried me, sort of fragmented things. Since the lines are predominantly short there's a risk of the rhythm becoming unglued. Mind you there are horses for courses; I became so hypnotised with the structure of the Shakespearean sonnet (previously single spaced throughout) that I introduced line spaces between my quatrains and before the final couplet. But then who am I to pontificate? I haven't read Paterson's book yet. In poetry I'm ultimately malleable.

  2. Yes, it's definitely "a talk." That's really because I know Susan from my young womanhood--we even lived together one long-ago summer when I was 21, and a people tend to feel comfortable after a thing like that, even decades later.

    I think the poetry spacing was the work of the web designer. That sort of thing happens all the time... But I've already bothered them over changing-up of the pictures, etc., so I haven't want to ask for a thing more. I just got a poetry journal today where they took my longer lines and broke them and put the left over bits flush with the left margin. If I'd been able to proof, I certainly would not have approved that.

    Spaces for the little boxes of quatrains and couplet seem perfectly fine to me. Either way works! One little room or tiny boxes.

  3. I'm just catching up on my blog-reading, social media taggings, etc., after several weeks of work, work, work, and I have to say: this is a terrific, engaging interview. We don't see enough of these sorts of dialogues where the interview actually knows something about the interviewee and cares to get real answers.

    1. Thanks for that, Jeff. I wanted to do it because I felt so much that had already been written about Susan and the book missed the mark to some degree, and I think the interview is rich and revelatory.

      I'm actually feeling pleased that it seems to have gotten so much attention, particularly on facebook. But I realize how much I can do for someone else, whereas I have some kind of mental barrier against doing it for my own books!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.