Hannah Berry: Art is a job

When did this journey begin?

In October 2013. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, honestly. I was a single mom. I have a degree in art education [and wanted] to use it somehow.

[Initially], we had a lot of zoning issues we had to go through. We gutted [the building] and are still refurbishing it in sections. We just started getting off the ground this year in March.

Now, it’s super sweet to be able to work with other creatives. Doing weddings makes it easier for me to let artists do things here for lower costs.

The more recognition the place gets, the more my niche gets recognized as healthy. This is my way of helping people.

What a great partnership! What all goes on at Lions & Rabbits?

We have:

  • three yoga instructors
  • a meditation coach
  • a swing dance group (Rapid Rhythms)
  • art classes for children and adults
  • family days on Saturdays
  • we host weddings and events (max. occupancy is 135)

Also, all art pieces that are hanging up for sale are [from] local [artists]. A lot of people don’t buy art. [They] usually don’t give a shit about art, but then they like what we have [here] and start hanging it in their offices.

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Tell me about your own art career.

I paint and draw on wood. Instead of doing actual woodcutting, I’ve been doing jigsaw cutting. With my daughter, Haidyn, I do a lot of collaborative painting. [She’s] almost six.

[My dream is] I want to do murals. I want to travel and do murals. Real goals are to make the roof a botanical garden for weddings and events. I also curate other venues.

Fun fact: Hannah started hiding a stick figure in all of her art pieces. Is your family supportive?

My husband, Chris, is obviously. My dad’s a small business owner and my mom just graduated from business school. I’ve always known that art’s my jam, and they’ve always been supportive of everything I’ve done.

Keep up-to-date with all things Lions & Rabbits by liking their Facebook page and stopping in to see for yourself what’s happening in Creston. Located at 1264 Plainfield Ave., Grand Rapids, MI.

 

Jennifer Givhan’s soul-nourishing “Lifeline”

Kelsey May | October 15th, 2017

Published this year by Glass Poetry PressLifeline slices into emotional and cultural landscapes to bare both juices and rot. As good poetry does, Givhan’s pieces bring life to barren moments and resurrect the ancestral traditions of Mexican, Latinx, and indigenous lifestyles to teach modern readers of important lessons and insights.

Givhan’s style marries unusual syntax with careful attention to detail; she notes such instants as plucking “mosquitoes… from calves” and the way Lake Tahoe “pools its light”. I reveled in such beautiful lines as “I’ve asked for your lungs so I can breathe.” and “In vain I have opened mirrors & edges of mirrors.”

Several poems stuck with me long after finishing Lifeline: “O Shake It Sister”, which quite literally sings the female body electric in its praise and love for all the scars, tattoos, weight, sex, and words our bodies hold. “O Shake It Sister” is the poem I’ve been wanting to read for years and nearly cried to have found. The other poem that stuck with me is “Girl with Death Mask”, an ode to and celebration of Frida Kahlo.

After finishing Lifeline, I asked Jennifer if she’d be willing to do a brief interview about writing, self-esteem, and this chapbook.


One of my favorite poems in the book is “Girl with Death Mask”. It’s so inventive! What inspired you to write about her?

Frida is my spirit guide. I light a Saint Frida candle often when I write. I have at least nine paintings of hers around my writing room. The poem is based on a true event with a Frida painting and my daughter’s response. lifeline.png

Another piece that really hit me is “O Shake It Sister”. What advice would you give to women and girls having a hard time with confidence and self-esteem?

You are a badass powerhouse. The voices that tell you otherwise are liars. I know it’s hard. I struggle every day, no matter the accolades, no matter the praise. Power comes from within. You gotta keep pulling it up every damn day. Every damn day, you gotta throw that darkness out with the garbage and hang on so tightly to your strength. I believe in you.

Who are you inspired by?

The women who’ve come before me and the women who’ll come after. I am a verse in the never-ending song. A break in the chain toward freedom. I’m inspired by contemporaries Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Ada Limón, Irena Praitis, Lisa Chavez, Joy Harjo, Toni Morison, and the song goes on. Most especially, by my mother and my daughter.

These lines:

“He didn’t save me.

I only pretend, like Mrs. Sheets, //

that saints can redeem us.”

are powerful. Could you talk briefly about your views on what happens when you die and how you reconcile that difficult topic in your poetry?

Oh, this would take another lifetime. I haven’t reconciled it. I am a split cactus. Spindles on the outside, life-sustaining water on the inside, though it often feels the other way around. If heaven is what we make of it, then I am grateful for love. If heaven is the imagination, then I am grateful it’s so powerful.

