Q&A: Poet Hannah Stephenson

By Columbus Alive
From the May 3, 2012 edition

A patron of inspiration, poet Hannah Stephenson began writing one poem per weekday on her blog The Storialist in 2008. The poems were responses to posts made on the street fashion blog The Sartorialist.

“For the first year I was writing poems about his images and thinking everything about the people — where are they going, where were they before, who are they with,” Stephenson said. “It was so interesting to obsess over that.”

Today her blog’s poetry is inspired by a variety of sources, such as images she finds online or random treasures she finds at places like the Greater Columbus Antique Mall, where we took her photo.

Her nurturing nature has led her to many roles in the Columbus creative writing scene. Stephenson teaches at two local colleges, hosts the monthly literary series Paging Columbus at the OSU Urban Arts Space, and will speak about the surprisingly complicated craft of creativity-building at this weekend’s Writers Conference at Columbus State.

“There’s a joke that if you’re a famous poet, one person has heard of you,” Stephenson said, laughing. “It’s true.”

We talked to her about why words continue to happily consume her world and why she wants it no other way.

I’ve been writing since I was 14 or 15. A lot of my poems were just about writing, how writing helped me see the world. And embarrassing love poems.

I always say start a blog, change your life. It’s a joke, but it’s true. It’s one of the best ways to generate a ton of material if you do it regularly. A lot of my poems I don’t like. Blogging helps your voice strengthen and forces you to rely on yourself in terms of inspiration. Force yourself to write something bad sometimes. Impose a schedule that’s somewhat realistic. It helps you feed that part of yourself. Creativity is a muscle. It will die if you don’t make use of it.

I love public transportation. I’ve lifted almost whole poems from people’s voices. The weirdest was this guy who was yelling at his friend. He was explaining philosophy or something and he was like, “Listen, you’re not the observer, you’re the observed, OK?” And then he was just silent. Like, that was it. That was the end of the argument. I loved it. I copied it down and used it in a poem.

My favorite poem is Robert Creeley’s poem called “The Language.” It’s a really simple but beautiful poem that talks about there being holes in speech and speech being a mouth. I love that idea, that speech is just another mouth. The words communicate something, but there’s something beneath the words, too.

People react all different kinds of ways when I tell them I’m a poet. I told a lady at the grocery store. She said, “Well what do you do?” I said, “I’m a writer.” And she said, “What do you write?” I said, “Poetry.” She said, “Oh, congratulations!”

One poem is a small thing you can have with you and a small thing you can return to. It’s communication in such an intimate way. It’s about something very real and sincere. Poetry can teach us how to handle things.