Good Afternoon!

Good Afternoon! Writing to you from Miami—I’m in my hotel lobby. There is a beautiful strange wood ceiling, incense burning, and cacti. And everyone is walking through in bathing suits.


Are you fitting in?

No, I’m still wrapped in my sweater because it’s winterish in NYC and I just got in. I’m in the corner in glasses. But I’m happy to be here!


How do you feel about the chance to answer the very questions you’d like to be asked?

I was reviewing books and writing critical essays as I was writing these poems. I knew I couldn’t take that mind to my work yet. I felt if I brought the mysteries to the surface too soon, I would never finish the book. The mystery drives me; if there is still something that evades me about a poem, even if I know it by heart, only then will it not be destroyed. So, it’s a new experience to now speak to my themes, obsessions, and allusions.


May I ask about your allusions? Some of these movies are not readily available, maybe played once at Film Forum years ago. Do you worry about your reader’s experience?

I certainly don’t expect my reader to have a working knowledge of every single motif or scene I bring into this book. My main task I felt was to find an emotional connection to the things that felt like mine. When I found them I just went with it.

I love end notes. I eat them up. But I left them out (they’d existed for Lady Be Good for years) when I realized I didn’t want to make my readers think that they were missing something. I’d rather the movies, songs, images work together as an experience of a certain psychology and aesthetic. I love books that put me to work. I just went with as obscure and emotionally-pulling a thing as possible and trusted my reader would trust me.


Are you willing to admit how little you know?

Yes, I know nothing. I am no film scholar. I am just obsessed with my 2016 brain and understanding of the world in comparison to my cavewoman foremothers’. They never knew what it was to watch a movie, to have before them the contained energy, sense of humor, fears, insecurity, power, ability practiced and improvised, beautiful faces of yore. These people are long dead and there they are big big big right before you. To Google someone’s life and see what of their legacy has been brought into the future for us. What “facts” have come through and lasted and then represent us, what relationship details, what broken hearts.


Will book two take as long to write as Lady Be Good?

Here’s hoping “no.” I feel in some ways a debut is your youth’s collected poems. It’s everything that lasted. I kept in one page I wrote when I was sixteen because no one would appreciate having her work published more than eager, teary me at sixteen.


Will you reveal which page that is?

The one where the lines are so long because I’m trying to take up a lot of room. It’s about Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley.


It sounds like when these obsessions first hit you you were far younger. How has this book grown?

At base, I was interested in giving sentience to the desired object and the dismissed object, the object that is a human in love, and how that feels. I became interested in different facets of that gaze and what that gaze does when turned inward.


Are you still constrained by those images?

No, anything-goes. Now that this book is done I’ll forgive my old beliefs, but I don’t think there are hard rules anymore for what I want my poems to do. The ripeness of the world is at our disposal.


How did you come to poetry?

Every book I remember being taught in middle school went like this: boy on mountain, boy near a creek, boy dropped out of plane, boy on island, boy all alone, but alive, boy with hatchet, boy with spear, boy fighting gangs, boy with his buddies making it through, boy with spit and fire, boy who kills a beast and makes a meal. Then I read Denise Duhamel’s KINKY—her Barbie poems. Life-changing. I was fourteen and that was it.


What about outside of school?

My brother and I were like Vaudeville siblings. I’d hand him a play I had to read for school and he’d do a cold read of every role. We grew up with lots of musicals, finding heroes in old actors, old artists. A more important education required solitude, though. I had a notebook organized by page with themes. With any book I’d read, I’d transcribe the lines that informed those different themes. After I finished one, I’d read it then put it away—all in secrecy.


Are you loyal to notebooks? Loyal to longhand?

No, I feel I’m most honest, most myself typing with no editing. I came of age with AOL Instant messenger, instant messaging middle school loves, honing my ability to speak directly and with speed, hitting enter immediately, soon as the last letter is set. It’s written, sure, but it’s not in the same way I would write you a letter, or an essay. I wouldn’t consider that kind of speech coming from my written brain, it’s something else. Socrates would struggle with that one, wouldn’t he? With the phrase and phenomenon of instant-message?


You mean his argument for speech over writing in Plato’s Phaedrus?

Yeah. In that what’s written can’t speak back, or answer questions at precisely the moment they’re being asked.


Will you reveal a secret about the book?

Any colon signifies an anagram. The line that follows the colon is an anagram of the line that precedes it.


Are you going to make it to the beach or pool today?

Sure, if I can hide under an umbrella with my books.


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LAUREN HILGER is the author of Lady Be Good (CCM, 2016). Awarded the Nadya Aisenberg Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony, where she was a fellow in 2012 and 2014, her work has been chosen for Harvard Review Online's Poetry Pick and has appeared in Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, and Massachusetts Review, among other journals. She serves as a poetry editor for No Tokens.

One response to “Lauren Hilger: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. […] (including, some while ago, this reviewer). The self-interviews are quirky and surprising: see poet Lauren Hilger and fiction writers Thalia Field and Tim Jones-Yelvington. On Otherppl’s separate site, Listi […]

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