What’s your advice for other creative people wanting to tackle a big project?

Light your figurative or literal candles, and write. Quiet the voices that ask you for anything more than whatever truths you have to lay bare on that page.


Lifeline is available for purchase through Glass Poetry Press.

Thank you to Jennifer for the interview and headshot and to Glass Poetry Press for a reviewer copy of Lifeline.

poetry as spiritual practice & homage: interview with Dominique Christina

Kelsey May | September 24th, 2017

Dominique Christina: poet, champion of slams, acclaimed performer, author of two books (including the first and so far only poetry collection my husband has read in its entirety – high praise indeed). I first saw Dominique perform at the Split This Rock poetry conference in 2016. During her performance, I became convinced that the best spoken word poetry is page poetry, literary poetry. Dominique blended words, alliterations, alchemed magic on the stage, and the audience was enraptured; I know I wasn’t the only person with tears streaming down their face while listening to Dominique detail the terrified escape of a slave across the historic Mason-Dixie line.

Thank you, Dominique, for doing this interview with me! How long have you been writing?

​I started writing poetry when I was 22 and in a Creative Writing class in undergrad. That course changed the trajectory of my life. I was forced into a kind of honesty that I didn’t think was available to me. But it was, and once I engaged it, I never looked back. It still took me more than ten years after that to read anything out loud, but it was miraculous for me.

[Since then], I have tried to be a more deliberate writer. I am an accidental poet but not an unintentional one. I am an elegiac poet. I write about those who have died. I feel a responsibility to them… to a great many people. When I first started writing, it was largely autobiographical. And it still is, but there has been a shift in consciousness for me. I am interested [now] in re-fleshing the bones of others.

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How do you blend performance poetry and page poetry?

Whatever is excavated from me is excavated, and I make a spur of the moment decision about what I share out loud and what I do not. But I recognize that language is urgent, and it deserves an appropriate reckoning. [I give it] the weight it deserves.

Poems like “I tell her about Jasper Texas” are difficult to read, painful to digest. They’re well-written and convincing enough that I find myself picturing a scene I don’t want to picture. Could you comment on the process of writing this piece and others like it?

​There is a nagging in my spirit, in terms of these elegiac poems specifically, but also poems that are largely social commentary; there is a nagging in my spirit that I can’t quiet down. So I wait. I wait on the words to come, and they always do. It feels ancestral. I believe it is ancestral. It’s like falling into the deep. I don’t know if I will hit the bottom. I don’t know if there will be arms to catch me. I don’t know the destination. I just know something in my consciousness needs room to move, so I give it room.

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One of my favorite lines from your debut collection, The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm, is “make me wanna curse my own sugar” from “The Shug Avery Mimicry”. How have you dealt with people who don’t support you?

​I don’t pay attention to detractors too much. I don’t hold court with them, and I don’t give them relevance. I really mean that – so much so that it is literally erased from my consciousness. I have had to fight to name myself, and I have had to mean my life all my life so I am predisposed to self-resilience. It’s second nature. I don’t expect things to be easy, but I do expect to be victorious. I refuse to hate any part of myself. I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to be silent, and I will never apologize for any of it. ​

One area we document and celebrate at Hyype is natural beauty, self-esteem, and confidence. We LOVE your naturally beautiful self, especially your hair and fashion.

​I wear my hair the way it comes out of my head. I love my hair. I don’t need coaching around that, but I recognize that many of us do need ​it, and I know why that need exists. I think the natural hair movement is as much about challenging standards of beauty as it is about deep affirmation that we are enough and have always been enough.

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Hell yeah. Thank you for the many ways you empower others. What do you consider a highlight from audience and reader reaction to your work?

I am always deeply grateful for the opportunity to hear how the work resonates with others. I am doubled over in gratitude for those who have told me that my work permissioned them to heal. That’s a hallelujah every time. ​

​What are you working on now?

​All the things. Branding for Under Armour. Writing for HBO. Traveling. Touring with my sister Rachel McKibbens as Mother Tongue Poetry. Finishing volumes of poetry. Working on an a mixed media art exhibit​ called The Ruined Woman. All the things.

​Mixed media? That sounds promising. I look forward to seeing what you create! What else is important in your life? I believe you’re a mother. How do you balance your writing career with other aspects of life? 

​I don’t know how I do it. It’s a magic act. But I have a very supportive family. They want me to be in the service of my gifts. I am met with no resistance on that front. Everybody stands back to let me get my crazy done. I’m lucky. ​


Interview edited for grammar and clarity. Photo credit: DominiqueChristina.com.