soft surface: Your residency work reflects on determinations of value, productivity, process, capitalism, and creative hierarchies. You used temporal elements as a guide toward continued generation throughout the residency. Do you feel the work was successful? Why or why not?
catie hannigan: In many ways, I do think my project was successful. I intended to create work that, for the most part, didn’t possess momentum for anything other than existing, as opposed to, being sold or exhibited for money, career advancement, etc.
On the other hand, by simply existing, some of those other outcomes were unavoidable. I still featured it on a digital residency. It is still work I intend to upload to my website, to archive. It may have led to follows on social media. Which mostly speaks to the idea that as an artist, the outcome and reception of your work is unpredictable and sometimes out of your control.
I could have made the same work and showed no one and then put it in a drawer. I suppose I met that idea half way there. But for myself, I still felt like I was challenging my own innate ideas and impulses of how to value my work, what to do with it, etc. and so that feels successful to me.
SS: We've seen a lot of questions arise around these same themes—productivity, "essential" work, transactional value—since COVID-19 surfaced. Has your relationship to your residency work changed as these issues have become more intensely spotlit?
CH: I wouldn’t say my relationship to the residency work in particular has changed but my relationship to my work in general has changed in light of Covid-19 and its many fall outs. My own ability to “produce” creatively has almost stalled, and certainly slowed down. I move through my creativity like an observer, like a passenger on a ship. I am floating through the water, and I ache for the island before me, but I’m being moved in a completely different direction.
Though, all of this is happening at the beginning of my saturn return as well as my father’s dying process. So, I think all combined, I am being asked to truly slow down, truly halt, and honestly, I don’t even know if I could have done this residency work during this period in my life, I think it would be asking for too much.
Now though, I look at it with admiration— in some sense, I may have been preparing myself for this moment, by exploring these themes of productivity and value when I was still able to explore. Now, I am living them.
SS: What questions did the work answer for you, and what questions remain?
CH: I started to ask myself if I could still make work for the sake of making work and I was able to do that. craft book is arguably one of the more beautiful books I have made, and a lot of people said “you could sell that!” — so it was an exciting moment for me to keep it for myself. I have another artist book that I completed during a residency here in Portland, and it is one of a kind and only for myself. I would really encourage artists to create work that is beautiful, meaningful, maybe even “sellable” and then keep it for yourself— it creates a kind of sparkling tension that supports your foundation as an artist.
Some questions that remain:
can I actually leave the grid of social media and internet and continue to grow my practice as a (freelance) artist and writer? what else can I do to separate my need for money from my need to make art? what are the boundaries that I still need to place around my art? how can I be kinder to myself, my art, and my process?
SS: How do you navigate ethical decisions in your writing? Do you view your work as political?
This question poses ideas that I have thought about for a long time. I definitely have some strict, personal guidelines around creating work, for better or for worse, that mostly focus on language. I aim to not appropriate language of other cultures and communities, to not use slur or derogatory language, to not appropriate experiences that are not my own— these seem obvious but it still happens all the time, especially with white writers. I try to publish or exhibit with organizations that are actively supporting marginalized artists and writers in many ways— for instance, not having an entirely white editorial board, publishing diverse writers and artists, grants or payment for work, etc.— and locally, choosing to do readings that are not all white and that are otherwise supportive of accessibility.
CH: In some ways, these guidelines can hinder opportunities but then those are not opportunities I am interested in. I have struggled with my impulse to try to advance my work into larger circles or larger opportunities and my inherent love, admiration, and comfort in small press, local organizations, and more DIY/alternative creative structures that are doing the ethical work that is important to me.
I think if someone came across my poems or work, “political” would not be a word that comes to mind. I think poetry is political, historically has been used as a disruptive measure against political regimes or supremacy, and still is today. I am a white, queer, cis-gender woman who comes from a poor, rural, dysfunctional family background. I write about these parts of my identity, sometimes. Sometimes it feels important, sometimes it doesn’t.
I think my work, or perhaps what I try to do from within my work is to re-imagine the circumstance. I question it, and these questions lead to more questions. So what we end up with are associations, predictions, and feelings. I try to keep my imagination open, and for me, that feels critical, and for some, might be considered political.
SS: How did a digital residency help or hinder your process? Do you feel that the Internet and social media contribute or detract from to the well-being of poetry?
CH: Overall, the digital residency was a delight. It was comforting to create work in my home and document for the residency— it was an energetically stable line.
It’s interesting— with the internet and social media, we know that people are less likely to read text, and an “image” of text is less likely to show up in the algorithm. Like, every year when I do the “top 9” photos on instagram— it is always pictures of myself or my partner. It is never my work— even photos of my visual work! And definitely never photos of text poems.
So, I think some poets have really adapted to the internet form, creating work that is more visually inclined, or to feature text that is very reduced in content and form, so it can be quickly digested. This is fine. C.D. Wright says something sort of about this when she wrote that we can not liken the mess to the poem, otherwise its just a poem if I say it is. I go back and forth with this a lot. Yes, do I want to say that the flower in the field with the storm cloud is a poem, you bet. Is it a poem? I don’t think so. I have to believe that poems are both inherent and refined, both discoverable and conjured, both particular and interpretive, and sometimes the internet is reductive to this balance.
SS: What poets do you continually return to?
CH: Lorine Niedecker, Clarice Lispector, C.D. Wright, Gaston Bachelard, Hanif Abdurraqib, Robert Creeley, Chika Sagawa, Mary Ruefle, Etel Adnan
SS: Did you write poetry as a child? What is your first memory of poetry?
CH: Yes, I began writing poetry when I was 12 years old, and not long after formed the “Poetry Club” in 7th grade with the librarian—so you can imagine how middle school was for me lol. But to be honest, I am not sure how exactly I started, just that I did. I know that the first poet I loved was Sylvia Plath and she changed my life as a young adolescent— I felt seen by her work, and I think that’s why I started, because I never wanted to let that feeling go.
SS: What are you reading right now? What are you going to read next?
CH: Right now, I am reading four different books depending on my mood:
All of It Singing by Linda Gregg
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
A Fast Life by Tim Dlugos
Then, waiting on my shelf to read is:
3-4 recent issues of POETRY
Felon by Reginald Dwayne Betts
Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems by Jennifer S Cheng
SS: What's next for your poetry practice? How can soft surface readers follow your work?
CH: So, sort of circling back to the beginning of this interview— I’ve really slowed down in my practice, but wanting to start small. I currently have a stack of about 40-50 poems that I need to revise. I am also writing new poems when they arrive, though I am mostly focusing on a full-length creative non fiction manuscript. With everything going on, I’ve decided to allow this time in my creative practice to be intuitive above all—so if I only write one poem this year, well, how lovely is that? I wrote a poem in a year.
I do post more tangible updates of my work on my instagram, but it is also a mix of my personal life, so there’s that: @glinnt
Otherwise, my website will be updated with work as it comes: www.catiehannigan.com. ————