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Working with Words: Hannah Jenkins

Read Sunday, 17 Jan 2021

We spoke with poet and editor Hannah Jenkins about working in communications, gaining inspiration from technological skills and the cruel comedy of The Sims.

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What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry? 

Photograph of Hannah Jenkins

I’m not a big laugher or crier when reading, to be honest. Maybe I’m too stoic (or sleepy) to react properly! But over the last few years I have found myself returning to Jen George’s short story collection The Babysitter at Rest, which is filled with such weird and excellent moments that make me chuckle every time. This book somehow captures the same cruel comedy of witnessing a character in The Sims having a terrible accident … which is exactly the kind of humour/surrealism that I am always striving to capture in my own work, so it’s a delight to re-read. 

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

I was much more into drawing and reading as a child and was a real theatre and art nerd. I would read art history books and old-timey fiction and wanted to be a film/art critic. I was that kid who would carry around a stupid-thick fantasy book and would stay up late reading (so rebellious!).

These days I prefer a novella … or a chapbook … or a pamphlet … or a single poem.

If you look hard enough into the deep past of the web, I’m sure you could find pages and pages of Lord of the Rings fan fiction and long-running role playing message boards – but I won’t help you look and I’ll never confirm my online teen identity. 

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve just realised how many wacky jobs and experiences I’ve had in my life and am having a tiny breakdown over it.

I have been lucky to stay bilingual and still speak French with my partner at home. We often talk about the best ways to translate words and phrases and teach each other new words.

My first job was cutting boxes in a warehouse for 14 hours overnight every night at Christmas time when I was, like, 17 years old. This job made me aware of wage theft and poor work conditions, which is an important lesson! I have worked in toy retail and dressed up as a giant Sylvanian Families bunny to lure children and families into the shop … which doesn’t have a lesson, but has really stuck with me as a low/high point in my life. During uni, I worked approximately 100 unpaid internships while working at the toy shop and the lesson here is to not do that.

I worked overseas as an English teacher for French businessmen in the Champagne region of France, which gave me a real nuts-and-bolts understanding of English that I definitely use in my writing now. I have been lucky to stay bilingual and still speak French with my partner at home. We often talk about the best ways to translate words and phrases and teach each other new words.

I have also worked as a communications professional for ten years! This is the work that pays the rent, but it has also supported my technical skills for writing and for IT – which I put to good use in digital works I’ve written or edited, like ‘the horizon’, ‘This is proof’ and ‘Cloud Chamber’. 

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Lots of people don’t know that I only started writing properly about two or three years ago. My friend – and amazing poet – Holly Isemonger ran a workshop at Frontyard Projects with Subbed In called ‘Writing Poems that aren’t “Poems”‘. It carried us through exercises using Google Translate and assemblage techniques to write poetry and it all really clicked for me. Holly’s advice was to take a much less formal approach to poetry writing and reading. She really helped me understand the fun in putting words and phrases together, which made me feel confident to start writing poetry myself and here we are! 

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?

I’m sure I would be a better, more mentally stable person if I did, but I don’t. I write myself a lot of cryptic notes on my phone (that I never understand later) and have a habit of misusing to-do list apps to write out poetry and essay ideas rather than grocery lists. Otherwise, I live a life of no personal reflection and very little deep thought 😛

Which classic book/play/film/TV show do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

The 1954 musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is underrated. 

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

No superstitions, but I do get most of my inspiration from new technology and skills I learn rather than from literary sources. So, maybe counter-intuitively, I often will learn a new trick for CSS or Java and then be motivated to use that to create a new poetic experience or cool game or interactive essay. This is also an excellent way to cement newly-acquired skills by using them to create something new!

I often will learn a new trick for CSS or Java and then be motivated to use that to create a new poetic experience or cool game or interactive essay.

Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

Nah, I’m too green to want to change things!  

Which artist, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with?

I could probably give you an extensive guest list of fictional wizards and sorcerers from various old books, or say I want to talk to Mary Shelley about gothic sci-fi, but instead I’m going to go for a contemporary writer who I really admire – Ling Ma!

Severance is one of my favourite books and I recommend it to anyone who will listen to me. I think, like Jen George’s writing, there is something so magical about being able to write satire that is deeply sad but also predicated on such wonderfully strange scenarios. I imagine we’d go to a restaurant because I’m a terrible cook, and I hope we could talk about writing and the horrors of late capitalism.

Hannah is the poetry editor and assistant editor at Running Dogfeaturing some of the most exciting and challenging new online poetry. 
They have lots of exciting projects coming up in 2021 and are also thinking of starting a tiny letter (which is now the writer equivalent of your mates starting a podcast). Follow them on Twitter, where they’ll let you know if they manage to start the tiny letter, and update you on any other exciting things!

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.