Welcome back to Lyric Essentials. Poet, educator, and editor Kristin LaFollette has joined us this week to discuss mentorship, inspirations, and recent reads. As always, thank you for tuning in!
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose Steve Henn for this feature? What was your first experience with his work?
Kristin LaFollette: I started reading Henn’s work when his book Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year (Wolfson Press, 2017) was released. Henn was actually my AP English teacher during my senior year of high school, and his teaching and mentorship over the years has impacted my writing in so many ways. I first started writing poetry in a creative writing class during my freshman year of high school, but I became more interested in poetry in Henn’s class a few years later. He attended Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) and talked so highly of his experience there that I ended up going there for my BA and MA in English and creative writing.
Henn’s name might sound familiar if you’ve heard or read any interviews with the poet Kaveh Akbar (here’s one example). Akbar and I were in that same AP English class together with Henn, and as Akbar has indicated in many interviews, Henn had a great impact on his writing life, as well. Even after I graduated, I would see Henn at literary events at IUSB and he would remember things I wrote and talk to me about them. When my first chapbook came out, he drove from Indiana to Ohio to do a reading with me at Bowling Green State University. He just wrote a blurb for my recently-released poetry collection, Hematology.
I chose him for this feature because he is so invested in his students and other writers and is a voracious reader. Since he’s so often promoting the work of others, I’m hoping this interview can give his work some of the attention it deserves.
Just for fun: Also, Henn and Akbar did a reading together at IUSB back in 2017 and I drove from Ohio to see them read (see the attached image). It was a fun reunion, and listening to both of them read reminded me that brilliant writers can come from anywhere, even Warsaw, IN.
AH: What draws you to Henn’s work specifically? Have you been inspired by it?
KL: There’s so much to appreciate about Henn’s poetry, but one thing that stands out is how skillfully and surprisingly he intersects humor with heavy subject matter; many of his poems are both funny and poignant at the same time. Steve also isn’t afraid to tackle difficult social and/or political issues in his work, but he often does so in a lighthearted way that encourages readers to think about or consider issues in new and different ways.
I am inspired by Henn’s work because it conveys that a skilled poet can write about any subject effectively and that inspiration can come from anywhere. Further, his poems are good reminders not to take life too seriously and that bringing humor into poetry can be helpful in articulating and processing complex feelings and experiences.
AH: For those who are interested in reading more work like Henn’s, do you have any recommendations? What other writers have you been adoring lately?
KL: One poet who comes to mind is Darren C. Demaree. His poetry reminds me of Henn’s in so many ways, but probably because of his sometimes-humorous approaches to heavy topics. He also writes about fatherhood and important social issues, so those are additional common threads. I just finished reading a child walks in the dark (Harbor Editions, 2021), Demaree’s recent book release, and I highly recommend it to fans of Henn’s poetry.
Other poetry collections I’ve read recently and loved: Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar, Wobble by Rae Armantrout, Advice from the Lights by Stephanie Burt, and Pine by Julia Koets.
AH: What have you been up to lately? Any news to share?
KL: This has been a busy season for me! My first full-length collection of poetry, Hematology, won the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize and was released in December. I’ve done several readings to promote that, including a book launch hosted by my university on February 17th. Also, a review of Hematology was just published in Gasher!
I recently served on the judging team for the Perugia Press Prize, and I’m on the editorial board at Mud Season Review as the Art Editor (we just released #60 – check it out here!). In the past couple months, I’ve had poetry featured in The Maynard, Harpy Hybrid Review, and Poetry is Currency. My writing and research are often focused on the body and medicine, and I had a series of seven poems featured in February 2022 at The Blood Project (TBP), an educational platform that works toward building bridges between the humanities, science, and patient care.
You can read more content from this interview at the Sundress Patreon.
Steve Henn is a writer and high school English teacher. His poems have appeared in New York Quarterly, Into the Void, and Rattle, among others. He is the author of multiple poetry collections, including American Male (Main Street Rag, 2022) and Guilty Prayer (Main Street Rag, 2021).
Find Steve at his website.
Read his poem “I Remember” at Twyckenham Notes.
Purchase his newest chapbook here.
Kristin LaFollette is a writer, artist, and photographer and serves as the Art Editor at Mud Season Review. She is the author of Hematology (winner of the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize) and Body Parts (winner of the 2017 GFT Press Chapbook Contest). She received her Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University and is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana.
Find Kristin’s website here: https://www.kristinlafollette.com
Purchase Kristin’s collection Hematology here.
Follow Kristin on Twitter.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com