December 25–31, 2017
Shara Hardeson is a queer poet, copy editor and book reviewer based in Queens. Her writing appears in Newtown Literary, the Horn Book and elsewhere. She holds an MA as well as an MFA in children’s literature from Simmons College, and is a member of the Sweet Action poetry collective. Hardeson is the winner of the 2017 Yawp Poem of the Year award from Brooklyn Poets for the poem below.
Dear Rabbit [excerpt]
The number of days that you’ve been gone
suddenly outnumbers my fingers and toes—
how else will I keep track? I started out showering
and getting the mail but the fire left me swiftly.
Certain symptoms of hibernation are rarely shown,
’cause they’re appalling. You’ll find me under layers
of sweater fuzz, Dorito dust, and resume paper.
Dull aches, cold sweats, and the soporific effects
of too much wine—the many products of remembering.
Here it is not difficult to dream, only difficult to get back,
should a bear find something better to dream about.
Foreseeably, each unhappy thought will be medicated—
I watched more cartoons today than I care to admit.
I didn’t trust the sky long enough to look away.
I didn’t know how to write about home. I suppose, most days,
I need but don’t do, and for that I hope you can forgive me.
The last time we spoke you were running for president
of the song. That day deserves more than others. I know
the states in alphabetical order because we drove them once.
The official countdown was one year left of you.
Painkillers, health insurance, fluffy snowflake blankets,
my squeezable dinosaur, and nearly ten thousand miles traveled
just to see you do what you do. We shared more worries
than there were minutes in the day. There was blight and drought
and sickness in the honeybees; I asked them to please stop
dying. Call them back from sleep. Call them back
from the dead. Call them back. I wish the dead would just
pick up their phones. I want cellular memory to override
the constant fading. You were an exquisite corpse and I,
a sunflower there—we didn’t go together, and yet
we kind of did. You’re all over my art. You’ve got some form of flair,
and I just walked past my own reflection. How could I?
You’d say, Pop open a bottle of yourself, I’ll wait. So I did.
A friend should be in a Frisbee, and then fling it.
Last night I dreamed the moon was black and blue
as pitch sky against cold water. It hung lazily
in a white night sky just beyond my window,
which was situated preposterously on the opposite side
of the house. Dreams, you’d say, play backward sometimes,
like it was common knowledge. And I’d believe you.
Then we settled in, listening to the birds and thinking up words
for things that haven’t been invented yet. As always,
the last words you say hang in the rafters
like soft music. Broken wings have brought down
stronger birds. Sometimes I wish to be brung down.
Einstein’s own words on time and gravity couldn’t save me.
I went walking through the constellations. Can you list them?
Perfectly from my own skin on to time. From my rooftop I could see it—
a person, maybe. A face? Then again, maybe not. Maybe
I’m all alone. I should know better than to look for your attention.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This poem is a short selection from a longer poem called “Dear Rabbit,” which was an oddball project from the beginning. I studied children’s literature in graduate school. And one night I was having a discussion with a friend about how sad the Winnie-the-Pooh books actually are, particularly when you reread them as an adult. As a kid, you’re enchanted by the idea of a perpetual childhood. But as an adult, you’re really more aligned with Christopher Robin growing up and away from the Hundred Acre Wood. The act of growing up forces us to confront and abandon our illusions about the world, and that can be tremendously painful. After that conversation, I started to imagine this thirty-something bear—a little older, a little chubbier and a little sadder—writing letters to a friend who’d recently passed. What started out as an experimental art project quickly became something much more vital. I think it was a process I needed to go through in order to move on from something. I’m not sure what, exactly, but I knew I needed to grieve the loss of something. Childhood, perhaps. Or maybe I was grieving the loss of other selves that could have been. Whatever it was took the shape of a rabbit. And I was finally able to say goodbye.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve been experimenting with something I’ve taken to calling “mistranslation,” though there’s probably a more official word for this technique that I’m just not aware of. But basically, I’ve been scrolling through social media timelines and Twitter feeds—any place where there are many voices happening at once—and pulling scraps of language from there that resonate, which is a lot like textual collage. However, the words I end up collecting aren’t exactly what I read, but often what I misread, or what my mind jumped to in response to what I read. And this practice has generated some really strange pieces that all seem to share a similar eerie tone, as though I’m picking up radio transmissions with my retainer or something. I think it could be the beginnings of a chapbook.
What’s a good day for you?
