10 Questions for Allison Hutchcraft
- By Abby MacGregor
To smooth a section of one’s hair
as if in an unsurfaced
—from “In the Other Window”, Fall 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 3)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
With my co-translator Juan Meneses, I first translated “Two Poems about Poverty,” from Concha García’s 2008 collection, Acontecimiento. (Later, this translation appeared in West Branch, which was thrilling.) As this poem opens the collection, it was especially important for us to capture García’s nuanced tone, which sets the stage for the poems that follow. I’m captivated by the way García distills the loneliness of the child in this poem, a loneliness that permeates both the landscape and her domestic life.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
There are so many poets, poems, and books that have influenced me! I feel a confluence of many teachers. Most recently, I’ve been inspired by Paisley Rekdal’s beautiful work, particularly her long poems that weave together the personal and the public. I tend also to read a lot of non-poetry works that spark ideas for poems, such as Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature about Alexander von Humboldt and Jonathan Lamb’s scholarly work on scurvy and other mind-body sicknesses at sea.
What did you want to be when you were young?
A novelist! Like many other shy but excitable children, I loved to fall into the worlds of novels, the more remote in time and place from my native California the better. In sixth grade, I took my stab at longer prose, making it some sixty pages in, complete with turn of the century anachronisms and full-length dresses à la the books I loved then. That was my first and only try. Now, the world of a poem provides more than enough possibilities and decisions for me!
What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
“In the Other Window” caught my attention immediately with its startling use of compression. I love how it begins with that intense command Say it, although what “it” is remains in the realm of mystery and the unsaid. I admire how the poem marries an intense disquiet, threatening to rupture, with the tasks of domesticity: smoothing one’s hair, cutting chicken on a plate. Although this poem is short, it is one of the more difficult translations that Juan and I tackled; so much happens in these short lines! “That Which Is Only Visible When the Wind Brings It” also has mystery and intensity that drew me to it. This poem swells and spills over with the voice of the poem, and I love how the unfolding descriptions, unrestricted by punctuation, put me directly inside its trance.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I often return to an imagined field in my mind, one that is dense with grasses, fertile in soil, and richly inhabited by animal life. This setting serves as both romantic trope (I’m mesmerized by a space so thriving, so free of human intervention) and its antidote: I know such green spaces and the animal lives that depend on them are imperiled by climate change and many of our collective choices. As such, the image both lulls and unnerves. As Whitman said, “Something startles me where I thought I was safest.”
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I generally need silence to work, as I’m easily distracted. That said, some sounds do calm and focus me, particularly wind through the tall willow oaks that surround our apartment, the whirr of cicadas in summer, crickets in fall, and steady rains.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I’m lucky to be part of a vibrant poetry group, and we meet semi-regularly throughout the year. Very often, they are the first to read my newest drafts. I also have a poetry kindred spirit with whom I exchange work by snail mail. I love to think of our poems crossing state lines the old-fashioned way, the rituals of stamps and envelopes.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Hands down: the cinema. I’ve long had a love affair with movies, and, if left unchecked, I have a dangerous tendency to want to fill up my time with them. I love to feel the ways cinematic devices—the wide panning shot, music and lighting, editing splices—create palpable moods and translate emotions through images. I like how films, much like poems, can slide and cut through time, mimicking experience and memory.
What are you working on currently?
I’m near completing a book-length collection of poems, which includes plenty of fields and seascapes, as well as some of the animals that live there.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently re-reading two fabulous books that I’m teaching this semester: Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things and Paisley Rekdal’s Imaginary Vessels. I so much admire these whip-smart and wise, beautiful collections, and the poets who wrote them. Also on the desk: Bonnie Costello’s The Plural of Us: Poetry and Community in Auden and Others, lent to me by a dear friend, and Adam Foulds’s novel The Quickening Maze about poet John Clare. To be fair: I actually haven’t broken into Foulds’s novel yet, but I daily hear it beckoning, and can’t wait for a quiet stretch to sit down with it.
ALLISON HUTCHCRAFT’S poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, the Cincinnati Review, Barrow Street, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and other journals. A recent fellowship recipient from the North Carolina Arts Council, she teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.