Monday, October 16, 2017

Interview of DaMaris B. Hill

Interview of DaMaris B. Hill by Xánath Caraza

DaMaris B. Hill, Ph.D.

Xánath Caraza (XC): Who is DaMaris B. Hill?

DaMaris B. Hill (DBH): The short answer is that I’m sugar&spice, scribbler&scholar, feminist in flow & digital by design. An accurate answer is more like I’m figuring it out everyday. I know who I am. I know what is important to me, but who I am as a writer changes.  I don’t rule of the work.  The work, the subjects, the characters, they tell me who they are.  They tell me what to write, sometimes they tell what I cannot say.  They correct me when I write them wrong. I define myself as a poet and prose writer. One that knows the rules of writing, but enjoys negotiating and breaking them – primarily because I don’t know of rule or a law that was designed to aid black women in my lifetime – so the time I take to analyze, negotiate and evade constraints may stem from that civic centered embodied knowledge –

XC: As a child, who first introduced you to reading?  Who guided you through your first readings? 

DBH: My parents were probably the first to introduce me to writing.  Books were everywhere in my childhood.  My parents didn’t play much music in the house.  I heard music at church or in the cars. Many people in my family, including my parents, are clergy people.  My baby food was flavored with religious metaphor.

XC: How did you first become a poet/writer? 

DBH: I became a writer, because I loved language. I think I also became a poet because it was an art form that could be jotted down on single pieces of paper and easily hidden. I didn’t tell anyone that I was a writer for a long time. My family found out when I won the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers in 2003. That is when I finally told them. My first poems were written on church bulletins and programs – all in the margins. I also wrote them in school notebooks like most people do when they don’t have a formal journal. I never did trust diaries. I had a few, but I felt they garnered attention. Surely, someone would read a pretty ornamental diary that belongs to a curious young girl.

I think I first published my poems in a college literary journal at Morgan State University. My friend, a poet and photographer, named Anna Stone-I think she was the first to publish my work. I’m not sure what impact those publications had on me. I still get nervous when I see my work in print. I was most likely very anxious when I saw my work in print.

XC: Do you have any favorite poems by other authors?  Or stanzas?  Could you share some verses along with your reflection of what drew you toward that poem/these stanzas?

DBH: I have a few favorite poets. My love for Lucille Clifton’s work is at the top of the list. The Book of Light is the poetry book that love most. “Climbing” comes to mind as one of my favorite poems. My favorite line in the poem “her dangling braids the color of rain”. That image continues to dance in my mind.
I rise toward it, struggling,
hand over hungry hand.
I love how the image of the hair resonates with symbolism of hair in a spiritual context and a long poetic legacy.

XC: What is a day of creative writing like for you?

DBH: The best writing days begin in bed. I like it when I can write four pages on a yellow legal pad with a black extra fine point pen, before getting out. I like to sit for a minimum of four hours and write.  I never write more than two weeks in the same place; it slows my productivity. I write in several spaces.  I write at home in my study, at various coffee houses, at my office in the library at the University of Kentucky, sometimes in the car – I record my thoughts using a recorder on the phone… I try to write everyday, but I cannot write well on days I teach.  I am too distracted by time and appointments to concentrate like I like to. If I don’t write every few days, I can become a bit of a grouch.

XC: Could you describe your activities as poet?

DBH: Observing. Listening. Respecting.

XC: Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 

DBH: I am not good at commenting on my life as a cultural activist. I have a list of causes that are important to me. I have a list of things that I have done. Keeping these records are necessary to for my position at the University of Kentucky.  What I value is love, love as an action, love that asserted in a world that has been gorging on hate.

XC: What projects are you working on at the moment?

DBH: Currently, I am revising a manuscript for publication, A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing.   The book was recently acquired and is forthcoming with Bloomsbury Publishing.  I am very excited about this book.  The poems in A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, honor African American women that have had experiences with incarceration, some of whom have organized resistance movements over the last two centuries.  The poems question what are the ripple effects and losses of the immediate inequalities and killings associated with this time in our collective history. I have really enjoyed creating remixes to some of the poems in this manuscript. A sample creative writing in digital spaces project that was born out of this manuscript can be found here, “Shut Up In My Bones”.  Others will follow.

XC: What advice do you have for other poets?

DBH: Read everything.  Know your tribe.  Apply to and attend writers retreats, like The Watering Hole or residencies like The MacDowell Colony, in order to get more specific training and advice – also to be in community with other poets/writers.  Try to get a bit of new art (of any medium and genre) in everyday.

XC: What else would you like to share?

DBH: Be kind to one another.

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