Elizabeth Hazen: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Elizabeth Hazen
April 04, 2016
Why Chaos Theories? What is the significance of the title?
Many tenets from chaos theory appear in these poems. After reading a little bit about it, I became obsessed with the way in which chaos is actually a type of order. This contradiction continues to fascinate me and seems an apt metaphor for human emotions and relationships, and maybe even a metaphor for the writing process – or at least my process: through my poems I attempt to force order onto the disorder of the world. Plus I love all of the scientific language: strange attractors, bifurcations, butterfly effect, turbulence, dynamic systems, sensitivity to initial conditions, and on and on… There is so much gorgeous language to mine.
Did you study science in school?
I had a lot of hands-on experience with science as a kid. My father, a geophysicist, taught us how to play pool using Newton’s laws of motion and basic trigonometry. When other kids my age were sipping lemonade at the beach during summer vacation, I was kneeling in quarries, splitting open slabs of shale in search of trilobites. As I grew older, I think I took all of that early exposure for granted. The one real science course I took in college had the nickname “Physics for Poets” because it was kind of watered down. These days I spend a lot of time playing catch-up. Luckily my father is very helpful when I need him to parse a complex scientific idea. Some of the poems actually began with passages from his books.
Speaking of your father, family members appear in a lot of your poems. And you seem to write a lot about your past. Would you say your poems are confessional?
I don’t really think of them that way, but I guess they do have confessional qualities. I draw heavily from my own experience. I try to be honest about my insecurities and fears, my bad habits and questionable choices. I definitely allow myself to be vulnerable in my poems in ways I am not in real life. At the same time, the people who appear in my poems are often amalgams and the narratives are approximations rather than exact accounts. My goal is always to get at emotional truth.
Emotional truth, huh? What exactly do you mean?
I just mean the authenticity of the emotion is much more important than the accuracy of details. Whether a shirt was red or blue, whether someone’s breath smelled like whiskey or vodka, whether I took benzos or painkillers, whether I actually used mouthwash when I came home or wore control-top pantyhose – those minutiae are fluid and might be altered for something as technical as meter.
So are you nervous about all of this intimate content being public when the book comes out?
Absolutely. I’m worried an ex-boyfriend will recognize parts of himself, or think he does, in one of the poems and make assumptions. I’m worried that my students will see the poem about me reading my father’s “Playboy” magazine and won’t be able to look me in the eye again. The list goes on. But these are the risks of publication.
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