Before Isadore, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick’s debut full-length book, can be purchased here.
Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick knows how to pack a punch. Her new full-length book, Before Isadore, is stacked with bravado, vulnerability, and heart-wrenching detail. In the collection, which includes 51 poems, Hardwick takes on tough topics, including abortion, divorce, grief, and loss. Her strategy seems to be to pick at them over and over again, always coming from a new angle, in order to tell a full story that is totally truth, and totally breathtaking.
I sat down with Hardwick to talk about the collection, writing about grief, her advice for poets aspiring to publish a full-length book, and what’s next for her.
Danielle Alexander: What’s your writing process like and when did you know you had a collection that could be a book?
Shannon Elizabeth Harwick: This book actually came out in a manic phase of two to three sittings. The poems were being processed for a while. I actually went through about a year of complete silence and germination. I guess you could call it severe writer’s block. I think it was due to the emotional complexities of grief and processing said grief. But I always hold onto the words of Carl Jung that even when we aren’t outwardly creating, our subconscious is doing the work underneath. The middle section, about how things are made, came later. And it took another year and a half or so to be ready and able to edit the personal pieces. The initial spurt of writing came after a dream where I saw a book called “Before Isadore” and I saw my name as the author. I woke up and said “well, guess I’ll see where this goes, then!” I was pretty lucky overall. I also used an editor, Sandy Marchetti, to work with me on the book as I needed a disinterested party to help me organize and “drown the puppies” that were not working.
DA: Talk to me about the titles in the second part of the book (How a …. Is Made). Did these poems spiral from one another? If so, which one came first? Were they written around the same time?
SEH: Yes, these poems worked as a series. I started writing How Things Were Made as part of an April Poetry Month series inspired by how a person / body / is formed. I wanted to create my own myth, I guess, as a way of taking back some power into what I felt at the time I had destroyed.
DA: I love the idea of creating your own myth. I can’t wait to play around with that. Another thing I noticed about your work is that you experiment with form, capitalization, and punctuation throughout the collection. What intentionality goes into your form choices? Is there a style or form you like most when you write poetry?
SEH: I like to form each poem around the specific piece’s personality, if that makes sense. What works for the tone and voice and subject, etc. Something more mystical may require more “air”, more “space”, etc.
DA: That’s so interesting. I love the idea of each poem having its own personality; that’s such a neat way to think about form. It makes sense why your “How a…Is Made” pieces all have more formal structure, punctuation, and capitalization. Speaking of those pieces, what’s the most difficult thing about writing about tough topics like grief and loss? What tips do you have for it?
SEH: I guess the biggest piece of advice is don’t force it. It may take years to write about something painful. It may not. And if it comes before you’re expecting it it, be prepared to set it aside and come back to it later when more distance has been created. There’s really no formula for grief and one way may work for one kind of grief and not for another. Let the animal of grief come to you. Don’t force it to speak.
DA: What advice do you have for poets who want to pursue a full-length book?
SEH: Let people who have no particular investment into your work or career read for you (like a paid editor). Don’t show it to someone who’s also your friend. Find presses that publish works that speak to you. Again, take your time but on the same token, your first book will always disappoint you, no matter what. I had a teacher tell me that. And it should. Because you should keep growing as a writer. So while you should not rush putting your first full length out into the world, you also shouldn’t sit on it forever. Be flexible, too. I had another manuscript that I was determined to be my first book and you know what? This one came first, even though the other one I had been working on for years
DA: What’s next for you?
SEH: I am working on an even better book, of course. Haha! I also want to write more book reviews, write more essay and non-fiction and secretly, I’m working on a YA novel. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.
Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick’s work has appeared in Salt Hill, Stirring, Versal, The Texas Observer, Devil’s Lake, Four Way Review, among others. She is listed as a contributor of both poetry and prose in A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. Hardwick has chapbooks out with Thrush Press and Mouthfeel Press and serves as the poetry editor for The Boiler Journal. Before Isadore is her first full-length collection.
Danielle Alexander is a writer and the owner of Grey Grey Books, an online and pop up shop that sells used books, zines, and handmade journals in Michigan. Her writing has appeared in The Bandit Zine’s Love & Heartbreak Issue and The Aquinas College Sampler, where her poem Mother received an American Academy of Poet’s Honorable Mention. She has self-published two poetry chapbooks – Sunlight Get Through (2016) and Chasing Rabbits (2016); and recently self-published Ten Lists: A Workbook for Anxiety (2017). Danielle holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts Degree in English and Creative Writing from Aquinas College and will be pursuing an MFA in nonfiction or poetry in 2018. Her work can be found at http://www.greygreybooks.com.
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