Returning “Home” with Whitney from @whitneyhansonpoetry
Whoever said poetry is dead must have never read Whitney Hanson’s poetry. The way she channels existential ponderings that plague the human soul, so eloquently and with such ease is truly magnetic! Whitney is not only a gifted writer, but also a courageous and confident person inspiring everyone with the life she leads, the choices she makes and the power she holds within herself. Keep reading to find more about Whitney and her brand new poetry book “Home”!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing poetry?
I wouldn’t necessarily call poetry an “interest”. I think for me poetry is the way that I exhale the world. Writing poetry has never been something that I felt like I chose to do. It was something I felt like I needed to do for myself. I have always loved creative writing, but I think it became like breathing to me when I dealt with some heavy situations in my life and began struggling with my mental health. I had to put all my feelings somewhere. Poetry became my release and my coping mechanism.
What was the journey of finding your personal voice like? Do you feel like you found it or are you still looking for it?
I think that my voice and writing style continues to evolve with me and I’m never done finding new inspiration. I wouldn’t say that I have ever “arrived” at my true voice, but I think that there are moments along the way that I have gained confidence in myself and my writing. One of those was when I started reading my poetry out loud and sharing it that way. This was the first time I felt I could connect my true emotions to my intention when writing.
The untitled poem (I believe) in which you wrote about holding ownership of how people initially perceive you is the one that particularly stood out to me. Could you talk a bit about the decision to cut your hair, thus drastically change your appearance and also the poem that it evoked?
Before cutting off my hair, I spent my life governed by all these things I was “supposed to do.” Social media perpetuates this idea that you must be this specific version of a woman to be valued and appreciated. It also emphasizes that value is determined by how you look, not who you are. I remember people commenting on my poetry videos before I cut my hair saying things like, “I didn’t come here to listen to you talk.” Society had defined what femininity and beauty was and I followed society’s definition. After following that definition, I found that people were more interested in looking at me than hearing what I had to say. When I shaved my head, it was because I started asking myself what I wanted and what I wanted people to see in me. I decided that even if cutting my hair made someone view me as “less pretty,” that didn’t matter to me. Conventional beauty is not what I want the world to see in me. “If the first word that someone uses to describe me is pretty, I will be disappointed.”
I think this is one of the most powerful and most misunderstood lines of the poem I wrote about my hair. I don’t believe that I am less beautiful with short hair. I was simply tired of worrying that expressing beauty and myself differently would change how others perceived me. After cutting my hair, I have found that people now see me as more than society’s standards. That was my intention when I cut my hair, to show that I am more than pretty, more than my hair, more than what I am “supposed to be.” I am intelligent. I have plenty to say, and I am only interested in attracting people into my life that view me in that way.
Do you have a writing routine or do words usually flow to you?
The way that I write is anything but routine. Usually, I find poems in the most unexpected places. I do most of my writing in the note’s app on my phone because when inspiration for a poem comes to me, it is typically a surprise. Other times, I can feel things piling up in my mind and I know that eventually I will have to spill it all out. I carry around unnamed feelings until they get too heavy then I write to help myself to define them. I never force myself to write. I typically write when I feel like I need to.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt through your process of writing poetry?
I think that the most important lesson that I have learned through my process of writing poetry is that the most authentic writing is produced when you write for yourself. I’ve learned not to tailor my writing to other people.
I often find that others can connect most with my poems when I speak how I truly feel. Writing has taught me that the most real way to relate with other people is to be unapologetically yourself. I believe that that lesson transcends writing and speaks to how we can love, communicate, and connect with others in life.
Do you enjoy writing prose as well? If so, what types of prose do you prefer?
I don’t typically write prose but some of my poetry could be categorized as prose poetry. It isn’t broken into lines or stanzas, but it does use a lot of figurative language, rhyming, and rhythm.
You have recently published your poetry book “Home”. Is this your first publication and how did you find the process of creating it? Why did you choose “Home” as the title of your book and what does “home” mean to you?
“Home” is my first book. I have known for a long time that eventually I would write a book, but I wasn’t sure when it would happen. About a year ago, I went through a tough relationship where I lost my identity and self-worth. When the relationship ended, it left me with a lot of heartache and a sense that I didn’t belong anywhere. That is how I started writing home.
I decided on the title and the four sections of the book when I was on an airplane. I was planning on transferring colleges, and I was flying to visit a potential new school. I ended up leaving my university and transferring to a new school that was almost 2,000 miles from my hometown and family. “Home” was written in a season of a lot of transitions in my life. I spent a large part of this season redefining what home meant to me. My book is a map of my journey to finding belonging and security in myself. Everything in home was written from the raw emotion I was feeling at the time. I like it that way because I think “Home” can meet people where they are whether they are “losing, lost, finding, or home.”
What can your readers expect to find in “Home”?
Home shares very real and emotional poetry about losing love. The first sections, “losing” and “lost,” focus on the hurt and conflicting emotions that go with a breakup. As the book progresses to “finding” and “home,” the narrative shifts to focus more on the self. It reveals how home can be found through becoming sure of your own worth and belonging in this world.
What do you hope readers take away after reading your poetry?
There are specific musical and poetical artists who have deeply impacted me in a time where I desperately needed something to hold on to. I grabbed on to the words of someone out there who seemed to understand exactly what I was feeling. When I read those books or listen to those songs today, they remind me of all I have made it through. I hope that my writing can be for others what those books and songs were for me. I hope that my readers come away with a lifeline, a friend that they can come back to when they feel like they are navigating their life alone. I hope more than anything to make my readers feel seen, validated, and known.
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