Web Feature

HANNAH SANGHEE PARK
in conversation with BENNINGTON REVIEW

 

KEVIN COSTELLO

Both of your "Mercy" poems in Bennington Review are formally rigorous—progressions of audibly metrical quatrains with a rhyme scheme. Can you talk about your relationship with poetic form? What draws you to working in rhyme and meter? 

HANNAH SANGHEE PARK

I like writing in forms, rhyme, and meter because it creates a built-in narrative/sonic structure for the poem—syllable by word by line. I enjoy working within and against constrained forms—it’s fun to do. I think more broadly I’m interested in music in poetry, and rhyme and meter are great ways to create the underlying music. Perhaps it’s an extension of a background in music. I learned about musical forms first—their accompanying rhythms and themes—and how these forms were interpreted by their composers. When you move from one field to another, you’re always looking for overlap and common ground. 

KEVIN COSTELLO

In your first book of poems, The Same-Different, you demonstrate a tremendous facility for word play and sonic texturing—creating false etymologies, morphing one word into another similar-sounding word, letting the sounds of one line guide you in determining the words chosen for the next. Could you talk about the role of wordplay, sound patterning, and linguistic experimentation in your poetry?

HANNAH SANGHEE PARK

Thank you Kevin. In one sense, the book is a love letter to the possibilities of language, to revel and rebel within it. English is one of the languages I grew up with—the language I had to use to face and interact with the world around me. But when you're a shy kid (and person)—and a child of immigrants—a lot of exposure to English is through books. Consequently, many of the words I learned were through reading, and when I’d try them out, I’d mispronounce them. Or the context would be wrong, even comical. Then I’d go back and look at the word again—phonetically, semantically, and later, learning etymology in college, morphologically. The result of that is a lot of words rattling around inside, grouped and growing. And when they come out on the page, they come out in kinship, “false etymologies”, or "sound patterning”. This word-morphing is like an immediately accessible database, an autocorrect (audio correct?) that isn’t limited to poetry; it comes out in any form of writing. It makes the whole sprawl of a language more familiar and comforting. And that closeness is profound when I am seen as a perpetual foreigner, when language is integral to identity. In this, I think I’m interested in both delighting in it, and destroying it.    

KEVIN COSTELLO

 Aside from your involvement with poetry, you also have an interest in screenwriting and working in television. Do you consider this work to be related (in terms of process and end-result), or are they separate?

HANNAH SANGHEE PARK

I do think they are related. They require the emotional investment of the writer, reader, and viewer—in speaker and character, in story and narrative, in image, in dialogue, in sound. They need to cut to the marrow efficiently, in surprising and meaningful ways. For both genres, every beat—literally and figuratively—counts. 

KEVIN COSTELLO

With everything that's happened politically in the past several years, there seems to be a particular pressure for poets and other artists to politicize their work, or at least take it past the realm of "the personal is political." Do you feel that pressure, and do you think it's important that a poet's work overtly reflect a certain degree of political consciousness?

HANNAH SANGHEE PARK

I am grateful for strong political consciousness in poetry because it has educated me in ways that were both exigent and personally awakening—especially through the work of underrepresented communities, writers who have faced barriers and discrimination historically and now. So I believe the personal will always be political, along with what is “overtly" political. They are both culturally indispensable. I hope that what I write can meaningfully engage in that awareness, decry and undo the hate and intimidation espoused by those currently in power, and ultimately learn and grow from this vital work being done in poetry. 

Good poetry presents the world through a writer's lens, and that lens is attuned and sharp enough to bring other people to vividly see into it, to feel it, to connect with it. And the poetry published in the past several years that holds a lens to both past and present intolerances, hegemonies, and brutalities has done just that—through more established voices and especially through emerging voices. It is necessary, important poetry because this consciousness helps people see what has been there for centuries. 

KEVIN COSTELLO

I was wondering about how you think the "I" functions within your poems, and also in poems in general. Do you consider your poems a space to develop a speaker's voice, or do you put more consideration into the world in which the speaker is placed? Is it a combination of both?

HANNAH SANGHEE PARK

I think they're more of a space to develop a speaker’s voice, though both are essential for narrative momentum. The character comes first, and then the world. When you know who your character is, with all her hopes and fears, she can navigate any world in surprising ways. I love mythology, fairy tales, and folklore. They are worlds of seemingly limitless possibilities. The trick is to find the right entry into that world—someone who we can understand and follow amidst all that power, someone utterly human. 


HANNAH SANGHEE PARK is the author of The Same-Different (Louisiana State University Press), the 2014 winner of the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award. She lives and works in Los Angeles.


KEVIN COSTELLO is an editorial assistant at Bennington Review.

Issue Two
13.00