Featured Author: Shana Bulhan Haydock
Shana Bulhan Haydock
Why do you write? What purpose does writing serve for you currently?
I can't imagine not writing. I've been writing ever since I could. As a child, I'd write elaborate descriptions of audaciously extravagant families, complete with huge family trees, floor plans, personal schedules, everything! I'd make lesson plans for the classes I longed to teach. I made all kinds of lists. I wrote so, so many beginnings of stories. By the time I was twelve, I was incredibly prolific with my poetry. I miss those days, really, when it felt like I could never run out of energy to write.
I write because I need to, because I have to communicate, because I have to dream and imagine and sort through the chaos that's ever-present in my mind. Whether it's stories, poems, emails, essays, opinion pieces, social media commentary, IM conversations, texts, lists, reminders, journal and blog entries, random snippets of thought, or whatever else, I write because I must. I've been working on really giving myself credit for all the writing that I do that isn't specifically creative prose or poetry, or academic writing. Because really, there's always so much that we read and write in this age of burgeoning technology, and I think that's just fantastic.
With my writing and art, I want to be able to speak to others -- especially those parts of ourselves that have been othered and marginalized. I want to investigate on the level of language, constantly -- I want to glean and subvert technique all at once. I'm trying to let go of this idea that I need my work to be very much visibly out there in the world, though, because, really, as long as I'm communicating with someone (or even myself), that's what matters.
How do you usually start a poem, story, etc?
This is something that often causes me anxiety! I keep thinking I should be able to just automatically become inspired and start writing. (I am really trying to dispel these constant 'shoulds' from my life!)
Sometimes I'll have a sudden creative snippet come to me while I'm on the bus or walking around or working on something else -- and I try to write those down as soon as possible, when I can. (I have a lot of rather cryptic notes on my phone!) And then later, I might come back to these snippets and use them as starting points for bigger poems. I'm really fond of discovering the poetry in small catches of words. With stories, often, I'll have an idea for a world-building project or a central emotional issue that I'd like to explore, and I try to roughly sketch that out without judging the actual writing as much. (This is hard!) Lately, though, almost all of my story-writing has been related to this multi-genre novel I've been writing on and off for more than five years. It's basically a combination of visual art (such as collage, which is in itself a mixed-media form), poetry, prose, and even some academic writing. Sometimes, it also helps me to look back at poems and stories I've already written or begun, and try to edit or continue them.
Sometimes I'll also start a poem because I'm feeling impassioned about a particular emotional experience in my life, or a political issue. I might take something I posted on social media or a journal entry and kind of convert it into a poem. I tend to write a lot of 'relationship' (or 'love') poetry, so a lot of times I'll be inspired by something that's happening in my life. (I have a lot of feelings about reclaiming the maudlin, the sentimental, the 'overtly' personal -- it's something that gets dismissed as trite too often, and also it's gendered in a way that's very sexist.)
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I don't always know, actually! With stories, in particular, I'm so much better at beginnings and experimenting rather than conventionally structured plots. With poems, it's kind of a roug feeling, a sense that there's a longer pause happening in the poem. But when I go back and edit, I often change endings, so. I'm really interested in messing with conventional ideas of beginnings and endings. One thing I really like to do is use snippets of poems and other pieces of writing (my own and other people's) in collage, and since these little pieces are usually from the middle of larger pieces, it really calls into question whether writing always needs a beginning and ending. So much of people's attention, I think, is drawn to specific fragments in art and writing -- I mean, of course there are also people who really do better with structured pieces, but I think there are still a lot of us for whom fragments speak to us more than anything else.
I grew up with this idea that you have to always start a story (or a poem, or anything) at the beginning and obediently read through to the end, and because I never managed to follow this rule enough, I was constantly feeling guilty for skipping around in books. I still feel guilty about this! But several years ago, I had a conversation with a then-girlfriend, where she introduced me to the (what seemed to be) radical idea that you can read writing however you want to, however you are called to. It's okay if you don't finish books, or if you read them in a patchwork fashion! This kind of acceptance of different styles of reading and writing is so important to actually being able to learn and enjoy what you're engaging with. A lot of people look down on the multitasking nature of social media engagement, but if you really think about it, it really points to a more accessible way in which people learn, and why should we disparage that? I really want to remove guilt from the process of reading and writing, and so much of that is about allowing myself to not always 'finish' things.
What writers/artists are influencing you right now?
Considering that I tend to read in a rather patchwork fashion, I feel like I am always being influenced by a myriad different people at any given point. I'll find a poem that I really like -- there are a few by Sierra DeMulder, and I keep thinking I want to read more of her work -- or even just a line in a poem, such as the very last line (and stanza) of "Home" by Kazim Ali -- and it'll really captivate me and inform whatever poetry I'm writing. I just spent a day while travelling reading an older issue of jubilat, and it ended with this amazing forum essay about Black experimental poetics. So now I feel exceptionally inspired by the political, academic, and literary conversations happening in that piece! One of the forum interviewers was Evie Shockley, who I had the privilege of studying with while I attended the Juniper Institute, a writing program at UMass Amherst, this summer. I absolutely adore her book, the new black. I'm generally very much politically aligned with writers of colour, especially multiply marginalized writers of colour. A disabled femme of colour writer who I really love is Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Her poetry and memoir are really vulnerable and unabashedly political in their personal focus.
I am really moved by the urgent (yet tender) chaos of Richard Siken's poetry, especially everything he wrote in Crush. As a teenager, it was really meaningful for me to read the poetry of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath -- poets who wrote about despair and trauma and mental illness in a way that I really, really needed (and still need, of course). In this way, I am also deeply engaged with Frida Kahlo's art -- I wish there were more disabled artists like her in the mainstream cultural imagination.
I'm also committed to new and upcoming art and writing, as well as lesser known work in general. It's a pity that we mostly only speak of artists and writers who have become successful, either during their lives or posthumously, because so much of success is about privilege. I love the way in which social media can elevate the voices of lesser known artists and writers -- to some extent, anyway. I enjoy browsing through tags such as "writers on tumblr" or "poets on tumblr," for example. I also reblog a lot of photography and art on one of my tumblrs.
As an aspiring academic and social activist, I also engage with a lot of non-fiction and theory. This informs my creative work, especially in terms of the political consciousness I hope to convey through my art and writing. My worldview has remarkably shifted after reading (parts of) texts such as Specters of Mother India by Mrinalini Sinha, Contours of Ableism by Fiona Kumari Campbell, The Revolution Starts at Home ed. Jai Dulani et al., Terrorist Assemblages by Jasbir Puar, etc.
Some other writers I love: Warsan Shire, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, arah Kane, Arundhati Roy, Ntozake Shange, Danzy Senna, Junot Diaz, Corey Ann Haydu (I really appreciate a lot of YA fiction, such as her book, OCD Love Story!)... I could go on for a while! Instead of namedropping, though, I would rather call attention to very specific pieces (or pieces of pieces) of writing by these and other wonderful writers. I'm working on reblogging more poems on a particular poetry tumblr I have, but right now it's still quite sparse.
What do you want people to know about your work?
Mostly just that I write to communicate, as aforementioned. I write about painfully intimate and marginalized experiences, both because that's my life and because I'm so tired of the lack of representation in the literary world as well as everywhere else. I'm not interested in being detached or apolitical (not that that's even possible). The depoliticization of literature and art deeply disturbs me and I aim to challenge it as much as I can. I don't want to talk about aesthetics without politics.
What question do you wish I asked you?
Maybe something about my personal life? I feel like the trend of separating the writer or artist's work from their life is mostly really disingenuous. Still, I really appreciate the questions that you did ask, and thank you!