Julianna DeMicco talks with poet Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick about her latest poetry collection A Stranger Longing (Agape Editions, 2017), mental health and bipolar type 2 personalities, and how the outside world influences and informs the internal world.
JD: Tell me a little bit about your background as a poet. Do any of your own lived experiences feed into the narrative of A Stranger Longing, or are the poems intended to serve only as connective tissue between the characters in the book and whatever they may have to teach us as readers?
SH: A Stranger Longing is composed almost entirely of my own lived experiences. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but it details the ins and outs of what it’s like to live through rapid cycling episodes of hypomania and depression that is often found in some types of bipolar type 2 personalities. This book was written during my time in graduate school, and that time period of study gave me ample opportunity to delve into my mind and creativity. I got extremely interested in the mystical experience and did a lot of time studying the different female mystics and the mystical tradition.
JD: What are the driving societal and aesthetic influences in this collection? Do you feel those influences are still foci for you in your current work? If so, how? If not, what have you moved on to?
SH: I still focus on the inner life as it relates to the outside world, or how we can use nature to explore the inner workings of our minds, but I believe I have moved on to trying to speak more to the grounded, every time experiences in life. I guess one could say I was on the mountain top in A Stranger Longing and I’ve come back down to the village now.
JD: In A Stranger Longing, there are many physical descriptions of the body, of the speaker’s sensory experiences in New York City, and of the earth itself. Were you consciously thinking about the relationship between the body and earth when you were writing these poems?
SH: Yes. I was consciously thinking of how the outside world influences and informs my psyche. I wanted a sort of union with everything. That was my goal so often. To find a marriage between the body and nature. It was as though I was trying to release a pressure valve because the body seemed like such a prison at times both then and as a child.
JD: What do you think your collection says about physical and spiritual health? There’s a bit of a sociopolitical conversation happening around healthcare in this country right now, and your speaker spends time healing herself spiritually, through the Bible and through her own art, but also physically, as she spends time in the hospital. This is depicted in terms of her relationship with the natural world. For example, in “Dear Hospital, I Love Your Breathing Machines; and, Pine and I Talk After Discharge.” How do you think this collection fits into that sociopolitical conversation, if at all?
SH: I wasn’t consciously thinking about the sociopolitical conversation regarding healthcare or even spiritual health at the time. However, perhaps deep down that’s what the speaker was really exploring. After all, the speaker was still unaware of the reality of the neurological workings of a disease (neuronal-difference) such as bipolar disorder. There are times of such highs and such lows. There are ideas of grandeur. This is all very clean cut when you look at it from a clinical perspective, but it’s also a very true experience and a beautiful one at that. The complexities of deciphering how to reconcile the downsides of the disease and the benefits of the depth of experience for the person living within it is one that I’d like to have a wider conversation about. I’m trying to be a good advocate for mental illness both in the importance of treatment, access to support, and work to de-stigmatize neuronal difference. But like I said, this was not consciously on my mind while writing these works. I was just living the experience and I hope, maybe, the work can help give people a glimpse into the beauty and humanity of such episodes.
As far as the body and the mind connection, I hope that A Stranger Longing speaks to people who use their spirituality or inner workings to understand and come to terms with past experiences of abuse. I do believe the speaker in these poems explores this. The body can be a difficult thing to come to terms with when it has been violated.
JD: Do you have any upcoming projects we should look out for?
SH: My first full-length collection Before Isadore has just come out for pre-order from Sundress Publications. I’d like to say this book is a natural evolution from A Stranger Longing in that it’s more grounded in everyday life but also delves into the magical and mystical enough to inform each other in new ways.
Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick‘s work has appeared in Salt Hill, Stirring, Versal, The Texas Observer, Devil’s Lake, Four Way Review, among others. She is listed as a contributor of both poetry and prose in A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. She has chapbooks out with Thrush Press and Mouthfeel Press. Hardwick serves as the poetry editor for The Boiler Journal and her first full-length collection Before Isadore was recently published by Sundress Publications.
Julianna DeMicco is a senior at Binghamton University. She is currently pursuing a double major in philosophy, politics and law, and English with a concentration in creative writing and global cultures. She is a student leader on her campus and has focused her experiences on a service-based learning mentality. As a vocalist, trumpeter, ukulele player, and poet, she is fascinated by the musicality of poetry and loves to experiment with different rhythms in her own work. In her spare time, she furthers her independent study of Italian, French, and Chinese. In addition, she is pursuing a study of poetry and literature from different eras, specifically those written during the Medieval Era to those written in the Early Renaissance.