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DOGBYTES Interview: Myronn Hardy

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Myronn Hardy is the author of five books of poems: Approaching the Center, winner of the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award, The Headless Saints, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Catastrophic Bliss, winner of the Griot-Stadler Prize for poetry, Kingdom, and most recently, Radioactive Starlings. His poems have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, the Virginia Quarterly Review,FIED and elsewhere.  He divides his time between New York City and Morocco.

Your most recent collection is titled Radioactive Starlings. What influenced the creation of this title and can you speak to its meaning?

The principal idea in Radioactive Starlings is the often-contentious relationship between technology and the natural world. The title directly comes from my noticing starlings in many of the places I journeyed while writing the book: throughout Morocco, Tunisia, Portugal, New York City, and elsewhere. Once, and I remember this vividly, I saw a group of starlings flying about and one out the group appeared neon green. I read this as it having been in contact with radiation.

It had become radioactive due to its intake of something poisonous and human made. It had been changed, infected, and on the threshold of ruin. I imagined there being a flock of these neon birds, radioactive birds, due to the toxicity of the world.

Radioactive Starlings holds poems that take many forms such as the villanelle, pantoum, ghazal and the sonnet. Why was it important for you to write within the “constraints” of these poetic forms?

I decided to experiment deeply with these forms because they are relatively new to me. I generally write in free verse or without these particular restraints. But in this book, I waited for the poems that would inhabit these forms. I wanted to see what these poems would do, what they would tell me within these confines. Also, I believe the starling itself held my imagination in a way whereby I felt as if I were writing on them, writing within their form, their shape. For me the starling itself extended the metaphor of a given or received shape. 

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?

The Vegetarianby Han Kang

Name one of your influences outside of literature or art. 

The natural world—nature.

What’s something you tried recently for the first time?

Mountain climbing.

When you’re not reading or writing, how do you spend your time, energy, and money?

I go to the movies. I love that big screen and watching a story evolve in images. I also really like to run.

What are three pieces of advice you would give to emerging Black poets?

As much as I don’t want to be cliché: read. Also, learn how to be free and open in your thinking. Follow your particular interests and obsessions. You are you, and the more you are yourself – your specific self-understood, self-surprising self – the better your writing will be.  And listen to lots of music. It gets inside your poems.

What is the strongest influence your child-self contributes to your poetry?

My grandparents were farmers so they taught me to have an intimate connection to the land, to the natural world.  Seeing it. Knowing it.  Not merely the ordered or cultivated way farming is, but the land that is not cleared, the forest, the wild. How things happen naturally. The land, the natural world is perhaps the most profound influence in my poetry and this appreciation and influence began as a child. For me, this connection to the land, the details of it, inhabit my earliest recollections.

What life experience has most shaped you as a writer?

Travel.

What year(s) were you at the Cave Canem retreat?What are a few of your favorite memories from those times? 

2006-2008. I have many favorite memories of the CC retreat. One would be having the opportunity to be reacquainted with Lucille Clifton. She was one of my professors in graduate school as well. Also, I recall staying up late, perhaps not getting any sleep in an attempt to make new poems each day of the retreat. We were all doing this amongst this wonderfully generous community.