For better or worse, I’m excessively introverted. A good day for me is one with ample solitude in a space that’s my own, where I can play and daydream and create, and listen to music, and research. Throw in some nourishing conversation with my wife or a few close friends, a good book, a good beer, some pets for my dog and a well-chosen snack, and I’m living the dream.
What brought you to New York?
I work in children’s publishing. And the children’s publishing scene in New York is the best there is. Also, my wife Rebekah always wanted to live here. It just made sense for us. We’ve lived in Queens for three years now.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I live in Rego Park, which is primarily a Jewish neighborhood, though I’m always struck by how many different kinds of people I encounter here on a daily basis. There are synagogues and mosques and Catholic schools. And I have neighbors who are Russian, Iranian, Southeast Asian, Peruvian and South African. The diversity is one of the things I like most about living in Queens. I’m surrounded by people who are different than me, who speak different languages, literally and figuratively. It’s beautiful. I’m originally from a small town in northern Indiana, and it’s almost shocking now to go back there to an endless sea of white, lower-middle-class Protestants.
How often do you come to Brooklyn? What neighborhoods do you go to? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I come to Brooklyn several times a month, for the Brooklyn Poets Yawp, for writing workshops with the Sweet Action poetry collective, and for the occasional writing class. This summer I took Poetry as Magic with Sampson Starkweather, and it actually generated the first poem I ever had published, which appears in Issue 11 of Newtown Literary.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community means a network of writers who are invested in one another. It means having a group of people to study, laugh, learn, play and celebrate with. Communities aren’t easy to find and they’re even trickier to build. Brooklyn Poets is an amazing thing. And it’s changed my writing life in countless and wonderful ways.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Jacqueline Woodson, for sure. She’s one of my heroes. And one of the greatest intersections of poetry and children’s literature.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I’ve always wanted a writing mentor, but I think that kind of relationship is rare. I suppose a lot of people find their mentors in their writing programs. I actually had a professor in college advise me NOT to apply to poetry MFA programs, because he didn’t think I had a future there. In his way, I think he was trying to help me. But it took the wind out of my sails for some time. Of course, I had a handful of other writing teachers over the years who were nothing but supportive, so I guess it’s been a mixed bag. I exchanged a few letters with the children’s poet JonArno Lawson after working with him at Simmons College. And the last section of “Dear Rabbit” actually references his book Black Stars in a White Night Sky. Also Mary Leader, who was my professor at Purdue University back in the early aughts, once told me the pages of my poetry journal were full of life. It was a small moment, but it meant something to me. It’s strange, the things you hang on to.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I’m finally reading Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s To the Place of Trumpets, and it’s superb. I think I’ve read “The Leaving” twenty times or more. I can’t stop thinking about these lines:
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Rebekah recently bought me the collected poems of Audre Lorde. I’ve read a lot of Lorde’s prose, but not nearly enough of her poetry. I’m looking forward to it.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
On any given day, I’m probably somewhere in the middle of six or seven books. What I’m reading depends on what my commute looks like and whether or not I’ve got time to sit down and commit to reading. I usually carry a few small poetry collections in my bag. I keep several audio books and eBooks available on my phone via OverDrive. And at home by my bed are the heftier novels and anthologies. I take copious notes, which I store in a notebook on Evernote. And I rarely plan what I’m going to read next. One book somehow leads into another. A lot of times, the book I’m reading will prompt me to research something that inevitably leads me to ten more books I want to check out. It’s an endless process.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’ve always wanted to attempt a crown of sonnets. In the early stages, I considered making “Dear Rabbit” a corona, but it took off in its own direction and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I’m a production editor at Penguin Random House, and my current work station has actually become my favorite writing spot (in off hours, of course). Late at night when no one’s around, I just sink in and lose time writing. My monitor is enormous and allows me to move freely between various open tabs. The place is quiet and cozy after dark, and I’m surrounded by art and books. I wrote “Dear Rabbit” and many other poems sitting at that desk.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
The upstairs event space at 61 Local, because it’s where I found my first writing community in New York.
Also BAM, Nitehawk Cinema and the fully restored Kings Theatre, because live performance spaces and art houses just weren’t a thing where I grew up. And now that I live near them, I take full advantage.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate my voice by sounding it,
And what I speak you can take or leave as you please.
For every word inside me as good lives in you.
Seems like a good place for a Mos Def quote. ’Cause “Brooklyn’s my habitat, the place where it happen at.”