Who exactly are the Girls Like Us you refer to in the title of your collection? Are you suggesting that men shouldn’t read your work?

Originally the title was “Girls Like You” which is a phrase I’ve heard many times over the years, both as compliment and critique. Either way, it was such a reductive statement, often derogatory: “Girls like you can’t be trusted” or “Girls like you aren’t worth my time.” The idea that I – or any of us – is just a type bothers me. I like to believe that my pain and suffering are unique! But then I started thinking that there is comfort in knowing I am not alone in my experience. #Metoo brought a lot of old hurts to the surface and helped me recognize the power of community. That there are many women with similar difficulties, who have faced similar challenges and internalized society’s misogyny in similarly self-destructive ways is actually a good thing. Instead of feeling shame over being a “girl like me” I wanted to take ownership of myself – the good and the bad. And I wanted to commiserate with other women rather than compete with or shame them.

I definitely want men to read my work! I hope that some of these poems might provide perspective that will help men to take into account and understand the undercurrents of misogyny that have run through our culture for decades.

  

Just decades?

Okay, good point. Since the beginning of time.

 

Your first collection, CHAOS THEORIES, dealt with issues of childhood, your parents, being a mother as well as issues around relationships, sex and love. Do you imagine you’re working through something with these poems, or with the progression of poems? 

I sure hope so! I think the process of writing forces me to confront the things that make me uncomfortable. It can be painful and messy, but often leads me to a deeper understanding or new perspective. There is also the illusion of control that the act of creating something provides; I certainly can’t change the past or guarantee the future, but I can do my best to stick to a certain meter or find compelling rhymes.

 

Do you ever imagine your ex-boyfriends and lovers reading these poems?

Of course. You don’t write about being called “low-hanging fruit” without thinking about the asshole who called you that. But I go back and forth between being worried one of these guys will try to contact me and be upset about what I’ve written and being hopeful that they might understand how hurtful they were. Maybe in reading about themselves they’d change and the next girlfriend or wife or lover or even friend would be treated with more decency.

 

And what about your kid? Or your parents? How do you feel about them reading your work?

I spent a lot of time being very anxious about this book coming out because I was worried about how my folks would react to some of the content, but they are very supportive, and they were already aware of many of my struggles, so it’s not like it was all a shock to them. And maybe they are able to compartmentalize or something. As for my son . . . he’s 13, and he’s not super into poetry, but I’m pretty open with him about my issues, and I actually think someday these poems might give him a little insight into why I am the way I am. It’s my students and my colleagues I worry about the most.

 

Why is that?

I teach seventh grade English at a prestigious private school. Some of my poems paint the narrator in a less-than-wholesome way. The poems are also incredibly intimate, exploring sexual abuse and alcoholism and all that fun stuff. I guess I worry that people will assume I am that narrator (which I am) and that I am not fit to be around their kids. But I have to write my truth or whatever it is they say. If I’m not taking risks, what’s the point?

 

You do seem to have a habit of risk-taking . . .

Is that even a question? Or are you just judging me?

 

Okay, never mind that. But teaching seventh grade? How did that happen?

Now that’s a question. I wonder about that myself. It certainly isn’t what I thought I would be doing with my life when I was in college or even grad school. But somehow it works. I love my students, I need the structure of a regular job, and I still get to talk about books and writing all day. And some days I even feel like I make a difference to some of my students, and that is a good feeling. Plus I get summers off to write.

 

How has Covid-19 changed your writing life?

I’m pretty introverted, so not as much has changed for me as for some folks. In fact, in some ways I’m around people more frequently, as my family are all at home now, too. I’ve never been very good at sitting at my desk for extended periods of time to write, and that continues to be true. I take a lot of long walks these days. And while I may not have written a ton since being quarantined, I have completed two 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. So there’s that . . .

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ELIZABETH HAZEN is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Poetry, American Literary Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, The Normal School, and other journals. Her first book, Chaos Theories, was published in 2016. Her second book, Girls Like Us, is out now. She lives in Baltimore.

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