Behind the Scenes at Bookery Manchester with Hope Jordan
Hope Jordan may not be a name readily on your tongue, but there is something in Manchester which wouldn’t be the same were it not for Hope: Poetry. Perhaps you have been, perhaps you have only heard, and perhaps you haven’t heard of it (but will be eager to check out once you see Hope in person); Hope was instrumental to the creation of Slam Free or Die, New Hampshire's nationally recognized Slam Poetry team. Hope has long been a bastion for written and vocal expression, even now as an MFA student and adjunct professor at UMass Boston. Among her many achievements, Hope recently released her first chapbook, The Day She Decided To Feed Crows. We wanted to talk to a champion of art in Manchester and bring you an exclusive interview before her visit to Bookery Manchester on August 15th.
Jared: What first started you on the road to poetry?
Hope: Partly, music. My dad was a huge Bob Dylan fan, so I probably picked up basic cadences from listening to Dylan albums when I was a baby. And every Christmas I’d get these anthologies of children’s literature, full of poems by Yeats and Millay and Rossetti, and I’d read them cover to cover. In middle school I went through an Edgar Allen Poe phase, like you do, and I memorized The Raven to recite in class. In high school I listened to a lot of very early Bruce Springsteen and the later Pink Floyd records, and I think the language in those songs had a big influence. And then as a freshman in college I discovered Theodore Roethke and Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich and that was that.
J: A common complaint I hear: Poetry is too abstract. It is inaccessible with its subjective nature. Poetry can often be a lot to unpack with its abstract/subjective nature. What is your response when people say they don’t like poetry?
H: I get that; it’s not for everyone. But I’d also say give it a chance. I’ve spent the last year teaching an intermediate seminar on poetry to UMass students who are mostly not English majors. They are from all different backgrounds, and my oldest student was in his 60s. So many of them find that by the end of the semester, they’re amazed by how many different types of poetry there are, and how much they enjoyed it. I like to teach poems by a wide range of writers and spoken word artists.
J: What is your favorite way to consume poetry, written/reading or listening to spoken word/slam?
H: It depends on the poet. Some of my favorite “page” poets are just not compelling readers. At the same time, I can feel the hair on my arms rise up when someone is doing an amazing job at performing a poem, but their words can fall flat on the page. I guess if I had to choose, I’d choose reading poems, because it’s like a well you can keep going back to and dipping into.
J: What other forms of writing do you enjoy pursuing?
H: I worked as a journalist for more than 12 years, so I feel very comfortable with nonfiction, although I’m struggling to master the essay form. And I’m actually majoring in fiction at UMass Boston. I’ve been writing poetry for much longer, but I have had some success with publishing fiction and I want to focus on getting better at that. I pretty much write in all genres all the time, which seems to be unusual, but I’ve tried for years to specialize in one or the other, and it just never seems to happen. At this point, I have had to make my peace with that.
J: How did it feel to be recognized by UMass Boston with the Academy of American Poets prize?
H: I was thrilled, especially since I’ve been writing poems for more than 20 years. It’s such a great feeling when someone connects with what you’ve written, so when a poetry editor or contest judge chooses one of your pieces, you feel “heard” in a way that’s hard to describe, but it makes you want to keep on writing.
J: What value does education play in your life?
H: I was one of those incredibly nerdy kids who couldn’t wait for school vacation to be over. I always liked learning, although I was socially awkward and not very popular. I never wanted to teach until about 10 years ago, and now it’s my favorite thing. Despite the high cost of education and its many problems, I still believe it has the power to lift people out of poverty and despair. It totally changed my life, and I couldn’t imagine being ok today without having gone to college.
J: Your chapbook talks about rural living, how is that contrasted with your having been a major force behind Slam Free or Die, an urban slam group?
H: I grew up in rural Central New York and, except for about seven years in cities, I have lived most of my adult life in rural central New Hampshire. Around here rural means the population is more than 90% white. I love being in the woods, but I don’t necessarily love being part of such a homogenous culture, which is why I started driving to Boston to see what slams were all about. The natural world plays a big part in my writing, but I’m also in love with the music and energy and urgency and beauty of the writing being done by people whose lives are very different from mine. I’m equally drawn to both, and I think that’s why my poem “Confluence” won the award at UMass, because it connects the local rural landscape with my newest neighbors, immigrants and refugees who are part of our global community.
J: What are your thoughts on SFOD twelve years after its inception?
H: I couldn’t be more proud of Mark and everyone else who has worked so hard all these years to make SFOD a vibrant scene. I wish I could make it there more often – their features are awesome. The last one I saw was Chen Chen, who is just crushing it on the national poetry scene these days. I think back to the 90s, when I used to drive to the Cantab in Cambridge to see the Boston Poetry Slam on Wednesday nights. And I really thought NH should have a slam of its own, and the fact that I got to be part of that is beyond rewarding. And then when poets actually THANK me for having helped create a space for them to perform here … it’s just too much.
Join us on Wednesday, August 15th for a poetry ready with Hope Jordan at Bookery Manchester 7-8pm