Tell us about the most recent poetry reading you gave.

Last weekend I read for a series in Nashville called the Et. Al. reading series. The series has been happening for a while, but last weekend’s was the first to take place in the Sauvage arts space, run by my sister Lydia Gamble and her friend Ashley Boyd Jones. Both are talented photographers. Ashley collects and sells very good clothes (including a nice supply of vegan fur coats) and Lydia does a variety of fine visual art, including woodprints and some glass pieces. The reading felt extra-special to me because my mom, one of my brothers, and both of my sisters were there. The poems I read were some of my most personal and revealing I’ve ever written, I think, so it was really good to have my family there.

Of course, my mom really doesn’t want to hear about my sexual experiences with women and maybe anyone who loves me would be a little bit stung by a story of how some man in a dance club in France kept smacking my butt with the huge erection making an almost literal tent from under his dark green plastic poncho. But my family has always supported me very enthusiastically (this is most impressive in the case of my mom, who is the most conservative of us—apart from my Donald-Trump-supporting-Grandfather). Before that particular reading my mom said that my poems were very hard for a mother to hear. During the reading I quoted her, and said that I thought it was good for me to see the sting of my own life’s experiences reflected in the pained look of a person who cares about me, because without this, I forget that it’s okay to be hurt by things and I slip into the bad habit of talking about everything as if it’s no big deal—making jokes, adopting an inappropriately breezily tone that some part of me expects to be admired for it’s toughness/ ability to transcend.

What’s so bad about downplaying the tragedy of this or that thing? I sort of enjoy art that understates…

I guess if it was always perfectly clear that I was just downplaying the importance/ painfulness/ unjustness of my own experiences than people would say, “Well, she seems kind of cracked in the head, but I guess she has a right to asses her own life as pleases her.” But no—I’m not even sure that that’s true. I think it’s very likely that if I, via the way I make art about it, treat my life experiences as not worth anyone’s dismay or rectifying actions, then people might think that I judge their own (similar to my own) life experiences as not being worth anyone’s dismay etc. And of course, I’m in no way suggesting that I want my art to only be a manifestation of my dismay, or other people’s very valid dismay, but I am trying to grow out of my unhealthy tendency to deny that anything hurt me ever.

Do you find that the things you try to “grow out of” poetically mirror things that you are trying to grow out of in other aspects of your life?

Definitely. Closely related to my project of trying to never be hurt was my project of trying to never need anything from other people. My ideal self, since my preteens, has been resilient and autonomous. And “above” things. But lately I’ve been trying to more overtly need people. I’m doing this because they seem to need me to need them, and I need them to be happy and at peace so I can be happy and at peace. And it does feel good when I extend my hand and something gets placed in that hand. It makes me feel like the world is a hospitable place and that I shouldn’t worry so much.

What kind of things do you worry about?

I worry about wasting a variety of things: food (the greens are yellowing!!), time (you sat there and fret about not having a job instead of writing emails to inquire about jobs!), my body (which looks and feels nice, so what do I do if no one is looking at it or touching it?), my talents (you were capable of doing 45 things but you only really tried about 9!)……

Hm. I always thought you seemed pretty carefree.

Well. I try to be pleasant, easygoing company more often than not.

Even though you’re trying to be more open about what hurts you (in many cases personal/ social/ political horrors)?

Yes. Without something initially pleasant, no one will stick around long enough to hear the horrible thing I have to tell them.

Hannah Gamble at Poetry Foundation
@Hannah_Gamble on Twitter

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HANNAH GAMBLE is the author of Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast (Fence Books, 2012), selected by Bernadette Mayer for the 2011 National Poetry Series. She has performed her work at the Pitchfork music festival, the Chicago Art Institute, The Chicago MCA, and as part of the Clark Street Bridge arts series in association with FCB Global. Gamble's poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, POETRY, The Believer, jubilat, and Pleiades, and she has written for the Poetry Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, and the culture magazine Fanzine. In 2014, Gamble was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She lives in Chicago.

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