My Interview With Poet, Heather Hughes

Picking up from where we left off, here's part two:

[Me] The following is one of my favorite quotes: “Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ~Chuck Close. As an artist & writer myself, I’m pretty divided about what he says. On the one hand, I see his valid emphasis on our need for a disciplined, creative practice. One that doesn’t strip the magic of art, but rather debunks the notion that it spontaneously springs from thin air and is, upon leaving the artist’s hands, some perfect, finished thing. *But, I don’t necessarily agree with discrediting an artist’s proactive search for inspiration. –That is, making yourself susceptible to inspiration by being open and bringing a willingness and curiosity with you into the world. I’m sure you’re no stranger to this divide: Work verses Inspiration? –What is your perspective on the matter?

[Heather] I think it's good to be suspicious of these sort of big, sweeping statements. But, I also think they have value, on a surface level, and then you start to be skeptical … you start to think about, you know, “what's going on here?” For my own practice, for my own writing, I don't know that I make as big a distinction as he's making between work and inspiration. For me, they're much more closely related – when I work it's very easy to be inspired. And I think as a poet it boils down, at least for me, to observation – and the quality of observation. And so a lot of both my work and my inspiration, is really about the kind of attention I'm bringing to the world; having that attention in the world then makes it really easy to feel inspired (especially) when I'm trying to figure out: “What I'm going to write today?”

[Me] Absolutely! This reminds of when we had poet Adam Clay come as a part of NHIA’s Visiting Writers program. He talked mostly about his new book, Stanger but he also mentioned that he had been doing April’s 30 for 30, poetry challenge (which I tried and failed… though I did conjure a remedy). He said, when doing the challenge, he woke every day in the mindset of: okay what is today's poem? And I often relate poetry to meditation, and to contemplation ... putting those ingredients back into the equation, or recipe, I get: “what is today's contemplative moment, what is today's meditation?”

[Heather] Yeah I like this yoking of meditation and poetry. I have thought, more because of my background, about the way you prep for meditation (through yoga) and how that relates to poetry ... that these things all have a natural crossover ... Wait, so what's the remedy for the 30 for 30 ... how do you fix that challenge when it's not holding up?

[Me] Yes, I'm glad you asked! My remedy for April's 30 for 30 (if you fail it) is something I call, "My May Make-up" – which, because May is 31 days, means that you actually write a poem more than April's challenge and through this, can more than reach atonement!

[Me] I’ve heard it said that all advice is autobiographical: Meaning, of course, that advice we give others is the same we wish someone would’ve given to us. With that in mind … Is there any advice you’d give a younger Heather, back when deciding whether to, and by what means you would pursue higher education … in the field that you chose?

[Heather] My school path was sort of strange, so there's definitely a moment, way back in the dim mists of time, when maybe I would have said to pre-undergrad Heather, “do not be derailed form the thing you really love” – which I allowed to happen to me;
I did not stick to what was really meaningful for me, at that moment in time.

You know, now it's sort of like: “well, what is that alternate universe Heather doing? – I have no idea, I can only know what this universe Heather is doing. And so despite having a lot of roads that led me out of my writing life, in my early teens and my twenties, I would not have changed anything, given the circumstances I ended up with. I wouldn't have changed how I did grad school, which I think is not for everyone, cause some people already know what they want, early on. But for many writers, those “to grad school or, not to grad school”, and then “where to grad school & how to grad school” decisions they're really large and they make a big difference.

I did not have the financial means to go from undergrad into grad school. I went straight into working life. –Because I work for a university, though, I had the flexibility to “nerd around” and take a lot of classes at a very, very, very, –ridiculously– cheap rate and so I ended up doing a lot of different graduate degrees, because that was a thing that I had the freedom to indulge in. When I eventually did get to the point of: “Well, okay I think I'm going to do this crazy MFA deal, that's a thing that people seem to do…” I went through a low residency program. I went to Lesley University for my MFA. Given the parameters that this-universe Heather had to work with, I'm really glad that I didn't go to a full-time MFA program. And, I'm really really, really, glad that I went where I landed – the program at Lesley was really the right place, not just because the interdisciplinary stuff that we already talked about, but especially because (and I'm biased) of the poetry! The faculty is like kind of unreal – amazing poets and you get a lot of one-on-one attention from them. I was quite, quite fortunate, so I wouldn’t actually undo the things and give the advice that I maybe would have been tempted to give my past self … because I think I ended up where I wanted to be. If I absolutely have to give advice,: you can still end up where you want to be, you just have to trust in yourself –which I'm still learning.

[Me] What a great answer! I ask this because I get a lot of eye-rolling when telling people, especially older generations, that I’m studying art and writing … A lot of: “but how will you make money?” or, “Are there actual jobs in those fields?” I think this gleams light on some potent misconceptions regarding the relevance of art in our society – the existence of which, can be very discouraging for any young, aspiring poets (or any type of artist, for that matter)?

[Heather] What is the answer to like, “are you going to make money writing poetry?”…

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