“You should read all the works of the authors you admire.”
Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian (Spoon River Poetry Press, 2014)
What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?
I thought it was time for me to write one. I’d been publishing a couple poems a year for a stretch, and I figured maybe I could gather some of those pieces, along with some others, into a chapbook. I didn’t think I was quite ready for a full-length collection, but a chapbook felt like the “next step.”
What’s your chapbook about?
It’s about the places and spaces that matter to me, that have made impressions on me. Sometimes the poems involve people in those places, and sometimes not. The poems are “set” in southwestern Minnesota and Eastern South Dakota, although the reader might not necessarily know that, and the reader might not necessarily need to know that precise geography. But with each of the poems in the collection, there’s a specific place (at least in my mind) where each poem “happens.” With each of these poems, I have strong associations with specific places, whether that pertains to the setting itself or to the setting in which I wrote the poem, or both. Even as I write this response, I’m clicking through the slides of memories these poems contain.
Another way to answer the question might be this: in these poems, a reader will find multiple references to wind, sky, driving, driving winds, and fields.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest poem dates back to 2002, and it was a part of my M.F.A. thesis. “Instructions for Traveling Country Roads” features an ancient device, a “tape recorder.” I remember sitting at my desk in my apartment in Moorhead, Minnesota.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
At first I thought the poems could be in one long section, but I noticed that I had quite a few poems that were much more concerned with setting than with human relationships. Therefore, the chapbook is divided into two distinct sections: “Loves and Affinities” & “Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian.”
In the first section, “people” matter more. There are a number of “love” poems. There are also some poems about other subjects of importance: teaching, writing, music, family.
The second section focuses on “setting” and works through a cycle of seasons, beginning with a summer poem, and ending with a summer poem.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
I can recall the backstory to all of these poems, but if I had to pick one, I suppose it would be “Fragility,” which first appeared in the South Dakota Review.
The poem was one of the few poems I’ve ever written in which the second draft was the published version. I checked back in my files, and the second draft added a few lines and clarified some word choices.
Prior to that acceptance, I had one publication to my name. I guess you could say that poem was my big break. It was such a satisfying feeling to have a poem appear in such a regarded publication.
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The manuscript is largely unchanged from the version I sent my editor, David Pichaske. We worked through the layout of the table of contents, and he managed to do some magic with the layout so that we could have a dedication page. It was extremely important that I have a dedication page, which just has my wife’s name, Amy, italicized.
I’m a big fan of Richard Ford, and each of his books has a simple dedication page with only his wife’s first name on it. I always thought that when I had a book someday, I would put my wife’s name on a dedication page. I think it’s the least I could do considering her support, encouragement, and belief of my writing over so many years.
David sent me several photographs to choose from for the front and back cover. Put simply, I felt very taken care of, and when I received my copy, I was pleased with the result.
On a side note, David was my undergrad American Literature professor, and he introduced me to other “rural” and “place-based” writers. The most influential on me was the late Dave Etter.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book-length manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life.
What is your favorite piece you’ve written? Why?
My favorite is a short story called “The Rez Fairy” that was published two years ago in The Whitefish Review. When I reread parts of the story, I’m still not sure how I accomplished writing it.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
It would be music. I was a music major as an undergrad, and I’ve played in various ensembles over the years. I currently play with a bunch of talented musicians at my church each week. I’m grateful to pursue that path while also being a writer and a teacher of writing.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Besides writing with some kind of regularity, you should read all the works of the authors you admire. I’m currently on my 11th Willa Cather novel, and I have one more. Then there are her short stories, essays, and poems. Read a writer’s collected poems or stories.
Nathaniel Lee Hansen is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where he edits Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and directs the Windhover Writers’ Festival. His chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). His work has appeared in Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide; Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland; Driftwood Press; Whitefish Review; The Cresset; Midwestern Gothic; and South Dakota Review, among others. His website is plainswriter.com, and he can be followed on Twitter @plainswriter.